About Ida Rolf


Rolfing. Yes, we know. It’s a tricky one sometimes. But Rolfing is named after its pioneering founder, Dr Ida Rolf, and it’s a testament to the enduring value of her work that we continue to use her name to describe what we do.


Ida Rolf was born in 1896 in the Bronx. A gifted student, she achieved her doctorate (in biochemistry) at the age of 25 and spent a number of years working as a research scientist at the Rockefeller Institute. She also married and had two children.

Her ideas around bodywork began slowly, from an initial interest in yoga and exploratory attempts to treat friends who were suffering from chronic pain. She began to see that our posture – the way we stand and move – was a response to our relationship with gravity, and that we could be more or less optimally aligned in meeting the challenge of standing upright under constant gravitational pressure. It’s tempting to wonder whether her father’s background in civil engineering may have informed her perspective. At the same time, her background in biochemistry may have shaped her insight into the role played by fascia, or connective tissue, with its special plastic properties: mouldable, structuring, and an expression of internal support for bones, muscles and organs.

It wasn’t Ida’s original intention to name the field of work which she established after herself, but word of the effectiveness of her treatments spread during the period when she was travelling and giving workshops in places such as the Esalen Institute, in California, and the message went out: “Go and see Dr Rolf; get yourself ‘Rolfed over’”. We’ve stopped short of calling it that (!) but we do call it Rolfing Structural Integration, which was adopted as the official name in 1971. The first generation of her students describe Dr Rolf as an exceptionally skilled manual therapist who could work (and supervise) with disarming precision, even in the very late years of her life when her sight was very poor. Ida Rolf died in 1979, but she left a rich and exacting legacy in the training and work to which she gave her name.

It’s worth knowing that there are now other schools of ‘structural integration’. In most cases, these other schools were set up by people who trained with Ida Rolf, and they do what they do in a slightly different way to us. But only people whose training is accredited by the Dr Ida Rolf Institute (formerly the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration) can call themselves Rolfers, or describe what they do as Rolfing, both of which are registered trademarks. You can check someone’s credentials by going to the worldwide directory of certified Rolfers. You can also look at the European list of Rolfers, or the UK list.

Find out what conditions can be treated with Rolfing: who is Rolfing for?

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