History of Ida Rolf and Structural Integration

Photo of Dr. Rolf courtesy of David Kirk-Campbell, Certified Advanced Rolfer™

Dr. Rolf referred to her work as “Structural Integration,” and her students gave it the name of “Rolfing”. The basis of the work is aligning one’s physical structure in gravity. This allows a person to be more easily supported, find more fluid movement, and gain more comfort and ease in daily activities and athletic endeavors.

“Rolfing” is named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf. She received her PhD in Biochemistry from Columbia University in 1920 and was the first woman to hold a research post at the Rockefeller Foundation (1917–1927). She worked for over a decade at the Rockefeller Institute in the Chemotherapy and Organic Chemistry departments. During the 1930′s, Dr. Rolf studied Osteopathy, Chiropractic Medicine, Tantric Yoga and the Alexander Technique. By the 1940′s, Dr. Rolf developed her work and spent the next 30 years perfecting and teaching it.

Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently a system of seamless networks of tissues rather than a collection of separate parts. These connective tissues surround, support and penetrate all of the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Rolfing Structural Integration works on this web-like complex of connective tissues to release, realign and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations, restoring flexibility and alleviating pain.


Here’s more from Dr. Ida Rolf Institute:

In 1920, Ida Pauline Rolf received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Despite the resistance she faced as a woman in the field of science, she furthered her knowledge of the body through research in organic chemistry at the Rockefeller Institute.

Driven to find solutions to her own health problems as well as those of her two sons, she spent many years studying and experimenting with different systems of healing and manipulation.

Photo of Dr. Rolf courtesy of David Kirk-Campbell, Certified Advanced Rolfer™

Throughout most of her life she was intrigued with and explored many forms of alternative healing including homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic and yoga. The notion that proper alignment, physiologic function and anatomical structure are related is the basis of many of these healing methods.

Dr. Rolf agreed that the body functions best when the bony segments are in proper alignment. She added her observations that lasting improvement in alignment and an overall sense of well-being required a closer look at the effects of gravity on our bodies. She believed that the imbalances in structure placed demands on the body’s pervasive network of soft tissues: muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments, thereby creating compensations throughout the body structure.

Dr. Rolf posed this fundamental question: “What conditions must be fulfilled in order for the human body-structure to be organized and integrated in gravity so that the whole person can function in the most optimal and economical way?”

Her life’s work was devoted to this investigation which led to the system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that we now call Rolfing®. In order to pass along her work to others and to make the education process accessible, she developed an expedient series of ten sessions, which came to be known as the Ten Series.

Dr. Rolf continues to be recognized as a pioneer and leader in soft tissue manipulation and movement education.

Since her death in 1979 at the age of 83, the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration has continued to share her work by certifying Rolfers and Rolf Movement® Practitioners, supporting research, and building upon her inspiration. Today, there are more than 1,950 Rolfers and Rolf Movement Practitioners worldwide.

“This is the gospel of Rolfing:
When the body gets working appropriately,
the force of gravity can flow through.
Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”

~ Ida P. Rolf