Spa Junkie on… Rolfing

To improve her posture, our columnist is… peeled like an onion?

Image: Jay Yeo

While I’m not sure how well Carol Ann Duffy’s infamous Valentine love verse was first received (when in doubt go for diamonds, I say), her metaphor, the onion, remains a potent symbol for the human condition.

The analogy of the onion is one often used by Rolfing practitioners, who manipulate the body in order to improve posture, alignment and mental focus. They say that in order to access our inner structure, the outermost layers have to be focused on first. They begin by targeting the body’s soft connective tissue at a superficial level, gradually working deeper, layer by layer, over 10 sessions, to get to the tender core.

Often the reason for discomfort is found in a different place to the actual source of pain. By addressing the entire structure, working on the connective tissue of the fascia rather than with the muscles or bone directly, problems you didn’t know you necessarily had can be unearthed and treated.

After a chance meeting with Anna Collins – whose website, thepolishedonion.com, continues the onion analogy, and who trained under guru Jeffrey Bomes (among others) – I soon find myself on a treatment bed at Belgravia’s Light Centre being “Rolfed”.

“Rolfing relates to the memory of the fascia, the body’s network of soft connective tissue,” Anna explains. “When there’s an imbalance in the body – for instance when you sprain an ankle – it’s normal to want to protect it by shifting weight from the injured ankle and over-using the other. This is a natural response, but one that can drastically alter the neuromuscular system. For when the ankle heals and pain subsides, while one might assume there is a return to normal movement, it’s not always the case.”

These temporary shifts leave a legacy in the body’s structure. The Rolf Method undoes these imbalances in the tissue by turning the thick, tough tissue into soft, more pliable tissue to allow for better movement and flexibility.

I strip to my bra and knickers and pose for “before” shots – first positioning my feet carefully on a tiny piece of cardboard, before rotating for a side shot. I then face Anna and, arms raised above my head, breathe deeply in and out as she ponders my body’s alignment.

“Many of us do not know the root cause of our discomfort,” she says. “We may experience a pain in the knee, for instance, when there’s misalignment in the hips. By working through the body to the core, layer by layer, we address the deeper issue.”

I lie face up on the treatment bed as Anna takes my left hand and kneads with deep, precise pressure, from my fingers up to my wrist and forearm. In between casual chatter, she asks me to twist my arm slightly in and out four or five times, while she continues with the same pressure, before moving her hands towards my armpit to manipulate the lats and teres major muscles. The pressure is fairly hard and not terribly relaxing.

Anna gestures for me to stand and raise my hands over my head and breathe in and out. “There’s quite a bit of hopping up and down from the bed, I’m afraid,” she says. She assesses my posture and then asks me to lie back down while she repeats her movements on my right side.

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She then begins pressing her fingers into my breastbone and surrounding tissue, her fingers working around my bra. As we continue chatting, it almost feels like a massage-cum-counselling session.

I roll onto my left side and Anna places a pillow between my legs for comfort before tackling my derrière. She presses deeply into the tissue. “Good, I can feel things moving,” she says. As she works up towards the hip abductors, the pressure remains constant – deep and penetrating. I have to concentrate on breathing to take my mind off the discomfort, though it’s intensely rather than agonising.

I clamber rather dopily off the bed for Anna to check my posture. My body must still look misaligned as she asks me to hop back almost immediately and gets to work on my right side.

She asks me to lie down and curl up so my back is curved, while she slips her hand down to my tailbone, before rolling me gently, smoothing the curve in my back so I lie flat to the bed. Lastly she kneads the tension in my trapezius muscle and neck.

I return to my square of cardboard for the “after” shots.

One layer down, nine more to go to reach my ultimate polished state...

The bottom line:

When Anna shows me the changes in my alignment, in the “before” picture, my left hip appears slightly higher and further forward than my right. In the “after” shot it is significantly more level with the right side. In the side-angle “before” shot I am leaning further forward with a slight curvature in my back, while in the “after” shot, although I am still leaning forward a little, there is more of a straight line running down my body – it’s quite an amazing shift for just one session.

While sceptics may think the Rolf Method is merely creating a problem to find a cure, I left feeling light on my feet. I’m giving it the thumbs up.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, therapies and accommodation.

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