Rolf Structural Integration – A Journey of Transformation

Dr. Ida Rolf

At the invitation of Nick Pavoldi, owner of Bodywork Professionals and certified Rolf Structural Integration practitioner, I recently embarked upon a ten-series journey to re-align my body “in gravity” and literally affect how my body has shaped itself over the years.

Hmm, you say. What does all that mean? I asked those same questions myself. What is this business about gravity and shaping my own body? Don’t we all operate within the confines of gravity? And, isn’t my body a function of genes, diet, and exercise – or lack thereof?

Probably true enough. But, when I began to look further into the practice of Rolf Structural Integration, I became intrigued with both the premise and the practice. Having suffered for most of my adult life from neck and back pain, I was eager to see if I could benefit from this program.

According to Dr. Ida Rolf, creator of Rolf Structural Integration, “the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity.” There’s that word again – gravity! But, then I began to think about it more closely. When your body is perfectly aligned, you are standing straighter, your head neck and shoulders are all working in concert, and your support system is more balanced and efficient. You are – in effect – in a neutral position within a gravitational framework.

Think of the nautical term, “listing to port.” Basically, it means that the vessel is leaning to the left and is more vulnerable to an approaching wind or wave. It’s ability to move easily and efficiently – in balance – is compromised.

This analogy works well when thinking of the human body. Consider what happens when we have a hip out of alignment or when our shoulders are rounded. Not only is the rest of the body working harder to compensate for this mis-alignment; it also makes it harder for us to move easily through space.

If allowed to go unchecked, our bodies continue to over-compensate. The connective tissues supporting our joints, muscles, and bones – the fascia – try to adapt to support these changes. All too often, our movements become less fluid, more restricted, resulting in pain and discomfort. The goal of Rolf Structural Integration is to affect the body posture and structure over the long term and improve body alignment and functioning.

Not knowing exactly what to expect at my first session, I entered the massage room with a certain amount of trepidation. Would this be painful? Would I be sore afterwards? Would it be similar to other massage techniques I’ve experienced?

After removing my shoes and getting comfortable, Nick asked me to stand facing him so he could carefully observe my body’s stance, positioning, and alignment. After several minutes of intense scrutiny, he instructed me to lay down on the massage table on my back. Ok, so far, nothing out of the ordinary.

Nick let me know that today, as part of the ten-series program, he would be working mainly on the superficial fascia. The deeper work would come in later sessions. Interestingly enough, he began by working on my right arm, around the elbow joint. Using prolonged pressure and slow elongating movements along the arm, he then worked the palm of my right arm and, finally moved up to the shoulder. The reason I mention this so specifically is because I had a very difficult time sleeping the night before – because my right shoulder was causing me so much discomfort and pain.

When I asked Nick why he started there, he replied, “because you needed it.”

How did he know that? There had been no discussion prior to the onset of the session about how I slept the night before and if my shoulder was bothering me. All Nick knew was that I suffer from lower back and neck pain, as well as plantar fasciitis.

Even more interesting was that he began at the elbow, instead of immediately attacking the point of pain – the shoulder.

“We tend to like to punish pain,” Nick explained to me. Instead of focusing on the area where we are experiencing the pain, Structural Integration works on all the areas supporting that system. By allowing connective tissues to support the body structure in the way they were intended, the shoulder was freed up to work more efficiently and in alignment with the other parts.

For the remaining one-hour session, Nick worked on my entire body, first freeing the ribcage, shoulders, and hip areas, then moving to the sides of the body, the legs, and finally working the neck and spine – always using a steady – sometimes intense – pressure, and always moving the connective tissue in the direction of the spine. While the pressure caused some uncomfortable moments, the release of tension and relaxation that occurred immediately after was worth any momentary discomfort.

When the session was complete, I arose from the table and immediately sensed a change. My body felt more fluid, my shoulders were relaxed and not tensing upwards as they usually do, and I actually felt taller and straighter. I can only describe the feeling as a lightness of body, whereas before the session, I was feeling like I was dragging around a decrepit middle-aged body that was struggling to function amidst a plethora of aches and pains.

After leaving Bodywork Professionals, I continued to feel a lightness in my step and a feeling of improved posture. When it was time for sleep, I relaxed into my bed, feeling none of the shoulder, neck or lower back pain of the night before. The same feeling greeted me upon waking the next morning.

Most importantly, I noticed that I was more consciously aware of the way I position myself – that is, the way I shape myself in gravity. Small things like standing taller, keeping my abdominals tucked in, and not allowing my shoulders to hunch while I am working at my computer are all things that I can do to contribute to sustaining the overall feeling of well-being that seem to be a direct result of my first session.

I am eagerly looking forward to session two and I can’t wait to see what other benefits will result from the Rolf Structural Integration program. I invite you to join me on my journey toward total body structural integration and transformation!

To learn more about Rolf Structural Integration and Nick Pavoldi, visit