Rolfing Essay

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 In the 1930s, Ida P. Rolf (1896–1979), an organic chemist who had also dabbled in yoga and chiropractic, introduced a form of massage that she believed would relieve people of stress caused by past traumatic experience.

According to Rolfing theory, memories of traumatic experiences are stored in various parts of the body (as “muscle memory”), blocking the free flow of “vital energy,” and the proper sort of massage can release them, thus restoring the proper flow and integrating mind and body. Rolf also proposed that traditional ideas of good posture (shoulders back, back straight, head held high) are actually very unhealthy, as they misalign the spine and deform the body. Furthermore, past traumatic experiences can make posture even worse, and most people would be psychologically healthier if they realigned their bodies so that the earth’s gravitational field could reinforce the body’s energy field.

Rolfers, as practitioners call themselves, seek out areas of “energy imbalance” while performing the massage and adjust what they are doing when they detect these areas, to release the energy. The explicit goal of Rolfing is to reposition connective tissue, and so the massage can frequently be quite painful. Clients learn to see the pain as a good thing, however, as it represents the release of traumatic muscle memory. This is important, as Rolfing treatment involves a series of ten weekly sessions.

The idea of vital energy becoming blocked in various areas of the body and requiring outside help to be released is fairly popular in alternative-medicine circles (see Acupuncture; Thought Field Therapy), but it does not correspond to known facts of how the human body operates. Similarly, there is absolutely no support in psychological literature for the idea of traumatic experiences being repressed in the form of muscle memory, and so the basic ideas of Rolfing certainly fall into the category of pseudoscience. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that regular weekly massages can make some people feel much better, so Rolfing is not without merit.


  1. Rolf, I. P. Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1990.

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