Rolfing is named after its creator, Ida Rolf, a biochemist from New York City who studied alternative methods of bodywork and healing beginning in the 1920s. She died in 1979 at the age of 82.
Dr. Rolf developed a theory that the body’s aches and pains arose from basic imbalances in posture and alignment, which were created and reinforced over time by gravity and learned responses among muscles and fascia — the sheath-like connective tissue that surrounds and binds muscles together. Rolfing developed as a way to “restructure” muscles and fascia.
The focus on manipulating fascia is part of what distinguishes it from chiropractics, which deals with bones, and from therapeutic massages, which works on muscles.
That also explains why Rolfing has a reputation for being aggressive, even painful at times. Fascia is stubborn material, particularly if it is marked by knots and scar tissue. Rolfers gouge with knuckles and knead with fists, contort limbs and lean into elbows to loosen tendons and ligaments. Patients, meanwhile, need the fortitude to relax and take it during the hourlong sessions.