Cheri Browne could barely walk around the block because the pain on the top of her foot was so bad.
"It got to the point that it felt like a hammer was coming down right on top," says the fit Talent woman, who owns Paradise in Bloom, a dried-flower company that requires lots of physical activity.
"I didn't know what to do. After just a little bit of walking, I had to come in and ice down my foot or at least put it up."
Browne met Rex Holt, a certified Rolfer, at a Medford Chamber of Commerce greeter's meeting. She spoke to him of her malady, and although she'd never tried Rolfing, she asked him whether it might help.
That was eight months ago. About two dozen weekly sessions later, Browne says her foot is pain-free and she's back to arranging and delivering flowers without wincing every time she faces a set of stairs.
"I have free motion with my foot and am able to walk when and where I please," she says. "The best part is the more natural, holistic way of looking at things that doesn't include drugs or surgeries. This gave me a fabulous alternative."
To relieve Browne's pain, Holt used a type of bodywork called Rolfing Structural Integration to manipulate the sheathing around the foot's muscles, working to straighten everything out. He found two small bones that were out of alignment; once they were back in place, Browne's foot "landed more stably on the ground and got better and better," she says.
Developed by Dr. Ida Rolf in 1971, Rolfing Structural Integration focuses on removing tension from the body's connective tissues, which Holt likens to a "fibrous package" that holds all the muscles, bones, organs, glands, blood vessels and nerves.
Paulino Arteaga, a Rolfer based in Talent, says most of his clients experience Rolfing as a release — both physically and emotionally.
"With a release, it's like the body comes to a place of rest where it was holding, tensing, and all of a sudden it is relaxing," he says.
To maximize the release, Arteaga teaches clients during their first session to "breathe into the touch."
"When you put your mind to it, you can direct your breath to the areas that are being worked on," he says. "You direct your client into the area you're pressing. As they breathe, there's an oxygenation that happens and you can go as deep as they can handle it."
Arteaga says he's always careful not to go too deep too fast.
"Too much pressure and pain leads to too much tensing," he says. "As the process goes on, you can go a little deeper as they learn to breathe into it, relax and finally release the pain."
The point of Rolfing is to identify a pattern of tension and pain and then release both the symptoms and — best case scenario — the cause, which Arteaga says is often emotional.
"People are very complicated," says Holt, "like three-dimensional puzzle boxes that aren't just muscles and bones, but the way our organs move and biochemistry, as well. I observe them first, then touch them and talk with them. When I touch them, I listen to what their body has to say. If I were to do Rolfing to people it can be an awful experience. It's a communication back and forth between my hands and the person I'm touching."
Athletes, parents who carry children, construction workers, computer people, office workers, retired people, those with recent or chronic injuries — anyone with aches and pains can be helped through Rolfing, says Holt.
Sometimes, the source of that pain turns out to be a surprise.
"They may come in with neck pain and we end up at the stomach," Arteaga says. "When we work in the stomach, a lot of times there's sadness and fear from abandonment there, and many people have flashes of memory all of a sudden — they're holding a pattern there that comes from when they were 5 years old, or it can also be recent."
Pain in the legs and pelvis might have a core of sexual repression. Neck pain may be rooted in arm and/or foot trauma. Shoulder pain can be a physical manifestation of personal transition.
"People who are going through many changes in life and feel like they're carrying the world on their shoulders — and it's almost literal — their shoulders are so tight," says Arteaga. "Working through that brings a lot out of people, who cry and even get angry."
Rolfing is all about building trust with patients so the work can go deeper, he says.
"I can address the chronic pain, and it will be relieved for a while, but it will come back if we don't find where the cause is," says Arteaga. "And that's the whole point."
"The reasons people come to me is because they're not comfortable in their body; the physical and emotional lumps and bumps of life have taken a toll," says Holt. "We can carry that around with us the rest of our lives, and it literally distorts our form.
"Through touch, you're getting the lines of strain out of the body so people's posture is more upright, their movement patterns are more fluid and graceful," he says. "People breathe more deeply, circulation improves and there's less likelihood of injury."
The idea, says Holt, is to help each patient face the world with resilience and responsiveness, as opposed to a brittle defensiveness caused by pain.
"Then we can move on and be more present in the rest of our environment," he says.
"I feel about 2 inches taller, my spine is aligned and I have no pain," Browne says. "And there's a calmness that's almost like a floating sensation."