The Core Sessions 4-6 and Session 7

The Fourth Session


The fourth through sixth Rolfing sessions represent a change in the therapist's intention. The focus moves from the superficial fascial planes to what's called the body's "core." Rolfers define "core" structures as those that lie close to the spine and the body's midline; they are differentiated from the "sleeve," consisting of the shoulder and pelvic girdles, and the lateral structures of the legs.

Click to enlarge Work on the Lower Leg in Session 4

The agenda for the fourth session is deceptively simple, and the session may actually take less time than those which come before. The inside of the legs, from the ankles to the pelvic floor, is treated, followed by some organizing of the back and neck. The goal of the session is to establish improved support for the structures that make up the pelvic floor. Although most of the work is on the legs, a client will also often feel a "lift" throughout the torso. The fourth Rolfing session seeks to establish an inner pillar from which the limbs can be hung. That is, the Rolfer wants to hang the body's "sleeve" from the supportive "core."

An additional benefit of this session is to free the nerves that monitor the lower inner leg and arch of the foot. These sensory nerves gather data about the foot's position in space, and if they are snagged in the fascia they will not properly trigger the motor nerves that control the arch. When they are freed, the arch will naturally regulate itself more appropriately.By freeing neural and fascial strains, the bones are able to align better, providing improved support for the torso.

The Fifth Session

Click to enlarge Work on the Psoas in Session 5

The fifth Rolfing session is a continuation of the fourth. It is recommended that not more than a couple weeks separate these sessions. Session Five addresses the relationship of the superficial abdominal muscles (such as the rectus abdominis) to the deeper muscles (the psoas and iliacus). Most people wrongly use the external stomach muscles to do the work of stronger, deeper lying muscles. During this session the Rolfer slowly lengthens and separates the outer structures to allow room for the inner structures to reassert themselves.

Dr. Rolf discovered an ingenious and remarkably safe method of working with these deep structures with a minimum of discomfort. Only a properly trained Rolfer should attempt this method, but with the right education and experience, the fifth Rolfing session is often enjoyable. Even people who generally dislike receiving work on the belly area, or who have had painful psoas work in the past, find this session to be relatively gentle yet effective.

Click to enlarge Work on the Iliacus in Session 5

The psoas muscle is unique in the body because it is the only muscle that extends from the legs to the trunk (lumbar spine). All other muscles of the leg or trunk attach directly to some part of the pelvis. As a result, the proper training and toning of these leg and stomach muscles are usually better for bad backs than traditional sit ups.

In fact, sit-ups trigger existing back problems by shortening the front of the body from the collarbone to the hip joint. Exercises which use the stomach muscles for balance, such as those taught in yoga, will bring health and vitality to the under-used deep structures. To have this benefit, it is essential to avoid flattening the lower back curve to the floor when doing exercises laying down.

Click to enlarge More Tummy Work in Session 5

A healthy, active psoas muscle also helps other conditions. The nerve fibers located near the psoas become stimulated as the muscles respond to new movement. Menstrual cramping, constipation, and excessive gas may be lessened as a result. A satisfying feeling of the leg trunk connection of these muscles often emerges as you learn to move your legs from the lumbar spine rather than from the hip joint. 

The fifth session may include work on the connective tissue of the organs, especially the digestive system, uterus and ovaries, and bladder and kidneys. The connective tissues of organ structures have a much higher ratio of elastin fibers than the connective tissue of the muscles and bones, which are more collagen-rich. This elastic quality means that the nature of organ work is about unwinding the strain patterns rather than simply stretching and pushing them into place. Work on the visceral structures is very comfortable, slow-paced, and quite relaxing, almost meditative.

The Sixth Session

Click to enlarge Sacrum, Low Back, and Legs in Session 6
In the Rolfing series, each session focuses on some aspect of the pelvis. Even in the second session, work on the legs and feet is designed to establish support for the pelvic basin. However, the sixth session is very specific in its approach to the pelvis. The muscle structures that are the key here are the deep rotating muscles under the buttocks. Balancing the hip rotators will help the legs function more smoothly while walking.

By this time in the sequence, both the Rolfer and the client have become aware of the balancing of the pelvic structure. As the body becomes more symmetrical and organized around a vertical line, disparities between the right and left sides become less apparent. In the sixth session, this symmetry is enhanced and extended above and below the pelvic girdle.

The incorrect use of the term "posture" to describe the results of Rolfing can now be better understood. The Latin root of posture is "positus," meaning "to place, to put." Consequently, "good posture" usually implies the "placing" of the body into a position that is considered appropriate and balanced. The goal of the Rolf process in its sixth session, on the other hand, is to create a structure which rests on a well supported vertical core and demands a minimum effort to maintain while the person is standing. Rolfing, therefore, is concerned with the integration of human structures and not with old-fashioned notions about posture.

The results of the sixth Rolfing session are generally dramatic and welcomed by clients. A sense of "bigness" and space are reported, as well as an ability to breathe through to the spine; that is, the spine appears to undulate during respiration in a wavelike motion. People who have decreased or eliminated chronic back pain through Rolfing usually point to the sixth session as pivotal in their progress. Others, who come suffering from anxiety, may also claim a great easing of emotional distress after this session.


The Seventh Session

Click to enlarge Neck Work in Session 7
The work of the seventh session is directed toward balancing the neck and head on the spine. By this point, there's a sense of lift and support in the legs, pelvis, and torso, and we wish to carry that feeling up into the head. During the seventh session, the Rolfer works on the fascia of the neck, opens the connective tissues around the skull and face and helps to improve breathing further by opening constricted nasal passages. Session 7 includes work on the jaw muscles, done with vinyl gloves inside the cheek. After this work, many are surprised at how soft and relaxed the jaw can be, even if they did not previously have excessive jaw tension.

Next Section: Sessions 8-10