by Jan Owens
(Journal of Well Being: Integrated Natural Health Care in our Community, Vol 12, Number 3, May-June 1997)

  I have just been Rolfed by Ellen Freed.  I had asked Ellen to share profound changes she has observed in her clients. She was reluctant to do this to preserve confidentiality. Instead, she Rolfed ME: my first experience!!! My muscles are saying to me: "We are leaving you as wounds.we will remain only as memories.You can have your body back now."  It is a profound feeling.

   I had stripped down to socks and panties, and she evaluated my body for alignment from four directions. My left hip was high, I was very grounded, she said. My upper body was somewhat constrained, and breathing shallow.  I was in a small room in the old Quaker Meeting House, now the Breckstone Group on 10 th and Harrison in Wilmington.  On the wall was a "Dimensional Man', its paper layers of drawn muscle, circulatory, skeletal, digestive, lymph metaphoric reminders that bodies are not skin deep.  As she worked, deep, certain fingers searched out Golgi tendon bodies, releasing long held muscles to explore a new place of comfort.

    At her direction I breathed through her fingers.  I felt pain with promise.  I knew I was on the road to health. I reviewed aspects of my life from a distance, as if they were projected on a slide screen. They seemed to be saying: 'Notice us..we are in a different place now.'  I was aware that muscles were being unleashed from decades of armoring; I said good-bye without regret.  I cried from a deep inner kernel when she worked around my solar plexus.  Afterwards I sensed a new comfort, a new naturalness, a new sense of well-being with breathing that was to grow noticeably greater over the next week or so.  She said to me, "Drink lots of water, you may sleep very well.'

   Rolfing is bodywork which seeks to release bound-up fascia. Rolfing releases the fascia, which build up along lines of stress. For example, if I 'hold my shoulders' in a fight-or-flight response, this physical stress causes the fascia to thicken.  It becomes, in effect, a band-aid or scar tissue.  Rolfing breaks up fascia via a process that has two main explanations: 1) Rolfing fingers press so hard that the fascia are converted from a gel state to a solid state, a 'silly old theory' according to Ellen, but stated here with her permission.  2) Rolfing stimulates the Golgi tendon organs in the end of muscles, allowing them to stretch, secondarily pulling the fascia. The fascia wraps everything in the body, including the nuclei of cells.  "If everything melted except the fascia, you would still be recognizable-it is the organ of form. The fascia give structure and shape to everything and, along with the circulatory, lymph and other fluid systems hydrates everything. If the connective tissue is all bound up, it typically causes a less hydrated area."  Additionally, body segments can assume balanced and supportive relationships.  In such a system gravity works as a supportive and uplifting force. Otherwise, the body is at war with gravity.

   Ellen came to Rolfing to deal with her own physical pain. She had scoliosis and whiplash in her 20's, and spent a lot of time in pain. If the pain became severe she would have to lie down for a week or two. Rolfing got her better. She had been selling real estate and felt the need to change. She drove to Philadelphia to get Rolfed. "It was not just pain relief, but he mind-body connection. My mind-body experienced an ease it hadn't experienced before. She had the entire 10 Rolfing sessions.  Her mind opened up because her body felt better. She found that where she was stuck emotionally, she wasn't stuck anymore.
      Ellen attended the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado.  The whole thing surprised her.  It was a wonderful experience and an enormous amount of work. She asked questions and people answered, listened, and heard.  ('Rolfers are a funny crew. They come from a place of independence and self-sufficiency.') The Institute was founded by Ida Rolf, who had received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in biochemistry in the 20's.  Ida frequented places like Esalen, at a time where there weren't many places like that.  She would teach her classes in hotel rooms, people's homes, etc.   Her office was in her car for a long time while she did the commute from East Coast to the West Coast.  She 'yanked the chains' of psychologists by saying: "There's no such thing as psychology, only perverted physiology."
     Ida Rolf made two great contributions to bodywork: naming 1) gravity and 2) connective tissue as forces to be reckoned with.  When doing dissections Ida had been instructed to "rip of the white stuff to get to the underlying structures".  But during the course of the alternative renaissance in the 20's in New York City, she watched people doing Yoga and simultaneously watched their bodies change. Ida's neighbor, a piano teacher, had injured herself falling off a roof. Ida bartered sessions with her in exchange for piano lessons for her children. Ida didn't do much talking at that point about physical/emotional/spiritual pain. In the 40's and 50's Ida devised 10 lessons; in the 60's she taught these to lay people.

   Ellen Freed has practiced Rolfing for 7 years. The 10 sessions are $75/session, reasonable considering the $60-$100 range nationwide). She encourages people to have sessions once a week, or short of that, in clumps (3-4-3). Most of the people who come are going through or approaching a change. "What I see is people becoming more themselves."  How can an individual maximize the Rolfing experience?  By thinking about the 'ripple effects'-for example, exploring patterns of movement, identifying what one does when nervous, by attending to the patterns.  "Once we understand our pattern(s), then we have choice.  People's patterns point to their pain. They injure themselves where they hold themselves. Aches and pains go to those places too.  The most profound changes are subtle.  There is a lot of emotion ('professional catharsis') and a lot of pretending there's no emotion ('professional just-finers').  There's a line where people are more comfortable mucking around in their stuff or ignoring it rather than doing the work of growing towards health.  People have to be at a place where they choose to move on; as a Rolfer, I facilitate that."
   Ellen mentioned a hypothetical study done in 1959 and mentioned in Job's Body (Deane Juhan of Esalen Institute) which stated that the fascia is composed of hollow tubes of collagen which contain cerebrospinal fluid, still thought by many to be located only in the central nervous system.

   Ellen sees an unfortunate tendency towards exclusivity, leading predictably to unnecessary competition.  "If you are good, people will come to you; if you are not, they won't come.  It's as simple as that." One of the horrors of bodywork is that people go to a weekend class and call themselves a reflexologist, or an Ayurvedic doctor. The certification/licensure movement sanctions validation by hours rather than by mastery.  This mentality to some extent is the dark side of the certification/licensure movement.

   What does Ellen Freed do in her personal life to take care of herself?  She does Yoga with a teacher who attends to structure and detail.  She drinks a lot of water, a metaphor for inner fluidity.  She has a good marriage with a wonderful husband.they mountain bike, do water colors, and play together. Life is good, she has a good practice She is much healthier now than she was 20 years ago.

  "I am at a fork in the road.  My first focus is on the belief that mind and body are pretty much the same thing.  Lately, I have been studying movement, and am certified in Rolfing Movement.".   In the limbic system widely known as 'the reptilian brain', movement and sexuality are processed. She wants to facilitate change at the limbic system level. The work is physical; there is some verbal processing, but the focus is on the physical. She is currently doing some Rolfing movement work, and looks forward to the house she and her husband are purchasing in the near future so she can have a larger treatment room.