Myofascial Release & Rolfing® SI

Many clients considering bodywork for any variety of reasons want to know the difference between Myofascial Release and Rolfing Structural Integration. There are a few similarities but simply put, Rolfing is holistic in that the practitioner will focus on the entire body over ten sessions whereas Myofascial Release (MFR) is a massage technique based on Rolfing SI that addresses the “target area” of pain in an attempt to free restrictions or break adhesions.

A quick definition of Fascia. It is a thin yet tough and elastic connective tissue that wraps all structures of the human body (including muscles and organs) while providing support and protection for these structures. MFR utilizes hands-on pressure and time to slowly elongate fascia and create better mobility. Rolfing uses fascia manipulation and movement education to restore flexibility and reduce compensations in an effort to leave otherwise healthy bodies feeling more comfortable and more useful. During a myofascial release session the client is expected to relax and allow the practitioner to work on them. This is called passive bodywork. During Rolfing sessions, on the other hand, the client is required to actively participate… not “check out” as you would during a massage. The client is part of the process and works together with the practitioner towards a common goal, whether it’s pain relief, increased mobility, or better functionality.

There (most definitely) are similarities between MFR and Rolfing Structural Integration. You can say that MFR falls under the Rolfing SI umbrella (because it was created by an osteopath who studied with Ida Rolf), but not necessarily the other way around. If I had to pick one main differentiating factor between the two it would be the ” Rolfing recipe”, the 10 session protocol created by Dr. Rolf, exclusively for structural integration, to organize the client’s whole body in gravity. “This is the gospel of Rolfing: when the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.” Ida P. Rolf, PhD.

To organize a body in gravity the practitioner must look at the body as a whole and take into account all relationships. The relationship of the shoulder girdle to the pelvic girdle, the pelvic girdle to knees, the knees to ankles, rib cage to spine, the head-on-shoulder girdle relationship and so on… Of course, the mind/body and client/practitioner relationships are considered as well. Bringing awareness to the client is tantamount and in my opinion, can be more important than the hands on soft tissue manipulation… but that’s another story. Although MFR may use the same techniques used in Rolfing and even have the same goals as Rolfing, the path to reach these goals is not the same, the strategy is not the same. The recipe has a cumulative effect and all decisions made and actions taken during sessions are not only based on what has been done prior but what is yet to come in future sessions. Structural Integration sessions are designed to build on previous work and progress gained while also preparing for what is to come. This is quite possibly the main reason why long-term changes are so common with Rolfing.

Written by Anthony Buono for bodono.
Anthony Buono is a Certified Rolfer™ & NYS LMT and owner of Gotham Rolfing.