On a recent afternoon, I stood half-dressed in Feryl Webster's home office. The certified Rolfer/structural integrationist eyeballed me from bottom to top, noting posture and how I moved.
"We look at the body as a whole organ," said Webster, a Usui reiki master. "We look at form, function, structure, how the body moves through space. We look for dysfunctional patterns."
She picked out a ground-level problem quickly - my feet. Specifically, the large bunion on my right foot and its lesser, but still mighty, companion on my left. I earned the bony protrusions during a three-year love affair with running that thankfully is over.
Webster also noted other potential issues, including a propensity to lock out my knees and hyperextend when standing, an incongruity with my hips, and the difference in each side of my torso as I breathe.
Then began the most intense bodywork I've experienced.
Would it be cliche to say that Rolfing hurt so good?
Webster had me start on my back on the massage table, then moved me onto each side and finally onto my belly. She maneuvered around my body, using her hands, thumbs, fingers and elbows to press deeply on spots, holding anywhere from a few seconds to 30.
"We are separating layers of fascia from each other," she said. "
Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments. An example of it is the white film that you sometimes see on a cut of meat."
Not all of the 90-minute session had the same level of intensity, and the amount of sensation depended on where she worked on my body. It felt good to have my feet manipulated, and her work on my sacrum, parts of my hips and my spine was much less intense. But as soon as she reached the side of my thighs, I wanted to cry for my mama.
"The goal is not to send someone into a state where they can't breathe or relax into the work," said Dixie M. Frank, a local certified Rolfer and massage therapist. "I hear people say it's painful and it doesn't have to be, and not all the time. The intensity goes away in a second when the pressure is relieved."
In that initial session, if the pressure took me to a place I couldn't bear, I said something or made a noise and Webster retreated a few layers until the sensation was bearable.
The tender spots indicate adhesions in the fascia, Webster said, or a bunch of scar tissue from injuries. The Rolfer presses those spots to break up the tissue and loosen the fascia and connective tissue.
"Rolf would say, 'If it's in the body, it's everywhere in the body,'" Frank said. "A shoulder issue could be connected to a number of things. We look at it as a whole and not just addressing a symptom, with the idea the more you can address the whole structure and support the whole structure, something like that might take care of itself."
Rolf's 10-session series focuses on a different part of the body during each visit with a goal to reset alignment patterns and bring about improved movement, posture and ease.
"Some people in the Rolfing community say you must do the 10 series," Frank said. "Not all Rolfers hold to that. It's the optimal practice for going through the whole body. It brings balance, organization and support to the whole structure, but it may not be practical for people financially or time commitment-wise."
Rates for local Rolfing sessions range from about $95 to $150 for 75-90 minutes.
Though Rolfing is not to be confused with massage therapy, some moments did remind me of getting a deep massage, particularly when Webster used both hands to press and smooth large swaths of my body.
"The difference between us and massage therapists," she said, "is we observe the client standing. We look at the whole unit. If you come in with a shoulder ache, we won't just work on the shoulder. We look at what feeds into the shoulder and what is causing that shoulder to be dysfunctional."
Pain is the No. 1 reason most clients seek out a Rolfer, though there doesn't have to be anything wrong to schedule a session. Some go for help with posture and others because they've heard it can help in the aging process.
"Until you experience Rolfing, you don't have a sense or concept of it," Webster said. "There's no other way to put it except when you get off the table you feel light and spacious."
After we finished, Webster had me stand so she could observe any changes. Right away I noticed my toes looked better. My right big toe wasn't overlapping the second toe, and there was more space between all of them. But it was also the way I felt - like a million bucks - that sealed the deal.
It felt like something got accomplished in my body, and though I wouldn't exactly look forward to a Rolfing session like I would a massage, I would get Rolfed again.