There is so much confusion around the difference between Rolfing and massage, in great part because many states require that Rolfers have a massage license in order to practice (Washington State is one). Rolfing has been lumped in with massage and the differences not clearly distinguished.
In truth, Rolfing bears more resemblance to physical therapy. When a client comes to my office, we first do a health intake so that I can learn about any possible contraindications or other concerns. Then I do a postural and movement assessment with the client standing and walking. Then, we begin work. I may have the client lie on a massage table, but just as frequently, I have the client sitting on a special height adjustable bench or working with one of my other office tools.
There is a movement afoot to have Rolfing recognized under a different therapy umbrella – structural integration. Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing, called her work structural integration, and her work has spawned numerous offshoot therapies: Hellerwork, Soma, KMI, Anatomy Trains and even just plain old, generic structural integration.
Some massage schools give cursory classes in what they term structural integration massage, but your average massage practitioner is not trained to assess posture and movement the same way that structural integration practitioners (including all of the therapies above) are taught. In truth, the way of “seeing” the body that structural integration practitioners learn is very different from the western model of looking at the body.
Whereas most western practitioners try to isolate the symptoms and “fix” the part of the body that has broken down, Rolfers and other structural integration practitioners look at the body in a holistic manner. We look to see how each joint is affecting every other joint, how the whole system is functioning together as a unit. This is why we are often able to pinpoint movement deficiencies that escape minute analysis.
To truly grasp the difference between massage and structural integration or Rolfing, it’s best to experience it. Even my clients say that it’s tough to put in words exactly how Rolfing feels, but once you know it a light bulb comes on. Your body just “gets” it.