Category Archives: Rolfing


move into spirit

“Common wisdom is generally neither common nor wise”

–John Kenneth Galbraith

“Justifying improved practice on scientific evidence is a dynamic process. With new evidence, the foundation will change…Be prepared to challenge current thoughts and rethink currently accepted practices.”

–Stuart McGill

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing level of controversy regarding stretching and its role in health, athletics, injury prevention, rehabilitation and back health. The amount of information out there is vast and often conflicting.

Some of the most recent controlled studies have found that passive (“static”) stretching—which requires no voluntary muscle activity—prior to training does not reduce or prevent injuries. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. It has been shown that less force is needed to rupture “stretchy” muscle than “stiff” muscle. (Voluntary muscles, also called skeletal muscles, are the ones that require some level of intent to move them: they move the bones, as in moving the arms or legs. These are different from involuntary muscles, which are primarily stabilizing, as in the postural muscles of the spine, which keep you upright and stable).

This does not mean that “stiff” muscles are good, and that we shouldn’t implement stretching into our routines. What it does mean is that we need to pay attention to “dynamic flexibility”, the ability to move joints through a range of motion during active movement with strength as a key component requiring voluntary muscle involvement.

Another very important piece is that we need to pay attention to the fact that we are not a conglomeration of distinct and separate segments, that flexibility and strength is a whole body, continuous necessity, from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads. Each part of our body has a part in supporting the body as a whole. Any part of our bodies that do not have flexibility and strength is a weak link in the chain, and can be injured or cause injury in some related part of the body.

In every sport, indeed, in every movement, mobility is a requirement, but loose joints without precisely controlled strength are unstable. This decreases such things as strength, balance and reaction time and increases the likelihood of subsequent injury. A reduction in strength or performance is clearly not what most people are looking for be they athlete, laborer, or weekend gardener.

Studies have shown that skeletal muscle damage can occur when stretched only 20% beyond its resting length. There is evidence of this damage hours after a bout of stretching, which has led scientists to conclude that stretching causes delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Dr. Ben Benjamin presents an explanation as to why prolonged periods of static stretching (60 seconds) are problematic. This is that it initiates what is called the “stretch reflex”, a defensive mechanism designed to prevent muscles from stretching too far. In response to over-stretching the muscle reflexively contracts, which creates tension and pulling on the tendons and ligaments at the joints which can reduce the stiffness they must have in order to stabilize the joints.

One of the major issues people face is maintaining and/or regaining back health. According to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers of spinal mechanics and spinal health, there are no studies that have shown that working to increase back flexibility increases performance or healing. He goes on to explain that back flexibility is prescriptive on an individual basis, but not as a general prescriptive requirement to rehabilitate a bad back or maintain good back health. But strength endurance training is necessary for both.

In conclusion, the commonly assumed wisdom and perception of stretching as a panacea for pain and injury reduction, back health issues and performance improvement does not meet scientific reality. Dynamic warm-ups and strength building using ranges of motion, as well as whole body exercises that connect and work through the whole body to develop functional ranges of motion, will substantially contribute to function, performance and injury reduction.

–with thanks to Michael Reams, of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration

A New Look at Pain (Part II)


As talked about in the last blog, there is no such thing as a pain center. Pain is an output of many areas of the brain that warn of danger, basically changing your experience of your body so that you can respond appropriately. Pain is like no other sense, no other feeling we have. In fact, strictly speaking, it is not really a “sense” at all.

So where does pain come from? Pain is something the brain constructs out of information it receives. Once it has made this construct, it sends it to the self-aware part of itself, the part that you ordinarily think of as “you”. The brain builds constructs all the time, out of everything around it. Pain is just another thing the brain can make as it works to make sense of its own existence. Most of what the brain creates is useful. Pain is useful too, and the brain usually makes it for just long enough to slow you down to help the body heal. Depending on the reason for and the complexity of the pain, this may be a short, acute phase or a longer, more chronic issue.

When pain persists long past its “due date”, you may feel that you and your brain need some help with “de-constructing” it. This is when work has been done (or is being done) to address the actual sites where there is injury (e.g.-where the pain is experienced) and there is less concern about what is happening in the tissues. The brains of most people have no problem de-constructing pain production with treatment. Usually this is a quite straightforward process once treatment is initiated. With a bit of pain education as focus, and some judicious, well thought out manual therapy to provide novel input to the brain, the brain is usually more than happy to return to normal output. It “downregulates” itself, the peripheral nervous system follows suit, and the neurological reason for pain is ameliorated. This can be compared to rubbing your head after banging it against something: you are diluting the experience of “pain” by giving your brain something else to focus on.

This model of pain is more than a reductive biological view, it is a contextual view with the client in the center. It takes into account not just the injury itself, but the person’s full sensory-motor awareness, the basic internal “representational maps” of the body, and the emotional and experiential realities to name a few. It is harder to quantify or integrate, but it is more inclusive and orienting.


A New Look at Pain

What is pain? A simple definition is far from easy. It is easier to start defining what pain is not. The biggest mental pitfall to avoid is that pain and nociception (the experience of pain) are the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not have “pain receptors”, “pain nerves” “pain pathways”, or “pain centers”. There are, however some neurons in our tissues that respond to stimuli considered “dangerous”. For example, dropping a forty-pound kettlebell on your foot will send a prioritized signal to your spinal cord, which then is interpreted by your brain. Activity of this type in these nerves is called “nociception”, which literally means “danger reception”. We all have nociception going on all the time – only sometimes does it end in what we define as pain. Looking across various health professions, and in the literature, you could easily infer that nociception, in some cases, is equivalent to pain, as these two terms are often used interchangeably. But they are not interchangeable.

Pain is an output from the brain, not an input from the body. The fundamental paradigm shift that has recently occurred in pain science is the understanding that pain is created by the brain, not a “pre-formed” sensation that arrives from the body and is passively perceived by the brain. When a body part is damaged, nerve endings send a signal to the brain containing information about the nature of the damage – but no pain is felt until the brain interprets this information and decides that pain would be a good way to encourage you to take action that will help protect the body and heal the damage. The brain considers a huge amount of factors in making this decision, and no two brains will decide precisely the same thing. Many different parts of the brain help process the pain response, including areas that govern emotions, past memories, and future intentions. An injured hand means something very different to a professional musician than it does to a professional soccer player, and you can expect that they will have very different pain experiences from the same injury. The bottom line is: pain is in the brain, not the body.

The pain response is the combination of remarkable circuitry, with billions of neurons and glia with widely varying receptor sites. These receptors can change to different stimuli and alter what they are sensitive to, thanks to “synaptic plasticity”. There are convergence zones and ascending and descending fibers that create an interplay between the peripheral nervous system and the brain. Perhaps the most well-understood are the “brain maps” of body parts that change with experience. For the sake of even more confusion, we could add in ideas of gene expression: that genes make different things depending upon the environment. Or we could explain the level of description and detail offered by functional brain imaging (fMRI). Like the Humpty Dumpty story, there are all sorts of clues and truths in these levels of analysis, but no single integrated “pain center”.

More on this next week…


More about Rolfing


When she developed Rolfing more than 50 years ago, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. first called her work structural integration. The genius of her work rests on Dr. Rolf’s insight that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity. She observed that, over time, the field of gravity actually accentuates the body’s imbalances and diminishes its flexibility. Based on these core observations, she developed her original method of hands-on manipulation – which later became known as Rolfing – to reduce gravity’s adverse effects on the body.

Essentially, the Rolfing process enables the body to regain the natural integrity of its form, thus enhancing postural efficiency and your freedom of movement.

Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently a system of seamless networks of tissues rather than a collection of separate parts. These connective tissues, called fascia, actually surround, support and penetrate all the muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Rolfing works on this web-like complex of connective tissues to release, realign and balance the whole body. Thus resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain. Rolfing aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.

Why I became a Rolfer

free the butterflies

Why am I a Rolfer?
It started in my mid-twenties, when I first got Rolfed. I was really in a lot of pain. Even at that age I was feeling the effects of what my doctor called congenital degenerative cartilage disease. My left knee was due for surgery, and my back was hurting a lot. I mean a lot! By the time my mom was my age, she had gone through two major back surgeries. By the time I was considering Rolfing, she was on number 10 or 12. She was still in constant pain. She was a mess. I really wanted to avoid that!
I was worried about getting Rolfed. It seemed pretty expensive, and I had heard that it hurt a lot. I didn’t want to give someone a lot of money just to do something painful and come out none the better for it.
But I had talked to a lot of people who told me that it really helped them a lot, so I signed up, and that’s when my life really started getting better.
As it turned out, my Rolfer was really good, and it is true that Rolfing doesn’t have to hurt. There were definite moments of intensity. But that was usually that “hurts good” feeling when you stretch a sore muscle. During the time I was getting Rolfed, my knee stopped hurting. I even cancelled the surgery! I have never had it and I don’t need it. My back got better. Not healed, but better. No surgery to this day. And the pain is generally minimal. My cartilage is still degenerating (slowly), but there is not much pain, and nobody could see by looking at me that there is anything wrong at all. I feel great!
What was really awesome was that I could feel my body shifting, changing. I felt lighter and freer. I seemed to be going through a pretty cool attitude adjustment. It was strange; I mean how can you stay depressed and tired when you’re standing up tall, with your breath deep and alive? I hadn’t been particularly depressed or tired, but compared to how I felt now…it was like night and day! I had more energy than I could ever remember having. I felt like a kid again! I got back into exercising regularly: yoga, biking, swimming, hiking…ah, stuff I love to do! Yes: life is good! Still going strong!
I really wanted…and want…to share that experience, to help people to get out of pain, to help them feel like a kid again! So I did it; I went to the Rolf Institute to get my certification.
I have been Rolfing since 1992, and I don’t see myself stopping. The rewards are too great…for everyone. It’s a kind of bodywork that lends itself to different modalities: it never gets boring! It kind of works out, because my clients feel better, lighter, younger, and I get to share in their movement to health and well-being. Yay!!