The First Session
The intent of the first Rolfing session is considered superficial by most Rolfers, but they have a very special meaning for "superficial" The session's goal is to systematically release the body's "stocking," or the fascial sheath that lies just below the skin's surface. Some lengthening of the trunk up and out of the pelvis is also anticipated, as well as a relaxation of the legs below the hip joint. Most people appear to be jammed into the pelvic structure from both above and below. After the initial session, clients usually feel longer and experience freer movement in the pelvis.
The breathing pattern of the client is also affected by this session. Most of us employ only the upper rib cage when we breathe instead of using the bottom of the cage and the diaphragm. By skillfully working with the superficial fascia as it spans the ribs, shoulder joint, and costal arch, a Rolfer can help fashion a breathing pattern which uses the diaphragm and the front, sides, and back of the rib cage to create one smooth, bellows like motion. As breathing becomes deeper and easier as the sessions go on, more oxygen is available for metabolic and catabolic activities, and the client feels an increase of energy.
The end of the first session often involves some freeing of the fascial planes around the neck and shoulders, a lengthening of the structures on either side of the spine and those covering the lower back. Finally the client is asked to walk and describe what changes he or she feels. Reports of a "lightness" and ease, and the strange sensation that one is taking up more space are common. Some kind of "homework" is usually assigned in order to reinforce the session's results. The Rolfer might suggest that the client imagine a string hanging from a helium filled balloon and tugging on the top of his or her head as he or she walks. Or the client might be told to allow his or her breaths to press against the sides of the ribs or to both rise toward the head and drop to the navel.
The Second Session
The second Rolfing session centers around the legs and, especially, the feet. Most people carry their weight on the outside edge of each foot, even though the inside appears better able to support the stresses of body weight. In addition, most people walk by allowing the legs to pull the upper body along after them. This habit puts too much pressure on the heels and can reduce flexibility in the toes and metatarsals. If, on the other hand, the upper body initiates a step by "falling" lightly forward, the legs can easily swing forward in response, the body's weight "caught" on the whole foot. To teach this behavior, the second session begins with the feet.
After one leg has been worked with, clients are asked to walk and compare the action of the two legs. Invariably, they report that the leg which has been Rolfed feels stronger, more secure. Often they notice that the weight travels on the inside of the Rolfed foot and that there seems to be less pressure on the heel. The other leg will then be Rolfed and some work done on the back and neck to complete the session.
The Third Session
The third Rolfing session is an integrating one. It attempts to tie the first two sessions together into a complex whole. It is the last of the "superficial" sessions and a crucial point for both Rolfer and client. If, for any reason, either one wishes to delay the series, it is advantageous to do so before the fourth Rolfing session, which begins to deal with the deep structures of the pelvis.
Fundamentally, the third Rolfing session deals with what's called the "lateral line" from the head of the humerus, or upper arm, to the greater trochanter of the femur, or thigh bone. The client lies on his or her side as the Rolf practitioner works to arrange the shoulder, ribs and pelvis into an even stack. He tries to differentiate the rib cage from the shoulder girdle on top and the pelvis underneath. The Rolfer's goal is to set each in its own space without crowding from its neighbors. The result will eventually be freer breathing and less painful crowding of the structures.
Typical homework after the third session might be to imagine that the pelvis is hanging from the rib cage like a swing hanging from a tree limb.
A typical Rolfing mental exercise is to imagine that the pelvis is hanging from the rib cage like a swing hanging from a tree limb.