Monday, June 4, 2012

Comments on Fascia Research and Structural Integration, Dr. Ida P. Rolf's Seminal Approach to Human Health and Well Being

As Research Assistant to the Director of the International Fascia Research Congress I participated in the inception of what has become a full fledged new area of study in human biology. It's called Fascia Studies. At the 2007 inaugural event researchers from around the world were brought together for the first time under one roof to present all the latest and best research on the human fascia for both other interested scientists and clinicians who work in modalities where the fascia is a key consideration, both in theory and practice.

As of this writing there have been three well received conferences, with proceedings books and recordings of key presentations from each. A textbook has also been published in 2012, further adding to the growing cohesive body of knowledge in this field.

Fascia is that tissue component of the connective tissue system of the human body that is central to the biomechanical organization of the body. It forms a ubiquitous and continuous matrix of support/structure for the body. It interpenetrates all the muscles and organs down to the cellular, even intracellular levels.  In gross observation it starts just below the skin level and reaches down to the bones. It's role goes beyond the obvious and important biomechanical role in movement and expression; the health of this tissue system undoubtedly significantly impacts biochemical functioning (hormone secretion, metabolism) and neurological functioning.

The human fasciae factor prominently in the discussion among professional Structural Integrators, the field that is primarily concerned with the overall balance of the arrangement of the human body as it lives in the field of gravity. Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the originator of Structural Integration, called the fascial network the body's organ of support/structure. And, in fact, the Fascia Research Congress idea originated with researcher/clinicians trained in Rolf Structural Integration. Even so, from the onset it was clearly seen that understanding the fascial system would be of interest to an audience beyond the circle of Structural Integrators. The community of practitioners in Structural Integration as well as those in other fields that directly manipulate soft connective tissues of the body are naturally interested in fascia and its underlying mechanisms.

Fascia Studies is now a bona fide field of knowledge that is expected to contribute to understanding of its importance also for clinicians in medical and the complementary/alternative fields. A Fascia Research Society has been created as an ongoing source of new information and discussion.

Rolf Structural Integration is a field now with 19 schools recognized by the organization accrediting professionals in the field, the International Association of Structural Integrators. The Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation has also been created fairly recently to support and foster rigorous scientific investigation into the outcomes and efficacies of Structural Integration. Part of its interest is research into the specific nature and properties of fascia/the fascial system itself.

The following comments are posted to add some perspective on how new research should be considered relative to the overall goal of establishing Structural Integration in the marketplace of health care options. Organization boilerplate notwithstanding, what actually gets supported and funded in this area reflects the preferences and priorities of those making granting decisions.

Pure research in which there is an open ended investigation into the subject of the human fasciae is certainly a necessary part of possible scientific investigation. Yet, as a clinician and dedicated professional in this field of practice, I am also very interested in how new discoveries can translate into my hands in actual practice with clients; does it pass the "So What" test. More broadly, as a supporter of the work bequeathed by Dr. Rolf, my position is that research needs to address the efficacy of the work itself in palliative outcomes as well as the ways in which it prospers the human being in terms of performance and creative expression. What does balancing the body actually mean to the life of men and women?

The field of study is broad indeed. It is also recognized that fascia is not an isolated tissue. We talk about it separately for precision and clarity sake, but fascia has an intimate relationship to muscle and nerve tissue. Particularly in the matter of the plasticity of the human body, fascia itself is involved most certainly. But how it works in terms of the observed ability of the body to change shape under repeated patterns of movement and induced manual pressure also most certainly will have to acknowledge muscular and neurologic involvements/interrelationships. Perhaps even the psycho-somatic aspect, how client willingness to engage this process affects outcomes. As you might see by now, rigorous research into the more general whole person effects is a complicated matter to sort out the many variables, very difficult to isolate causative effects.

The founders of the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation and its core scientific advisers are principally (and, granted, quite legitimately) interested in their own careers in fascia research and palliative care. That career specialization has coincided to time fortuitously with the keen receptivity for information on that overlooked area, particularly from the clinicians who work with soft tissue modalities.

That notwithstanding, I am expressing the need to also document the results of Structural Integration as a whole and in the broad range of human functioning. This is a necessary piece of the picture. This will grow the field of practitioners and help further establish this approach with the public and associated professionals.

Dr. Rolf spoke about fascia in connection with her concepts and approach to balance in the human organism. It is arguable whether that subject has pride of place in her and her many students' interest in the field. By my reading Gravity and enlisting its constructive nurturing effects on human functioning and the potential of the makeup of the body structure to be organized to take advantage of that force (regardless of the underlying mechanisms, as interesting and compelling as they may be to investigate) are closer to Dr. Rolf's principal concerns. Doubtless, this is all debatable since Ida is no longer available to directly express herself. Read her brilliant paper, "Gravity, an Unexplored Factor in a More Human Use of Human Beings." 

The Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation is an independent organization. But, just to point out that it is an outgrowth to extend the mission of the Rolf Institute, founded by Dr. Rolf, to further scientific understanding of Structural Integration on all fronts. The concern is that private professional agendas taken up with the current keen interest in fascia could skew the activity in that direction and it could lose sight of the other, perhaps more significant and more practically useful areas of study. My concern also is based on the distinct impression that many of the Foundation's key scientific advisers are not schooled in Rolf Structural Integration and may only understand it in terms of their own career orientations to palliative methods and local body treatments. This could be a factor skewing preferences in choices for research that are targeted mainly to tissue related subjects and palliative techniques and results. Again, all good, but the other areas of study deserve attention.

In view of its association with the founder of Structural Integration, the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation, while it may not technically have any requirement to act other than by its own lights and self generated plans, there are reasons of good faith to take into account the interests of the field itself and its practicing professionals. The Foundation has the rights to feature Dr. Rolf's image and personal signature as a key feature of its masthead. This could be construed as an imprimatur from her on whatever that organization, however well intended, may choose to do. That is simply not the case. That personal signature compels an organization with such great potential to be vigilant to keep to the founder's overall perspective, even when it may not be under any legal compulsion to do so. It is more a moral and ethical consideration. The right thing to do.

Offered in support of a successful, thriving and useful Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation.

Best wishes.

David Wronski

Rolfing New Jersey
Rolfer New Jersey
Structural Integration New Jersey
Rolfing Montclair, New Jersey
Rolfer Montclair, New Jersey
Structural Integration Montclair, New Jersey