A type of deep massage — so deep it could be considered masochistic —known as Rolfing that was popular in the US in the 1970s is again gaining momentum. Founded by American biochemist Ida Rolf in 1971, Rolfing Structural Integration involves not massaging muscles but stretching and lengthening the body’s connective tissues, known as fascia. Rolfers say that fascia can shorten and tighten, thanks to schlumpy posture or bad body mechanics, and this can lead to a host of aches and pains.
Research on whether or not the pricey —and notoriously excruciating —technique is scant, but that isn’t stopping the natural health set from paying around $150 (€113) an hour for one of the standardised ten-session treatments. “Could Rolfing be one Madonna endorsement away from becoming the next Pilates?” asked The New York Times in an article in October.
The article also states that Rolfing practitioners are reporting more clients these days, particularly among 20-something city dwellers. Some Rolfers attribute the Internet for spreading the word; the technique also got an endorsement in 2007 on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which could only help the cause. The US-based Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado, also reports a rise in student enrollments.
“But to administer Rolfing, a massage therapist has to become certified, otherwise it can be quite risky,” says Ashish Gupta of Damai Spa, here in Delhi. Certification can be obtained from the Boulder headquarters or at one of a handful of associate schools in Brazil, Japan, Germany, South Africa, and Canada.
But in an effort to broaden the technique’s accessibility, a new training center has recently opened in the UK, where only 22 certified Rolfers (according to the offical Rolfing database) are currently located. There is a reported 1,700 certified Rolfers currently practicing in the world, with about 1,000 of those based in the US. France, for example, has 10.
While some studies claiming the efficacy of acupuncture have been published in recent years, Rolfing still remains a bit of a mystery, alongside its sister-in-controversy, chiropractic therapy. Chiropractic, another treatment popularised in the US, involves spinal manipulation to cure a number of health ailments. In the US, there are 18 such accredited schools, with only five in Europe, two in Canada, and six in Australia.