Sunny Side (body) Up, Please!

Rolfing 10 Series: Session 3–Bringing Length Up The Side

We are more than a front and back in our bodies.   There is a whole side-body, like a seam, stitching the front and back together.  When I talk with clients about Rolfing and describe how it is different from other types of body work, one of the words I use is “differentiation”.  With each session in the Rolfing 10-Series the goal is to bring better support and integration to the body, and differentiating the different structures of the body is part of this.  When we bring better length and openness to the side body, we bring differentiation and balance to the anterior and posterior bodies.

Dem Bones!

Did you know we have 2 skeletons?  Indeed we do.  The axial and appendicular skeletons together make up our full skeletal system.  The axial skeleton is made up of the cranium, neck, ribs, and spine.  The appendicular skeleton is comprised of our limbs, including our scapulas (shoulder blades) and hips.


Our side body seam of muscles and tissue help in connecting these two skeletons together.  Many of the muscles in the lateral body serve as stabilizers to joints. When there is dysfunction in the lateral body it can impact proper joint function, impair stability and balance, and pull other tissue structures out of proper alignment.

Let’s Differentiate

In session 3 of the Rolfing 10-Series the focus is in a few key areas for bringing better differentiation and length.  These are highlighted nicely in the book, The 10-Series Companion, by a Rolfer, Brian Johnson:

  1. Fluid Connection of the Lateral Hip–The fan of muscles that attach through the lateral hip work together to give a smooth circular quality to leg movement.
  2. Space to the Low-Back–The mid-section between the pelvis and ribcage allows for uninhibited side-bending and twisting with special consideration for balance in the floating 12th rib.
  3. Length through the Side-Ribs–The ribcage behaves more like an accordian than a cage which provides a smooth quality to breath and breathing.

Working in these areas helps to free up the shoulder girdle to move without restriction to the ribs or neck, gives lift and openness to the lumbar spine, and fluid glide to the leg and knee.

“Know When To Hold ‘Em….Know When To Fold ‘Em….

….Know when to walk away….Know when to run.”  Thank you Kenny Rogers for one of my favorite songs growing up.  What does this have to do with what we are talking about with Rolfing? While there may be tissue restrictions that prevent the flexibility and fluidity of movement in our bodies, which Rolfing works to release, there is another influencer to the equation.  Holding.  Let me explain, as it will be something that is touched on in future articles, too.  Holding is when we intentionally, and most of the time, unintentionally, guard and protect in our bodies.  That can be due to emotional or physical trauma or a pattern of learned movement.  Even if the trauma has been addressed, it doesn’t always mean our body goes right back to moving properly the way it was designed to; the residual holding pattern may still be there.  In most cases with intentional movement and re-learning what proper movement should feel like in the body, this holding pattern can be broken.

Are there areas you find yourself holding in your body?  In your breath? In your eyes?  Jaw?  How about those shoulders?  Hips? Feet?  You might surprise yourself as you draw your attention to these areas as you go about your day to day.  Simply take a breath in, breathe out, and tell those areas to let go.  See what happens.  Keep doing this and one day you might find the holding is no longer there.

“….You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.” Phew, just had to finish out the chorus or it would drive me crazy!

Stretches for the Side body

We spend a lot of time stretching the muscles on the front and backs of our body–quads, chest, hamstrings, calves–which is great!  But in better stretching the side body we help keep what should be on the back on the back, and what should be on the front on the front– not creeping up and around to the other side, which in most cases these days is everything creeping around to the front.  Here are some great stretches to help open up more of your side body, leaving you feeling light, fluid, and connected throughout.

Standing Half Moon Stretch

Half Moon Stretch

  • It never hurts to do this in front of a mirror so you can check your form until you have a felt-sense for engaging the stretch correctly.
  • Standing with feet together (or slightly separated if you need more support), swing arms up over head.
  • Hands can be clasped together, or be apart until you gain the flexibility to bring your hands together.
  • Check in with your shoulders, are you wearing them as earrings?  Let your shoulders slide down your back.  You should be able to see your neck in the mirror.
  • Take a big breath in, lengthen up towards the sky and only then start to side bend.  Pull your abdomen in to stabilize the hips and low back.
  • Envision being positioned between two panes of glass, not twisting front of back, but isolating the side body.
  • You should feel a stretch down the side body from the legs all the way up through your ribs to your shoulders.  Don’t worry about going far in the stretch.  It is more about quality of form.
  •  Hold for 20-30 seconds, breathing deeply and fully into your stretching side body.
  • Modifications:
    • You can use your bottom side hand to gentle pull on the top side hand to create more traction in the side body.
    • You can incorporate a stretch for the IT band by bringing one foot back behind the other foot.  If side bending right, you want to bring your right foot behind your left, and vice versa.  See below.



Seated Side Body Stretch


There are so many variations you can do with this, but here is the initial set up for the stretch:

  • Sitting in a comfortable seated posture on the floor.  For some people it is most comfortable to roll up a blanket to position under their hips.
  • Walk one hand out to the side on the floor, bringing the other arm up over the head creating a nice stretch along the side body from the hips up the ribcage to the shoulder.  Press through your outside hip to the ground while also intentionally reaching up over your head with your arm.  Hang out here for 20-30 nice breaths.  Switch sides and repeat.
  • If sitting on the floor is too much, modify by sitting in a chair.

Modified Side Plank


Don’t let the word “plank” scare you!  Yes, this is a modified pose working into the full side plank pose, but it serves as a great side body stretch!  As you do this stretch, press into the outside edge of the foot on the floor and at the same time reach above your head with the top arm–creating a long beautiful line in two directions.  Hold for 20-30 secs while breathing deeply and fully. An exquisite and yummy stretch.

For those that like foamrollers, here are some great stretches.

Lateral Hip–Hips and IT Band


This is a great way to use a foamroller to work the lateral hip and IT band. A very tender area on most people, you will benefit by going slow.  Instead of “stripping” through the tissue and smashing your IT band more into your thigh by rolling up and down the side of the thigh, work slowly, finding a tight (tender) area, and camp out for a while.  This tissue responds best to compression, so take your time breathing into the tight area.  When the area eases, move on to the next area.


Another variation with the roller, allowing you to access the glutes and upper attachment of the hamstring.  Again, work slowly, finding tender areas and hanging out for a bit before moving on to the next area.  Move the hip in and out to change the stretch in the glutes.

Shoulder Girdle


On your side, place the foam roller just underneath your armpit.  You will know when are in the right place, promise!  Might feel like a burn, a sharp sensation, or a traveling sensation to the back of the shoulder blade.  Just be patient.  As you lay there focus on breathing into those uncomfortable areas, and soon enough you will feel it ease.  Then move on to the next area.  No need to roll the side body here–it can be very uncomfortable since there isn’t a lot of dense tissue on the side of the ribs.

These are just a few of the many stretches you can do to stretch your side body, so have some fun!

Hope you find this article beneficial in helping you gain better awareness to your side body.  Next time we will shift our focus to the midline support of the body.