Kneading away the pain
When Jacob Liebman is asked how he discovered the holistic bodywork practice known as rolfing, he points to two key events in his life.
One was during his basketball career — Liebman played both in college and professionally in England — when the arch in his right foot collapsed, causing significant pain in his knee, ankle, hip and shoulder.
"I got hurt and rolfing was the only thing that got me out of the pain," Liebman said. "I tried PT (physical therapy), acupuncture, massage — you name it, I tried it."
The second experience Liebman points to is his time as a nurse at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Hawaii. There, he wondered how many patients would benefit from rolfing as opposed to simply loading up on medication.
"I felt like a drug dealer when I was there," Liebman said. "It's just chasing symptoms and not fixing anything. So I wanted to actually help people, not just put Band-Aids on things."
Liebman felt strongly that teaching rolfing was the way to do that, and over the past two years he's made that dream a reality while leading "Rolfing Structural Integration" classes at the Hot Forge Yoga studio in West Linn. The primary focus of rolfing, which is named after founder Dr. Ida P. Rolf, is in manipulating soft body tissue called fascia and teaching the body to move more efficiently.
"It's body work, and we do it in different positions," Liebman said. "It's traditionally done in a series of 10 sessions, and each session is a different goal. We touch everywhere there's fascia in the body, so we go in the mouth; we go in the nose; we go in the groin."
Liebman is a certified rolfer, having graduated in March 2015 from the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado. Instructors must also pass a massage exam before practicing in Oregon, but Liebman said rolfing is quite different from traditional massages.
"You are laying down a lot of times, but I do have people get up," he said. "It's definitely going to be more dynamic than a massage session."
For those who aren't sure about rolfing, Liebman suggests giving one session a try before making a commitment.
"I tell people, 'Do one session and if you don't like it, and you don't feel a difference in your body after one, I wouldn't come back,'" Liebman said.
Rolfers tend to be "fairly eccentric," Liebman says, but the practice has also spread as far as the professional sports world.
"The Minnesota Vikings (football team) and the Phoenix Suns (basketball team) have hired rolfers," Liebman said. "My biggest hurdle is just initially people don't know what it is. I'll take my money to the bank and they'll go, 'golfing? Roofing?' No!"
The most significant difference between rolfing and a typical massage is a simple matter of time.
"It's more transformational than a massage," Liebman said. "And you kind of own the work. (With a massage) you feel good for a few days and you're like, 'Oh it's good,' but now it's back to this (pain). We change your patterns."