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Bodywork can free 'trapped' negative energy

‘Rolfing' is a technique for rebalancing the body's posture and dissolving muscle blocks which absorb energy and can have serious consequences. Gillian Duffin explains how the technique can be useful in treating depression



Feldenkrais called attention to the fact that all negative emotional expressions are accompanied by a shortening of flexor muscles. Therefore, about the time that someone gets overly interested in negative emotion, he begins to get chronic shortening of the flexor muscles. The energy in a chronically flexed body has to do work just to hold it up; the man has to continuously add energy to that body to keep it going. Such chronic flexion gives a feeling of tiredness, of depression.
— Dr Ida P Rolf


Depression, like any emotion, expresses itself in the structure of the human body. Just as laughter releases tension and opens up the body, short or long term feelings of depression are visible as a closing in/down of the body the slumped shoulders, head downturned, with the vision of our horizon lowered and where we look with vision is where we go in feeling… down. The body and mind can therefore be looked at as different expressions of the same thing they are in-separable.

Good bodywork does not purge traumas. Good bodywork grounds people in their physical experience of life, therefore giving them a good foundation and connection. The connection we have to our bodies is generally a good indicator of our vitality and well-being.

Different ways of connecting to the body are important to explore when we are feeling disconnected. The breath is the most reliable indicator of how the body is doing; it gives a very true reading and is easy to alter through various breathing practices and meditation. Yoga, walking and other gentle forms of exercise are also great ways of seeing how being in the body automatically balances the mind.

Receiving bodywork is also a great way to connect. As a Structural Integration practitioner, I can talk about my experience of how the functions that a body performs change when the structure changes. Structure determines function. And structure is changeable, not just through the aging process of shrinking under the constant pressure of gravity, but changeable towards a more orderly and energy-efficient arrangement of the whole body. When we work with the underlying physical reality of the body to improve balance, it necessarily improves the balance of the whole human. Actually, being in the world in a more secure structure liberates resources of energy, clarity and vitality, the consequences of which can only be progressive.

Structural Integration (SI) was designed by Dr Ida P Rolf in the 1930s. Dr Rolf noted that we are acted upon by gravity, and that misalignment of any part of the body causes pain and other symptoms which increase with the ever-present downward pressure of gravity. This misalignment can result from physical trauma (accidents and the like) and from habitual distorting behaviour (like slumping over) that originates from physical or psychological pain. Like a crooked building that puts stress unevenly throughout the structure, crooked alignment increases stress in all body parts, especially through the joints. The breath also suffers and the delivery of our life force to the being is diminished. To realign the body, Rolf designed the ten-session process which she termed Structural Integration.

Through a process taking place over ten sessions, a practitioner restructures the body by listening to and re-balancing the web of connective tissue that connects and supports everything in the body. Through the application of energy in the form of pressure, the connective tissue is re-educated through movement and awareness and is returned to its natural state of balance. Connective tissue is essentially your organ of structure.

This feeling of imbalance in the structure may not be perceivable to most of us: we do not connect our backache to the underlying support that the feet and legs give to the back. But when our back gives out or our neck starts to ache, our energy levels sag because our energy becomes all consumed with holding us up.

The potential of the human structure is to be effortlessly balanced in the gravitational field. To imagine how good this feels, we first have to understand how much energy and resources the body uses to hold itself in the pattern we have established. To understand this, mimic another persons posture for five minutes you will be surprised by how exhausting it is.

Now put the picture together for someone who is feeling depressed. The energy levels are low so there is no movement, so the body gets locked into a self-protective pattern which consumes energy that is already in short supply. The body starts to shut down and the connection dims. Vitality becomes a stranger.

So where do we begin? Important to say first that receiving deep tissue body work is not recommended in acute situations, as it can accentuate mood swings. The best body-approach treatment (not to the exclusion of your doctors recommendations) for acute cases is breath work, which will in turn lead to an increase in energy which can be used to gain more movement in the body through exercise and for investing in proper nutrition. Then the body/mind connection will naturally find greater balance. When there is some foundational balance, then you can start into good bodywork.

There are many different types out there, so find the one that best suits you. Structural Integration is not a cure for any particular problem and will affect one person very differently to the next. That is why we are individuals. The discovery itself of re-discovering harmony in ones body is one of the most appreciated processes of SI, along with better movements, being better grounded, using the body more harmoniously with less energy, and being more efficient within the field of gravity.


Some individuals may experience their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body, others as a constant fatigue, yet others as an unrelenting threatening environment. Those over 40 may call it old age. And yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem, so prominent in their own structure, and in the structures of others, that it has been ignored; they are off balance. They are at war with gravity.
— Ida P Rolf



Gillian Duffin is a qualified Structural Integration practitioner


To find out more about SI or to find a practitioner, check here. Two relevant websites are www.idaprolf.org and www.rolfguild.org where a list of local practitioners can be found.


How Rolfing got its name

Ida Rolf was an American doctor of biochemistry who explored many approaches to health. Osteopathy and homeopathy contributed to her early understanding of the body. But the cornerstone of her thinking was yoga, which she studied intensively. In the 1930s, disillusioned by the lack of effectiveness of medical science, she applied her experience, logic and intuition to devise her own approach to health. This process has since brought thousands of individuals back to a place of true health and vitality. She invested over 40 years of her life developing and teaching the ten-session recipe, which is still taught in its original form at the Guild for Structural Integration in Colorado, USA.



Rolf, Dr Ida P: Rolfing and Physical Reality (1978): p 134ff

Rolf, Dr Ida P: Rolfing: Re-establishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being (1989)

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