Structural Integration - Deep Tissue Bodywork, Posture and Movement Education

"When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneosly, the body heals itself."
Ida Rolf, Ph.D.

Structural Integration of the Human Body

November 2, 2009 : Articles

Structural Integration of the Human Body
A Historical Perspective on the Legacy of Ida Rolf, Ph.D.
[Originally published in Vision Magazine December 2007]

Ida P. Rolf was born in New York in 1896. Ida graduated from Barnard College in 1916 and received her Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1920. Her acceptance into the university was a rare accomplishment for a woman at that time. She worked for her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and wrote her thesis on the human body’s connective tissue. She went on to research organic chemistry at the prestigious Rockefeller Institute for the next 12 years.

Ida Rolf, Ph.D. working on a client.Dr. Rolf developed her method of working with the body after many years of practicing Tantric Yoga and studying multiple holistic disciplines including Osteopathy, Homeopathy, Chiropractic and the Alexander Technique. She had experience with, and training in, the scientific side of connective tissue and how it responds to chemical and physiological changes. This, in combination with her knowledge of holistic approaches to the body, provided a very unique view of the human structure and it’s healing process. This melding of disciplines was the synthesis for her work although initially she presented it in a very scientific, westernized way. Dr. Rolf felt like a more scientific perspective on Structural Integration would be met with a warmer reception and lent more credibility by the healthcare community as a whole.

Using Yoga’s theory of evolving the human structure for higher states of consciousness through physical change, combined with deep hands on work, she began to develop Structural Integration. Her experience studying the biochemistry of connective tissue told her that putting energy, pressure and/or heat into fascia it will begin to shift and change shape as well as chemical structure. Hands on bodywork provides all three of these stimuli. When shortened fascia creates chronic tension in the body by immobilizing what it envelops; this includes all muscles, bones and organs forming an interconnected matrix throughout the body. Finding length where needed by releasing immobilized fascia and seeking balanced tone in the body is the primary goal of Structural Integration. Dr. Rolf practiced on people who came to her looking for relief from dysfunction and her theory of increased vitality through the proper alignment of the body’s fascia took shape.

What began with a trial and error approach based on established techniques developed into a cohesive theory of how the body’s structure functions in gravity. The concept of “the line”, which is present in all well organized bodies, began to take shape. “The line” in the body can be related to a plumb line hanging from the crown of the head. When a body is organized this line extends from the crown down, in front of the spine and through the center of the pelvic floor. This relationship of “the line” to the rest of one’s structure is paramount in Structural Integration work. When we are in proper relationship with gravity this embodiment of the line is apparent; for without it we find ourselves unbalanced, unstable, and working against the pull of gravity instead of in harmony with it.

In appropriate relationship to gravity this force that we are always pushing against actually encourages us to stand upright, a counterbalance if you will. This concept is known as expansional balance and was brought into the Structural Integration paradigm by one of Dr. Rolfs early students, Ed Maupin, Ph.D. Expansional balance refers to the body’s unique ability to respond dynamically to all forces put upon it. This is the ability to expand the body rather than collapse it in response to external forces (1). When something pushes, I push back. Gravity becomes a tool providing lift to the body, as I sink my weight into the floor I secure a stable foundation to stand upright.

Clients have found that along with physical benefits the awareness that this work provides is a unique vehicle to explore the relationship to their body. At times we can store emotions in the body. When these emotions become stuck in the body’s connective tissue chronic tension develops in that area, this phenomenon is known as body armoring. This armoring is a way to disconnect from a part of the body that may be scary or hold an emotion we are not yet ready to deal with. Sometimes emotions can arise in session and it is for this reason that creating a safe and nurturing rapport with a client is vital. The process of identifying the areas of emotional holding can be a powerful way to move past trauma as well as develop more confidence and integrity within your body.

With these revolutionary ideas of structure and powerful techniques to compliment them Dr. Rolf knew it was time to teach. She began in the 1950’s and wanted to reach out to a group that would embrace her work and, more importantly, the theory that drives it. Osteopaths and Chiropractors were logical professionals to start training, but Dr. Rolf feared her work would be looked upon as just another technique to shoehorn into their well established theories of the body. Hoping her vision of fascia as “the organ of posture” would be wholly embraced, she kept searching.

The Human Potential Movement was alive and well in the 60’s and Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA was a powerful player in the advancement of alternative therapies. It proved to be an ideal location to spread Structural Integration to a receptive audience that was actively searching for new and innovative approaches to the body. Fritz Perls, who is well known for Gestalt Therapy, received a series of sessions from Ida Rolf, Ph.D while they were both working at Esalen. She relieved him of pain he was having related to a heart condition and awakened memories of an anesthetist injuring him during surgery. He was every so grateful for the relief, sharing and sending clients her way as well as spreading her praises throughout the Esalen community (2). The more she worked on people and became better known, she was met with an increasing demand to teach. Structural Integration is powerful work and people returned as more and more wanted the learn this revolutionary new style of bodywork. It was around this period that her worked gained the nickname “Rolfing®”, as it is known by some to this day.

Eventually schools began to crop up teaching Structural Integration and the work started to proliferate. The Rolf Institute started in 1971 and The Guild for Structural Integration soon followed; they were the first two schools teaching this work and continue to this day. Later, other schools and styles began to emerge such as Hellerwork, KMI, Soma, and IPSB here in San Diego. All have a perspective on the unique vision of Ida Rolf, Ph.D. and although there are differences in style the goal is always the same, to organize the body for a better relationship with gravity.

Archie Underwood, BA, HHP practices Rolf Structural Integration and teaches at IPSB in San Diego, CA. He has been doing bodywork for 9 years and has 2500 hours of training. To book a session or for more information please call 619.861.3232 or visit

1. A Dynamic Relation to Gravity, by: Ed Maupin, Ph.D.
2. Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, by: Jeffery Kripal ; University of Chicago Press, 2007

“The gospel of Structural Integration: When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.” – Ida Rolf, Ph.D.