Rolfing therapy leaves Crofton clients feeling 'blissful' Massage enjoys a revival

September 10, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

Call a local hospital and ask about "rolfing," and chances are no one will know what you're talking about.

But in spas and holistic health clinics across the country, the deep-massage therapy, trendy in the 1960s, is enjoying a resurgence.

At the Center for Effective Therapies in Crofton recently, Rhonda Teitelbaum, a 40-year-old nurse, lay on a medical table as veteran rolfer Bren Jacobson pressed here and there with his thumb and elbow on muscles he said needed to be realigned.

At times, Mrs. Teitelbaum said she felt queasy from the intense pressure. Other times, she was sad. Afterward, curled under a flowered cotton blanket, she was simply blissful.

"There's an incredible sensation of well-being," she said. "It's so pleasurable it's overwhelming."

Rolfers say they free muscles from the sheaths that surround them and can tighten like a vise at times because of injury. "It's as if you were trying to iron out a wrinkled bed sheet," Mr. Jacobson said.

The massage was developed by the late Ida P. Rolf, an American biochemist. Dr. Rolf believed that the connective tissue that contains and links the muscle system can be used to reshape it when it has been pulled out of alignment. The therapy attempts to "achieve balance in the person through balancing the body," Mr. Jacobson said.

Achieving this balance isn't cheap, at $85 a session for a series of 10 sessions. Nor is rolfing a gentle path to happy muscles. Its hallmark in popular culture has been pain that those who experience discomfort while being rolfed defend it as a "letting-go" that results in sensations of liberation.

"It does hurt some," said Larry Denmark, 48, a county resident who first was rolfed 15 years ago, but not by Mr. Jacobson. "I cried once a little bit in a session, but the results are positive and permanent."

He was so impressed, he said, that he once took his 2-day-old baby for a rolfing session to straighten a bump on her nose and recently went for a family rolfing session.

"It was a close kind of feeling, very special," said Mr. Denmark, who runs a restaurant in Baltimore.

Unlike other physical therapies, rolfing has been known to raise psychological issues from childhood memory that can result in hysterical jags of laughter or tears, said Dr. Frank Wenger, former chief of physical medicine at Washington Hospital Center and currently an associate professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Wenger is a retired rolfer who is studying the therapy's effects.

For example, after just one session, Mrs. Teitelbaum said she'd discovered and freed herself of emotional armor. "People who see me say I'm looking so young," she said.

Dr. Wenger said the psychological effects of therapies such as rolfing have not yet been scientifically evaluated. The only certain effect demonstrated by laboratory tests is that it increases the balance in the sympathetic nervous system, which may explain the sense of well-being some rolfing patients report, he said.

But such results are "not specific to rolfing," Dr. Wenger said. "They occur with other disciplines [of therapy, such as seeing a psychologist]."

Rolfing has been described as everything from a miracle cure to a hoax, yet certified rolfers, who have trained at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colo., emphasize that they do not work magic.

Rolfing is not a medical technique, Dr. Wenger pointed out, although clients with aches and pains seemed to improve after rolfing therapy. "A structural deformity may or may not improve," he said. "The greatest results I've seen from rolfing were in older people who developed structure abnormalities over the years."

Mr. Jacobson, a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis who has traveled the world, said that often forces are at work he cannot explain.

"I see things [in rolfing] for which I have no explanation whatsoever," he said. "I'm as skeptical as they come, but I'm willing to consider anything."

In his early years as a rolfer, Mr. Jacobson emphatically told patients with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or cancer that rolfing could not help their disease.

And even though some patients have reported that they felt better and one wrote that Mr. Jacobson "did for me what scores of doctors could not do," he still dissuades those suffering from terminal illnesses from seeking help through rolfing.

Mrs. Teitelbaum said she noticed changes after her first session.

After the second session, she said she has "been blissed out all week. Not needing sleep. Lots of creative juices are flowing. I'm connecting at a deeper place and have a real sense of power, which is huge. You get hooked into a real sense of power."

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