Born in New York City and raised in the Bronx, Ida P. Rolf attended school in the New York area and graduated from Barnard College in 1916. In 1920, she graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons with a doctorate in biological chemistry.

For the next 12 years, Dr. Rolf worked in the departments of chemotherapy and organic chemistry at the renowned Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, attaining the position of Associate Professor. No minor achievement for a female, in this era. During an extended leave of absence, she studied atomic physics and mathematics at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich and homeopathic medicine in Geneva.


Over the next decade, Dr. Rolf applied her knowledge of science and wellness to seek answers to the health concerns of her loved ones. Unwilling to accept the limitations of medicine at the time, Dr. Rolf embraced a wide range of approaches including osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, and mind-body disciplines such as yoga, the Alexander Technique, and Alfred H.S. Korzybski’s study of consciousness.


Bringing together such a rich variety of perspectives, Dr. Rolf discovered that she could achieve remarkable changes in posture and structure by manipulating the body’s myofascial system. Dr. Rolf eventually named her body of work “Structural Integration” – a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity.

Recipients found the work dramatically altered posture and structure. Increasingly, people sought out Dr. Rolf to receive Structural Integration as a way to ease pain, address chronic stress, and improve performance in their daily activities.

Her ambition to bring Structural Integration to as many people as possible took Dr. Rolf all over the world. Her desire was not simply to help others but to teach future generations the fruit of her life’s work. Dr. Rolf dedicated the rest of her life to developing and teaching the technique that was to later take her name.

Clients and practitioners dubbed this work “Rolfing®” and the name stuck. Once synonymous with “Structural Integration” because it was the first form of the work, “Rolfing” is actually a registered service mark owned by the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration (RISI), the school Dr. Rolf created. Dr. Rolf established the Rolf Institute in 1971 with a three-fold mission: to train practitioners, educate the public, and promote research. In 2007, the RISI responded to Dr. Rolf’s vision by setting up the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation as an independent entity that unites the interests of professional conventional and complementary medicine, and charts the course for significant scientific research into Structural Integration.

Dr. Rolf envisioned Structural Integration as a body of work that would address a wide range of persons and needs. The ongoing growth of SI through a variety of schools with unique emphases has made this a reality. There are currently 17 schools of Structural Integration recognized by the International Association of Structural Integrators®. At her death in 1979, Dr. Rolf left a dynamic legacy in a craft that is now practiced by 4000 practitioners across the world. It’s estimated that more than one million people have received Structural Integration.

* Source: Feitis R: Ida Rolf talks

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