Ann Arbor-based practice
The Rolf Method of Structural Integration – Ida Rolf’s enduring legacy — is truly a synthesis of her life experiences: her early studies in the sciences; the profound influence on her of osteopathy, hatha yoga and other movement modalities; and her willingness to be at the forefront pushing the envelope on accepted/established practices were all integral to her success. Dr Rolf’s commanding presence and staunch faith in the transformational results of her work were paramount in helping SI achieve mainstream acceptance and recognition for its powerful potential.
After growing up in the environs of NYC, IPR graduated from Barnard College in 1916, and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry four years later from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her early work was with lecithin and phospholipids — both components of the organic tissue that would be so central to her later work. Following Barnard, and into the late 1920s, Dr. Rolf worked at the prestigious Rockefeller Institute, attaining the position of associate — no small achievement for a young woman of the day. In conjunction with that work, she did a stint at the Pasteur Institute in Paris where she was exposed to the bright minds and avant-garde cultural influences of the Modernist movement. Few of IPR’s notes/books remain from those days, but those that do indicated she may have already been pondering body alignment and its relationship with gravity.
Returning from Europe, she spent the 1930s attending to family and seeking answers to personal and family health problems. Conventional medicine failed to adequately address these, and Dr. Rolf began to explore options further afield. Her ensuing explorations into osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga, the Alexander Technique and Alfred Korzybski’s work on states of consciousness were the seeds from which her work in structural integration grew. Having found relief for those close to her, Dr. Rolf reached out to help others with physical disabilities and chronic pain issues. It was only after repeatedly using a similar process on different bodies to achieve, in each case, a more organized and upright body supported by gravity, that Dr. Rolf codified her process and formulated the Recipe for her work, as we have come to know it.
IPR enjoyed cooking, often using it in analogies while teaching her work. It is illustrative to say that Dr. Rolf baked her cakes intuitively, with an innate sense of where she was taking a given body and the ability to change course as she worked: she used keen eyes, feeling hands, and focused attention as she progressed through the sessions. The recipe for a highly organized body wrote itself as IPR worked through the thirties and forties. That is to say, the Ten Series of Structural Integration evolved, and, proving itself duplicatable time and again, it was codified in the 1950s into what we know today. While Dr Rolf’s ideas focused on organizing man’s physical structure — Newtonian physics and gravitational force were central to her practice — she believed the work had an effect on the emotional and spiritual lives of her clients as well. The physiological and the psychological/emotional selves coexist in the same body, and are therefore simultaneously impacted. To further her quest for mainstream acceptance, however, Dr. Rolf focused her public discourse on the physical, observable changes in the body over those occurring in the psychological and emotional realm.
By the early 1950s her body of work was largely solidified, and Dr. Rolf had begun to teach. Initially her students were osteopaths and chiropractors, as they had the requisite knowledge of science and anatomy the work required and a degree of repute in the community that would lend credibility to the work. She became disconcerted when students wanted to integrate bits and pieces of the work into their chiropractic services: she saw Structural Integration as a discipline in and of itself — a complete process with a natural ten-session trajectory over the course of which a body would evolve to a more organized state. Dr. Rolf’s schedule was full, and her reputation had, by this time, spread to England where she spent summers as a guest of John Bennett, a prominent mystic and student of G.I.Gurdjieff and his “Forth Way” of spiritual development. Yet she continued to struggle for mainstream acceptance.
This changed in the mid sixties, when Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, invited Ida to bring her practice and teachings to Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. It was at Esalen that the practice of Structural Integration firmly took root and established itself. Since her early days in Paris at the Pasteur Institute, Dr. Rolf had been moving amongst the bright and innovative thinkers at the forefront of conventionality. Her presence at Esalen — a locus of counterculture in the 1960s — continued this trend. The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow was there, as were Jim Simkin and Dick Price (Gestalt Therapy), and Will Schutz (Interpersonal Relations).
From 1967-1972, Dr. Rolf taught in the Esalen environs of Los Angeles. Publishing in various scholarly journals through the sixties and seventies, IPR’s major writing project culminated in 1977 when she wrote Rolfing: the Integration of Human Structures (Harper and Row). This was the major written statement of her scholastic and experiential investigation into the direct intervention with the evolution of the human. The book is in no way a “how to” manual; rather it’s a fascinating look into Ida Rolf’s perspective on and understanding of human structure and its process of transition from random to organized.
Dr. Rolf moved her base to Boulder, CO, forming the Rolf Institute in 1972. She continued to work into her later years, but succumbed to colon cancer in 1979. Her teachings and tremendous gift to bodies lives on through the Institute and through the Guild for Structural Integration, which was formed by a small cadre of Ida’s personally-selected teachers and close business advisors who chose to leave the Institute in 1988. The Guild has dedicated itself to carrying on her life’s work in its truest form ever since; it currently has offices and offers training programs and seminars in Boulder, CO and in Hawaii on the Garden Island of Kauai.