I generally stand at about 5’8”, but today I feel like I am six feet tall. My general lopsided gait has been replaced by a smooth, even glide. My shoulders are further back and down than they have ever been, even when I have tried to cajole them into this exact position hundreds of times in every yoga class I’ve ever taken. Right now, it feels natural to rest them there and I marvel at the oddity. I’m tempted to walk the winding path leaving the Villas Health Center with a book on my head because I feel strangely confident that it would stay in place.
I am pleased to share that Rancho La Puerta has added a Rolfer® to the already impressive list of holistic practices/practitioners! Melissa Schneider, a certified Rolfing Structural Integration® and Aston-Patterning® practitioner, has booked multiple weeks this year to introduce Ranch guests to this unique modality of manual therapy and movement education.
Rolfing Structural Integration, or just Rolfing for short, takes its name from its founder, Ida Rolf. It is a reorganizing and balancing of the myofascial system with respect to the gravitational field. Bodies reflect life experiences by absorbing them into their connective tissues. By targeting those tissues, also known as fascia, Rolfing can dramatically alter a body’s posture and structure without cracking bones. Practitioners apply slow, deep pressure using their fingers, hands, forearms, and elbows, depending on what level of tissue needs to be addressed. Rolfing reeducates the body, reminding it where to release and untangle, while promoting stability and restoring normal function and balance. It also promotes uninhibited breathing and full body movement, alleviates chronic pain and stress, and increases flexibility.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect going into the session because I had just learned about the discipline, but I was excited to try it and thought it would be well suited to my body. I struggle with chronic headaches, and overall body aches due to a car accident that is deeply rooted in my body’s tissues. I’ve lived most of my life with the knowledge and blind acceptance that I am structurally lopsided.
Rolfing is a holistic remedy but not an actual massage. This session was immediately different than other spa treatments that I have received at The Ranch in that it was performed clothed (I wore a sports bra and yoga pants), and no oils were used.
We began the session with a pre-work assessment. I told Melissa about my past injuries and points of pain while she had me walk, move my head side to side, and bend forward, all the while noticing how my body moved. We discussed how my body feels at different parts of the day, sitting vs. standing, moving vs. non-moving, etc., to get a feel for my daily habits and movements. My main points of tension are my neck/shoulders and my hips; we made those our focus for the session.
Melissa had me start seated in a chair with my feet flat on the floor. She used her hands to very slowly move my head side-to-side and up-and-down, feeling and adjusting tissues in my neck ever so slightly. My head felt heavier and lighter at the same time due to the release of stress occurring just by holding it in its proper position. She had me bend forward in the chair so she could assess my spine, carefully feeling each vertebra. She directed me to rock forward and backward on my sits bones so she could she how they moved and where adjustments should be made.
Then I moved to the massage table. While I was resting on my back, Melissa began clearing spaces of surface tension, first in my neck and shoulders, then in my hips, so the underlying tensions there had somewhere to release to. I was not surprised to learn that there were multiple layers of tension in my neck and hips. I was surprised by how quickly tension melted away when she began pinching and holding some tissues while massaging others, as she instructed me to make small, slow movements with my joints. I experienced a whole spectrum of sensations from subtle to intense. She continually reminded me to keep breathing and moving slowly, checking in periodically to make sure I was doing alright. I felt thoroughly supported and heard throughout the entire session.
Some parts reminded me of rolling on a massage ball, which I do in my own practice from time to time to alleviate myofascial tissue, but instead of rolling on a ball, it was as if a weighted ball was rolling on me. The more I relaxed, the deeper it was able to reach. Tension and tenderness were released slowly at first as my body fought to keep it all contained as part of its collective memory of my life, and then dispersed all at once, like someone let go of a blown-up balloon. Tight tissues were cut as if they were threads of a worn-out sweater, tired of keeping their mangled, stretched-out shape. Repositioning my connective tissues allowed my bony structures to find their proper alignment without the struggle or pain they’d become used to. By the end of the session, I was amazed and delighted to be standing in a body that I knew was mine but felt almost foreign. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to being in pain due to improper structural alignment.
A typical Rolfing program involves ten sessions performed relatively close together (about a week apart is recommended). Generally, each session has a different, specific focus, so that all the sessions together target the entire body. Unfortunately, that schedule is unrealistic for Ranch guests who tend to stay for just one week. Melissa is offering both single 90-minute sessions that tend to the entire body and a three session 90-minute mini-series for those that want more focused time. While I would love to have done 9 more sessions with her and I am positive I would have received lasting results from completing the full program, I am satisfied and impressed with the immense difference I felt in my body after just one session.
I love this Judith Aston quote on Melissa’s website: “Sometimes we just need help interpreting ourselves”. Thank you, Melissa for listening to my body’s needs and interpreting them for me in ways I could understand. You can learn more about Rolfing and Melissa’s practice on her website: https://www.connectedbody.net
Melissa will be at The Ranch giving Rolfing treatments April 1-15, 2023, and December 2-15, 2023.