T he word “Rolfing” sounds like something the body does to heal itself after a night of abandon—and that’s actually not far off, if you replace night with life.
Rolfing therapy pursues pain relief and optimal body function through “structural integration,” which is what the inventor of the technique, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, called it (before others turned Rolf’s last name into a verb). Brooke Thomas, under the banner Soma Happy, and Rachel Felson, of Rachel Felson Rolfing, have brought the practice to New Haven. The women operate out of a small, cheerful shared studio above the English Market on Chapel Street (on the second floor, adjacent to Sarah Aldrich Pilates studio and The Bourse co-working loft).
Rolfing works on a person’s connective tissue—“also known as fascia,” Felson’s website notes, which “connects your bones, ligaments, tendons, and organs, forming a complex network throughout your whole body”—with aims like optimizing balance and posture, and of just feeling good. “Imagine the Golden Gate Bridge. Our bodies are built like a suspension bridge,” Thomas says. “Rolfing is getting all the cables to do their jobs.”
Their studio is outfitted with a massage therapy-style table where a client lies while the “Rolfer” applies pressure to various parts of the body. Thomas compares observing the process to “watching paint dry.” I see what she means as she demonstrates the process on Felson; her touch is quite slow and deliberate and steady.
Felson says that many first-time clients ask if Rolfing hurts; it usually doesn’t, I’m told, even though the applied pressure can be quite strong. Communication is an important part of the process; in addition to the table, there’s a set of chairs for pre-session talks to address individual needs and problem areas. There’s a significant education component to the practice, Felson tells me, wherein clients leave the studio more knowledgeable than when they entered, armed with practical tips (like how to sit with better posture in their office chair) and a deeper understanding about the causes of their aches and pains. “Then they have the tools to do some of their own work,” she says.
Speaking of education, one in Rolfing isn’t so common. Both Thomas and Felson are certified through the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, located in Boulder, Colorado. It’s the only school of its sort in the country (affiliated sites exist in Australia, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Canada), which explains why practices are rather rare; unlike other alternative therapies, like chiropractic, plenty of towns don’t have a single Rolfing practitioner, let alone two.
So New Haven can count itself lucky. Both Thomas and Felson practice in New York a couple days a week but call the Chapel St. studio home, seeing clients of all ages and backgrounds. Some of them are looking to address the symptoms of a sports-related or other traumatic injury; others want to improve posture, or simply feel more comfortable overall.
Our two Rolfers can relate; the desire to overcome chronic pain is what brought each woman to Rolfing in the first place. Thomas had a birth injury and says she was in severe pain for a good deal of her life, until she found her way to a Rolfing table. “It gave me my body back,” she says of those first sessions.
Felson, too, initially tried the technique to address chronic back and neck pain. “I got off the table each session and felt so much better.” She says the therapy wasn’t just “putting a band-aid” on the places that hurt; it was getting to the root of the pain, and fixing it.
Which, both Rolfers agree, is what their practices are all about. “I wanted to be able to give that [quality of life] back to people,” Felson says.
Soma Happy & Rachel Felson Rolfing
839 Chapel St, 2nd Fl, New Haven (map)
Soma Happy: (203) 626-1789 | www.somahappy.com
Rachel Felson Rolfing: (860) 424-7293 | www.rachelfelson.com
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.