Structural Integration Therapies

Deep tissue therapies like Rolfing®, Hellerwork and Aston-Patterning attempt to eliminate tension and stiffness by massaging the body’s network of connective tissue, know as fascia. Its job is to shape and support the body, and hold the bones in place. By strengthening and lengthening the fascia structural integration therapist aim to restore the body’s natural form and flexibility by realigning the body.


The Rolfing System® is the basis for many of the structural integration therapies that are practiced worldwide. Rolfing came into prominence after Ida Rolf worked on Dr. Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy. Dr. Perls felt the treatments improved his heart condition and wrote a book, In and Out of the Garbage, about the experience.


  • Rolfers view the body as a series of large building blocks that must be properly aligned for the body to function properly. Gravity is continually pulling the body downward. If the gravity centers of each of the body blocks (the head, torso, pelvis, and legs) are not in vertical alignment, a lot of energy is required to keep the body upright. Rolfing aims to bring these blocks into alignment.
  • Fascia is the connective tissue that covers the bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, and veins. The elastic fibers in the fascia can thicken and harden through injury, poor posture, or disease. The pressure of Rolfing and heat from the therapists hands helps the fascia become more pliable. This pliability will allow the body to right itself through gravity.
  • Ida Rolf recognized a strong connection between emotions and physical health. She felt that chronic tension could harden fascia and pull the body out of alignment. Many Rolfoers report that clients recall painful or traumatic memories as specific parts of the body are worked on.


  • Treatment consists of ten sessions, each lasting 60 to 90 minutes. After a medical history is taken, practitioners make a visual analysis of the client to determine misalignments.
  • Treatments begins with work on the outermost layer of fascia that underlies the skin. Rolfers use fingertips, knuckles, and sometimes elbows to knead the muscles and tissue layers like dough. The massage goes deeper with each subsequent treatment. Although treatment is often painful, the pain stops as soon as the treatment is ended.



  • Hellerwork was developed in the late 1970s by Joseph Heller, an aerospace engineer who analyzed the effects of stress and gravity on rockets before turning his attention to the human body. He was the first director of the Rolf Institute in Colorado, but broke away from his teacher, Ida Rolf, to form his own deep-tissue manipulation techniques.


  • Practitioners of the Hellerman technique use deep tissue massage to release tensions in the fascia and bring the body into alignment. Treatment begins with manipulation of the outer layers of the fascia and works inward towards deeper areas.
  • Fascia is the connective tissue that covers the bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, and veins. The pressure and heat from the therapists hands helps the fascia become more pliable. This pliability will allow the body to right itself through gravity and regain some of its youthful vigor.
  • Sessions often include verbal dialog to encourage recognition of emotional issues that may be causing physical problems and body stresses.
  • Movement reeducation is an important element of Hellerwork. Patients are given exercises and taught stress free movement for sitting, standing, and walking.
  • Treatments usually consists of eleven 90 minute sessions.


  • Aston-Patterning began as a way to teach people to maintain the improved alignment achieved through Rolfing using dance and movement. Judith Aston, a dancer and former client of Ida Rolf, was asked by Rolf to develop a movement education system to maintain the structural alignment that was achieved through Rolfing. Eventually the techniques became so divergent that Judith Aston continued on her own.
  • Judith Aston felt that the body develops asymmetrically through adaptation to the kind of work, recreation, sports, and other daily activities. Aston-Patterning targets what can be changed and what the body’s true asymmetrical limitations are.
  • Aston-Patterning is a holistic approach to healing that utilizes massage and soft tissue body work, movement reeducation, fitness training, and environmental modifications to relieve pain and restore body motion.

Diagnosis and Treatment:

  • Aston-Patterning practitioners use visual observation, often making a video of the client’s movements, and palpitation of soft tissue to diagnose problems of restricted motion.
  • Sessions may include movement reeducation, gentle massage, and environmental consultation and redesign. Sometimes clients need only alter the height of a desk chair or computer screen or decrease the size and weight of a briefcase to alleviate discomfort.
  • Aston-Patterning is used to develop better movement and coordination and to managing painful conditions such as backache, headache and tennis elbow and to correct posture problems. This technique is particularly popular with athletes and dancers.