How I Became A Certified Rolfer™ Part 4 (Finding My Calling)

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this 4 Part series.

After graduating from university I tried to force myself into a career as an accountant. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working in the business world, but was unhappy sitting at a desk all day long. Upon taking my first full-time job my gloom about my profession started to grow. Each day at work felt like a slow soul death and most of my nights were spent being sick to my stomach. At some point in the future I knew my inner spark would be completely snuffed out. I was living a double life. During the day I did my best to be a business professional, but after work, most every night, I headed to ballet class. I loved ballet.

I had started taking formal dance lessons at the age of 15, first in jazz and then moved on to tap dancing. I noticed some dancers had much better technique than others. I found out they had studied ballet. Given my leg issue history and not fond memories of ballet from pre-school age I had steered clear of those classes. However, the tap dance studio was in the same building as the ballet school. I would watch the students come and go, and hear the classical music drifting out from behind closed doors. Doesn’t every little girl dream of becoming a ballerina?

Don Quixote Peninsula Dance Theatre

That’s me, third from the right.

I decided to take a beginning class, just to improve my technique. It was hard, and I wasn’t built for it, but I loved it. I gave up tap dancing just to focus on ballet. I had the good fortune to have a teacher, Antonio Mendes, who noticed how committed and hard working I was, and he encouraged me. I continued dancing while in college, both at the ballet school and at the university. I knew I wasn’t capable of having a professional career as a dancer and would have to give it up at some point, but I just couldn’t stop. Dancing felt wonderful, and freeing. I felt beautiful when I moved.

At around the same time I graduated from university I also managed to injure myself dancing. I damaged my left hamstring to the point I couldn’t balance on that leg and when walking would have to kind of pull it along behind me. I sought out physical therapy and was eventually referred to Dr. Garrick at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sports Medicine. I’d never been to a clinic like this. It was everything under one roof, orthopedics, podiatry, physical medicine, sports medicine, physical therapy and unique to Saint Francis, Dance Medicine. I worked with the Pilates trainers there, and ran into one of my dance teachers from Sonoma State University, Mercy Sidbury. She had been the first person to introduce me to Pilates principles back in the late 80s.

One particular dance medicine specialist inquired if I’d had any manipulation done on my leg. My response, “No, they do that?” Up to that point all the treatment I had received focused on exercise and stretching. No therapist had actually touched me. The specialist referred me to a chiropractor who referred me to a massage therapist, and thus I received my first taste of hands-on manual therapy. It was transformative! My intelligent bodymind knew it was exactly what I needed: hands-on work to break up the scar tissue in my hamstring.

But, what was I going to do about my career? I felt strongly I needed to do something more fundamental and grounded then work in the abstract world of numbers. I liked the clinic at Saint Francis and began to ponder how I could get the skills to work at such a place. Also, for me, there was something magic and powerful about touch. I decided to quit my full-time job and enroll in massage school.

While in massage school, I continued dancing and exploring movement. I took Feldenkrais classes, modern dance classes, yoga. I kept learning more and more about body structure and how bodies work in motion. The woman who ran the massage school brought in the local Rolfing practitioner to speak with us about his work. From somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind I remembered Rolfing. Rolfing changes structure. . . I have structural issues. . . being able to change structure is a good thing. . .

I volunteered to be the model for the Rolfing demo. The first thing the Rolfer did was have me stand so he could look at my structure. He described to me what he saw, and what he described made perfect sense to me. I felt it in my body standing there, and had felt it previously when at the barre in ballet. He told me he could help me change my structure, and that the changes would last a long time. (Something that resonated for me. I’d been getting a massage a week on my hamstring and felt strongly I needed something that would have a longer lasting impact.)

I eagerly laid down on the table and he started to touch me, touch like I’d never felt before. His touch had an intelligence to it, a listening quality. It was like he was having a conversation with my flesh. His touch had no quality of the rather mindless pushing, pressing or kneading that can often be likened to one’s body being a lump of clay that the other person is trying to mold or soften into some shape. No, he was asking my body to open here, let go there, and listening for the response from my system. This conversation was highly conscious non-verbal communication between our two dynamic, biological living systems.

I was smitten, not by him, but by the work. It was on that day in 1992 I knew I had found my calling. I would combine my curiosity and interest in body structure with my love for touch and train to become a Certified Rolfer™.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.


  1. Hello,

    Great article.
    I had a question… I am interested in becoming a Rolfer. I am not a massage therapist. Do I have to become a massage therapist before I become a Rolfer? What school (s) do you recommend?

    Thank you

  2. Hi there Carole! Amazing articles you posted. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. My life about a year and a half ago took a weird twist when I followed the advice from a personal trainer to combat what he saw was internal rotation/adduction of the femur on my left side. He prescribed me a side-lying exercise (for both legs) that included hip ABduction, extension and external rotation. I cranked out this exercise way too much and at first it seemed to be helping. I was actually able to jog a little for the first time in years (I was 25 at the time). I continued doing the corrective exercise probably much more than I should have and I’ll never forget the days when I began walking down the hallway and began to walk as if I had cerebral palsy. Excessive femur and tibial internal rotation. Complete scissor gait! Ever since then I’ve been dealing with chronic and debilitating pain in my legs, feet, arms, torso etc. Respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, nervous system problems, the whole works. Over the year and a half I’ve been MRI’d, X-Rayed, CT Scanned, EMG Tested, blood work and everything has shown up negative. Doctors have no idea what to do other than prescribe meds now.

    Throughout this time I’ve become drawn to the work of Dr. Ida Rolf, Thomas Myers, Robert Schleip, Erik Dalton, Andrew T. Still, Diane Lee, Jean Pierre-Barral and many more. I’ve applied what I could to myself and has helped a little (especially the information from the books of Thomas Myers and James Earls), but still continue to have so many problems and not much of a future left. Seems strange seeing as I used to be very healthy and active before this all happened (although I must admit I did have bad alignment).

    I live in the bay area and have been seeing a KMI practitioner, a visceral manipulation specialist, a manual physical therapist who studied with Diane Lee and a pelvic floor specialist. Although I am not seeing much gain, I still am hoping someone somewhere will have some solution so I can at least take a shower and stand long enough to cook a meal. Maybe even work again with minimal problems.

    Anyways, it gave me a bit of comfort seeing someone so educated with the body talk about something that seems so familiar. Maybe if things don’t work out with my providers I will see you, if you’d be willing. Thank you. Take good care.


    • Carole LaRochelle says

      Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story and share your experience with me. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time. I wish you the best of success with your current practitioners. I’d need to understand more about what’s happening with you to see if I can be of assistance, which means you’d likely need to come to my office and meet with me in person.



  3. Hi Carole — I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to come across your story! I am an adult who has excessive femoral anteversion and mild tibial torsion which cause me severe and disabling hip, knee and ankle pain. These days I can barely walk and the relentless pain levels are so high I am ready to consider a femoral osteotomy (although the jury is still out whether surgically untwisting my femurs will really be a good solution).

    I have tried a variety of modalities (different types of physical therapy, accupuncture, pilates, chiropractor manipulation, etc.) and nothing has helped. I even tried rolfing but I do not think the practioner understood how to customize her techniques for my rotational abnormalities. I am AMAZED you have the exact right background, skill, experience and passion to be a great fit therapist for me!!! But unfortunately I live pretty far away. Would you perhaps be able to recommend a structural integration specialist in the NYC/NJ area (or even anywhere in the northeast)? I would be so grateful if I could find someone similar to you to work with me.

    Thank you for telling your story in such an engaging, positive way — its given me hope.

    • Hi Ivy,

      Thank you so much for reading my story. Your experience and challenges are exactly the reason I took the time to write my story down. From my experience both as someone with bony torsions and as a therapist that specializes in working with human structure I have learned some valuable things.

      1) It’s important to figure out the cause of your hip pain. Is it the joint itself, or soft tissues around the joint? (Muscles, tendons, fascia.) Have you had a hip x-ray and what is the condition of the articular surface of your hip joints?

      2) The most important thing is to find the most neutral position for your femurs. If femoral anteversion is constantly forcing you to externally rotate your femurs so you can point your feet straight ahead this is going to cause chronic tension and pain in your external hip rotators. I get this on my left side, but it’s much, much better than it used to be. So, find neutral for your hip joints, this should be when your kneecaps are pointing straight ahead. Your feet will point wherever they have to. Mine point slightly in and more so on my left side. Chronic tension around the hips will translate higher into low back problems particularly if it’s asymmetric. Have you had back episodes as well? If so, really, really good training in Pilates should help stabilize things.

      3) You are going to need a lot of leg work from a skilled Certified Rolfer™. I mean feet, lower legs, around your hip joints, psoas, etc. I have had tons of work on my legs!!!

      4) As part of the process with the Rolfer you will need to develop your own body awareness. Only you can truly feel the strains in your body and what positions reduce or make them better. Understanding your body is the key to making lasting change.

      I wish I could recommend a specific Rolfer to you on the East Coast. I just don’t know specifically of one who has the knowledge and understanding of leg torsions like I do. It doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Here is a link to The Rolf Institute website where you can find qualified Certified Rolfers. http://www.rolf.org/find

      Ask them to read my article and see if it makes sense to them. If it does, they may be able to help you.

      Please, let me know how it goes, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have more questions.

      Wishing you all the best.

      Oh, and P.S. check out these photos of bones. There are some femurs in this set. The variation in bone shape is truly amazing, and it may visually make more sense to you about what is going on with your legs. http://www.paulgrilley.com/category/2.html

  4. Alexandra Chistie says

    Dear Carole,

    OMG! Your posting is a revelation to me. I too, was a little girl who wore “twisters” for 2 years. I received mine the summer that I turned 6, as I recall. Just in time for first grade in a brand new town and a brand new school. Terrible timing! And wore them every day for two years and wore them to bed for at least 6 months of that. I was also teased cruelly or shunned. Even mothers would pull their children away from me sometimes. I turned 6 in 1966, when Polio was still very concerning, so I think that is why that happened. To be fair, most adults were very kind to me. Overly kind really, to the child whom they perceived to be a “cripple”.

    I too have always loved dance, but did not translate that love into public action. I remember at age 5 being in a ballet class and unable to do something called the “Gloworm”. I was frustrating the teacher and being upset and my legs hurt and Mom took me out of class. I think we could ill afford it anyway, but the “twister” experience after that (after they figured out what was wrong with my legs) and the unkind attention that followed, all left me feeling very unsure. Broken. Abnormal. Damaged. And, unlike other children who have that sense of invulnerability that makes them challenge themselves physically and run and jump and play with abandon, I always felt like…don’t do it….something inside you will break. This notion of going along, minding my own business and having something break, was further enforced by an ankle problem at age 12. Something mysterious that just started to hurt and had me miss gym for 6 months, no excess walking or standing and a brace on my ankle. So, while I would dance around the living room, I avoided classes and any public displays of physicality. Tried to be invisible in gym. No sports. Etcetera. Looking back, that was very foolish, but I just felt way to clumsy and embarrassed.

    So, now I have this body that I have hardly used. Never really challenged. This body, that I don’t trust. One that really…functions probably as normally as anyone elses. I still toe in (from the hip), but not the way I did before the “twisters”. Other than what goes on in my head, no one would ever think there was ever an issue with my legs.

    Anyway, this long diatribe is me (clumsily!) saying… Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I never knew anyone else who had the “twisters” experience. I suddenly feel much less alone. I am going to find a Rolfing practitioner! And, who knows? Maybe get brave enough to take a dance class?


    P.S., Had to re-type my whole comment. Fat-fingered the Ctrl-C. Do my fingers need twisters now? HAHAHH!

    • Alex,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with me and the world, not only once, but twice. 🙂 Your story really touched my heart. I’m at a Rolfing movement training right now and I shared your comment with a couple of my colleagues. We all felt like crying from your story. Please, do listen to your body and if it wants to dance, dance. I still dance, a lot, and will until I die. As far as finding a Rolfing practitioner check The Rolf Institute® website. Interview the practitioner, have them read my article, and see if they understand what I have written about. Many of us have expertise in different areas. Mine is in legs and body-oriented psychotherapy. I wish you all the best. Thank you again for sharing your story.

  5. Dearest Carole,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful post. I have a daughter who has mild cp she is 8, or that is what she was diagnosed with at 2, but she only has trouble with her right leg. They have never been able to show me exactly what is going on. I recieved a call from her PT today and she would like for Lana to go back to the orthopedic surgeon to see about getting twisters? To stop the foot from toeing in. While reading your blog I saw the Femoral torsion post, and that is exactly what has been happening with my daughter. Thank you! She is in ballet and gets very frustrated. Did this Rolfing help with your turned in leg? Just seeking answers.

    • Hi Christina,

      How wonderful to receive your comment. Your situation is exactly the reason I wrote the post. First, there has been research performed on how Rolfing helps children with CP. Here is the link http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7319140. Also, here is one mother’s story on how Rolfing is impacting the health of her son who has CP. http://n0thingbuteverything.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/rolfing-our-way-into-the-new-year/

      From my own experience I can tell you it is quite difficult to find a practitioner who understands leg rotation patterns and can explain it to you. It has become a personal passion of mine for obvious reasons.

      First what has to be figured out is the cause of the intoeing. Is it in the curve of the foot, from internal tibial torsion, or femoral anteversion? In my case, I have discovered I have both an internal tibial torsion and femoral anteversion on my left leg. As a child I was put in the twister cables which would have only really impacted my femur. The tibial torsion would have required a different device known as the Denis-Browne splint. Now they have something more humane known as the Wheaton Brace. I have worked with adults who wore the Denis-Browne splint and they ended up over-corrected. What I mean is upon evaluating them they had external tibial torsions.

      So, if your daughter has femoral torsion she may sit in the W-position. That’s the dead giveaway the femur is internally rotated. Sitting cross-legged is so difficult when the femurs rotate in the child will almost never choose it.

      Your daughter is still quite young so her hip joints and femurs can still remodel themselves quite a bit. If it’s hard for her to sit cross-legged on the floor, elevate her pelvis on a firm pillow so it’s not so hard on her hips. And yes, the ballet will be very hard for her, but it will help her. She just needs not to compare herself with others who have differently shaped hips and legs.

      And for myself, if someone could have helped me understand my own body it would have helped me so much. So, find someone who will do that for your daughter so she can work with herself to help change her pattern and not just rely on external devices.

      My legs have changed a lot, but I received Rolfing too late to have much impact on my skeletal structure. I was already full grown. The best I have done is to find neutral in my hip joints, let my feet point where they need to go, and to understand my strengths and limitations.

      I hope this helps and I would be happy to offer more guidance if you need it.

  6. Dear Carole

    I have just recently arrived in Atlanta from the UK and came accross your blog when looking for connections to 5 Rythmns dance in Atlanta.

    Rolfing is not something that I know much about, but have come across enough to be interested and so I read on into your blog.

    Your writing made something inside me stand up and shout out loud in recognition, you wrote of, “enjoying the intellectual challenge of working in the business world, but was unhappy working at a desk all day long…..” experiencing a sense of “slow soul death” and “nights were spent being sick to my stomach, belching endlessly for hours on end”.

    I spent 7 years working in the business world. A very successful time, but one in which I could almost literally feel my soul fading within me from lack of nourishment. Movement, dance and long walks were the things that fed that inner source.

    Two years ago I left the world of business and have had a journey of exploring other paths, other working worlds and environments (working in admin for dance festivals, changing countries and continents…..) nothing has resonated strong and true.

    Over the last 6 months I have had an increasing recognition that I need, as you needed “something more fundamental and grounded” more than that I need to work with my body and the earth (I am of farming stock and it seems that work with the earth is in my bones).

    Your blog sharing your journey into being a Rolfing practitioner is inspiring to me and gives me a sense of not only hope,but determination that I can find my next stage and my holistic life work.

    I read a lovely quote which said “deviens ce que tu est” (become what you are). Your blog reminds me of that and challenges me and gives me breath to move forward on that journey.

    Thank you, Aileen

    PS If you have any ideas pop into your head as to people, or groups that would be wonderful, or simply interesting for me to make contact with in the Atlanta area, I would be delighted if you would share them with me. I would be particularly interested in any connections to homeopaths, rolfing practitioners, or other people groups working with healing, learning and movement.

    • Hello Aileen,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful post and taking the time to read about me and my Rolfing practice. I’m happy to hear you are on your own journey of embodied exploration. You did find the The Wave Atlanta on Facebook? I can also relate to the working with earth, plants and nature. Hiking in the hills is a necessity for my sanity and what can be more fundamental than growing food or plants from seed and nurturing them in their growing process? Keep following what draws you, attracts you and you *will* find your calling. I like “deviens ce que tu est.” I am French ancestry from Canada and how lovely to have you share this with me. Do you know who this is attributed to?

      I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so don’t really know Atlanta. I had a dear friend there who unfortunately passed away last year. I have a tribute to him on my blog. I can recommend Libby Eason, Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner to you. She is in Atlanta. She may also be able to help you connect with the kinds of people and groups you’re looking for. You can find her at http://libbyeason.com.

      Let me know how your journey evolves.

      Warmly, Carole

  7. Kate,

    Thanks for writing back. OK, I won’t give you an explanation about who can call themselves a Rolfer. I will tell you that the accepted term for the work in our profession is structural integration. (See http://theiasi.org)

    For me, taking pride in our faculty is not about lineage being some sort of god or Ida Rolf given right, but that my instructors have really devoted their lives to developing and teaching this work.

    And yes, traveling to Boulder for two months at a time is difficult, but not impossible. Practices can survive two month absences and apartments can be sub-leased. I know it is difficult and I’m positive you’ll make the best choice that works for you.

  8. Hi, Carole.

    By terminology, I mean that everyone wants to give me an explanation of who is and isn’t allowed to call themselves a “Rolfer – and this was at a time when I was just a patient and not considering becoming a practitioner. I’m also not too crazy about the emphasis on instructor lineage (yes, we have it in Thai massage, but it annoys me and I don’t get into it – it can sound cultish or snobby).

    My main reason for considering what might honestly be a second-rate training program is that I don’t want to give up my current practice to acquire new skills. And my practice is in New York City…that’s one heck of a commute to Boulder!

  9. Kate,

    Thanks for writing back. I find these types of dialogues extremely helpful. Can you tell me more about what you mean when you say, “Mostly it seems that practitioners get caught up in terminology.”?

    I will only endeavor to speak for The Rolf Institute.

    1) We have an Advanced Foundations of Rolfing Practice class that is two weeks for therapists like you who are already trained and practicing.

    2) At The Rolf Institute, in the first Rolfing class segment, students take each other through the 10 series. (We no longer do the auditing.) In the second segment students take models through the 10 series.

    3) Financial aid is available to pay for the Rolfing training. The Institute went through a lot of work to get accredited by COMTA.

    I love hearing about your “taste for deep, body-altering work.” That’s the type of impulse that makes one a great practitioner!

    Good luck to you! Find out all you can about trainings.

  10. Hi, Carole.

    Thanks for leaving a note on my blog about Rolf training – and not taking too much offense at my “snobbery” comment. Mostly it seems that practitioners get caught up in terminology. As much as I’d love to train at the Guild or Institute, it’s just unfeasible – one of them requires you to audit the course and then wait 3 months to actually take the course.

    I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your advice about IASI, and am hopeful that I can make this happen. I’ve been a Thai massage practitioner for 5 years and have a real taste for deep, body-altering work.

  11. Carole,

    Don’t forge my idea for your radio ad: “Concerned about the coming financial apocalypse? Unsure of what you’re going to do when the road warrior shows up to your door? Well come on down to Redwood Empire Rolfing and get your troubles Rolfed away! Cause if you’re gonna be standing in a breadline, gosh darnit, you at least want to feel good.”

    or something like that.


  12. Carole,

    Great blog you have set up. Really, I’m not just saying that to be polite, it really does look great and like it will be a great source of info.

    As far as ballet: you can now say you have something in common with our “fearless leader” the Governator. Look:

  13. rachel zingoni says


    how wonderful for you to share your story. there is a feeling of completeness to know the stories and struggles of the person that has come all that way to heal you. much appreciation!

Post A Comment