Rolfers are interested in how you habitually stand, walk and sit, as well as how you move in your everyday activities. We are creatures of habit, and our physical movement patterns tend to be acquired at a very early age. Posture is interesting because it has what we would call both a structural and a functional aspect.
By structural, we mean that your tissues (and particularly your connective tissues, the fascia) get ‘moulded’ and set over time into supporting particular ways of sitting and standing. This ‘set’ of our bodies accounts for the reason why many us of quickly fail when we try to ‘sit up straight’ after a lifetime of slouching. Your connective tissues aren’t used to supporting you in that position, so you have to ‘muscle into’ the new position. And when your muscles tire, so do you.
By functional, we mean the way in which you ‘use’ your body on an everyday basis. We like to think that we can use our bodies in any way we choose, but the reality is that we tend to return to the same ways of doing things day in, day out. Here, the pattern is not so much ‘moulded’ into our tissues, but imprinted on our neurological and nervous systems.
In practice, both our good and bad postural habits are sustained by a combination of structural and functional aspects, and changing our patterns requires a combination of tissue release and movement re-education.
It’s worth saying that Rolfers aren’t looking for something called ‘perfect posture’ (whatever that might be), because we recognise that posture is a complex product of inherited physical traits and personal and cultural history. We grow up with lots of subtle cues (gendered, cultural, familial) about how we should stand and sit, and we tend to copy the movements of the people around us. Nevertheless, it’s clear that poor postural habits (like slouching) often result in problems many years down the road: for example, lower back pain, stiff hips and aching shoulders.
Read the next section: fascia.