More Than Fifty Years of Being a Rolfer®

By Jan H. Sultan, Advanced Rolfing® Instructor
February 2024

ABSTRACT Jan H. Sultan reflects on learning Rolfing® Structural Integration from Dr. Rolf at Esalen Institute alongside Emmett Hutchins, Judith Aston, and Peter Melchior. Taking that education to rural Northern New Mexico, Sultan was driven by the demands of the work to study further, to unpack what Rolf had taught. In this article, he shares some of her foundational ideas. Sultan also considers his more than fifty years of teaching structural integration.

I was fortunate to be among the early Rolfers that IPR [Ida P. Rolf, PhD, (1896-1979)] trained. Not the first, but among the first ten or twelve, I think. The second piece of good fortune was that we were affiliated with Esalen Institute® in its heyday as a container for the nascent ‘human potential movement’.1

Starting in Structural Integration

When I audited2 my first class with Dr. Rolf, both Emmett Hutchins and Judith Aston3 were doing their practitioning phase. In those days, auditors were only to observe and not actually do the physical work. Meanwhile, Peter Melchior had graduated from Rolf’s first Los Angeles training some months before me. We were both hired by Esalen to deliver Rolfing sessions as part of the program for the people who had come to Esalen for the three-month residential program.

Rolfing® [Structural Integration] in those days was done as a Ten Series of ‘processing’ and was usually done about once or twice a week. Peter had the bright idea for us to alternate delivering sessions with the residents; he would do the first session, I would do the second for that person, he the third, and so on. This gave us a chance to share experiences and learn from each other as we went through the process. Also, it gave the people the opportunity to have the experience of working alternately with two of us.

I can’t imagine a better way to start a Rolfing practice – alternating sessions with a fellow Rolfer and together working with a very intelligent and highly motivated clientele. We got feedback from each other as colleagues and the clients also gave us rich information, our learning came from both sides of the table.

About a year after finishing my training, I moved to Northern New Mexico, to a rural homestead about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe. In contrast to my time at Esalen, there wasn’t another Rolfer for a thousand miles in any direction. My clientele generally had no idea of the human potential movement. They were largely economic refugees from the big cities coming ‘back to the land’ to live simply, some communally, to garden, hunt, and become self-sufficient. My practice largely amounted to orthopedic work (emphasis on the small ‘o’), helping with injuries and strains, with very little deep process work, except for the occasional seeker who would find their way to me for a Ten Series.

For that process work, I would travel to more urbanized locations, like Prescott College in Arizona, where I met Sam and Heather Keen [Sam Keene was a professor at Prescott College]. They and their family hosted me to work there. They also had a daughter named Lael, who later went on to become a Rolfer. I also traveled to Houston, Texas, to Espiritu, a “growth center” for humanistic psychology, where Rolfing work was known from our affiliation with Esalen Leland Johnson, founder of Espiritu, later went on to become a Rolfer. I also traveled to Denver, Colorado, to work with a group who were also exploring human potential and growth processes.

Oddly enough, in retrospect, in my traveling around, I was mirroring the pattern of how IPR went about spreading her work in her formative days.

My Private Practice

Now, let’s look at my over fifty years of practice. I have to say that, in the long view, I am so grateful to have found a line of work that allowed me (and demanded of me) that I study constantly to deepen my understanding of the nature of the body. When I left the fold of Esalen and began to have a private practice, I was plagued by the feeling that I was not well enough trained to do the work in front of me. I simply did not know enough. Since then, I have been driven by the demands of the work to learn and understand more deeply.

And more selfishly, I’ve enjoyed being self-employed and master of my own time. I guess this could be a double-edged sword in the life of someone less driven, but for me, it has worked very well.

After my initial work with the Esalen residential program, when I took the work into a broader world, I found that the orthopedic side of the work actually paid my bills. Remember that there was no internet, and no seminars in skill development. If you wanted to learn more in my field, there were few avenues to pursue; read textbooks, experience the work of other professionals, or go back to school.

In my readings of textbooks from the fields of chiropractic, osteopathy, and early European and colonial physical medicine, I was always interested in the ideas that drove the practice, more than the techniques that were being used. I wanted to know how they thought about the body and health.

Jan H. Sultan in 1963 and in 2023.


Rolf used to say that she originally developed the work as an adjunct to orthopedics (again with the small ‘o’). The Ten Series came later as a way to train and develop her students’ skills. Also, the ten-session series gave more consistent access to deeply held patterns in people’s bodies.

She alluded to her speculation that this kind of process work in the body was akin to more ancient systems, in which the work on the body was toward refinement for spiritual development, as opposed to focusing on repair, as in Hatha yoga, martial arts, or perhaps some ‘temple training’.

Whatever that refinement aspect might have been, it met a ready market when IPR came to Esalen. This is where she found her work appropriated into a program for the development of human potential. It is here that Rolfing [Structural Integration] became somewhat inevitably linked with body-oriented psychology.

Vitalism and Gravity

I was struck by the distinction between ‘vitalistic’ practices and ‘medical’ approaches. The first seeks to clear obstruction in the body so that the natural self-organizing capacity of the organism would exert itself. While the latter looks to the repair of the injury or sickness directly, and with subsequent rehabilitation.

Dr. Rolf insisted that her work was directed at creating better function through improved spatial organization. She pointed to the plasticity of the connective tissue web, the myofasciae, as the means whereby this could be accomplished. She reasoned that this tissue was the organ of form in the body. It had the capacity to change, to adapt to the demands of injuries, work-related patterns, or athletic training. By direct pressure on these tissues, she could evoke those same adaptive responses to move the body to a better alignment in gravity.

Someone asked her, “If you could leave out any part of your theory, what would it be?” Her response was that if you left out gravity, you were not Rolfing anymore. This reflected her perception that the context in which the body exists is as important as the internal components. Body in gravity, was how she defined order. She would emphasize, gravity is a friend to a well-organized body, and conversely, gravity tends to increase existing disorder over time.

Teaching at the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® (DIRI)

When I step into a classroom, I’m not going to teach you everything I know. I like to teach this work in a way that you can learn it and actually make it work for you, to the point where you’re going to own it as well. And this way, when you learn more details, you don’t lose these foundational ideas that constitute a container.

I know I’m a lineage holder, one of the people who learned to teach this work directly from Rolf. I know that I’m near the last one standing as well. I’ve been teaching this work since the mid-1970s. Along with my full-time private practice, up until 2020 when the pandemic struck, I was teaching Advanced Trainings. I taught five of them since I’ve been in Los Angeles over the last eleven years.Additionally, I was teaching Basic Trainings every other year. I’ve taught mountains of small continuing education classes. These days, I’m still teaching, I’ve done lots of small tutorials. I am teaching the real work. I hold the real work. Now, since COVID-19 took me to death's door, I’ve been to the far stars and back, and I know there are other dimensions of structural integration.4

Part of being a legacy holder, for me, was the responsibility of looking at Rolf’s source material. I do want to say that I never heard directly from Ida Rolf that the Ten Series was given to her as a template that was used in Ancient Egypt as part of acolytes coming through their training to purify the body, to open it for the spiritual energies to flow through. I never heard her say anything like this.

What Rolf did talk about was her interest in Egyptian art because of the right angles, and the way that they were postured like that. She thought that reflected an inherent cultural understanding. She talked about how the art that came after, the Greek and Roman traditions, valued curves, not right angles. I never heard about the initiation piece that circulates in our community, such as it is. I know she was interested in Egypt, and how the art reflected cultural values.

At about five years into the work, I reached the point where I thought, “Now it’s my turn to synthesize what I know,” I started digging into every book I could get my hands on. Literally ‘borrowing’ chiropractors’ books, dusty old textbooks they wouldn’t miss. I found osteopathy books and early European and colonial physical medicine texts. As I said, you couldn’t Google anything. You either learned it from somebody or you read it. That was it, so I read plenty. I got Magoun’s book, Osteopathy in the Cranial
(1976). I got some crazy books from this Nigerian physical therapist who did direct manipulation – more like tribal wisdom. I had some exposure to Japanese bone setting, as in shiatsu.

Once I backtracked Rolf’s ideas and realized there were these roots that she drew from, I picked up those pieces to bring them into my understanding. I took them for my own synthesis, and that’s when I started my searchings and findings into the nature of structure. I was always more interested in how people thought about their manual work and the ideas that drove their practices, more than the techniques they used. I didn’t want to go out and collect techniques. I wanted to know, “How did you generate that? What do you believe about what you’re doing that led you to do this?” So, that was
my formation.

Rolfers® are Educators

Another component of IPR’s ‘theory’ was that people had to be educated about how to use the available order. Her definition of the work was, Rolfing [Structural Integration] is a system of manipulation and education . . . and she said if you’re not educating people you work with, you aren’t Rolfing. That part of IPR’s work has seeded the development of Rolf Movement® Integration, which is a parallel system of movement education. This work uses the principles of Rolfing work in a systematic journey into how it feels to move and live in a way that increases our sense of ease and internal order. In my practice, I spend a certain amount of the time teaching my clients how to move better, and to have better posture.

As my own work has evolved, I find that I’m reaching a wide range of people, from infants to the elderly. The kids can really use the organization of their bodies as they grow and take adult form. Adolescents love the work; they get to stand tall and feel good about themselves. Athletes can work on specific performance areas that simple training does not reach. And the elderly can use the maintenance to extend their comfortable function. Overall, Rolfing Structural Integration has shown itself to be a wonderful resource for better living, rehabilitation, and simply staying well.


1. “Esalen began as a place to study and develop human potential on both the individual and social level. Innovative writers like Michael Murphy and Aldous Huxley were at the forefront of expounding on themes of human potential at Esalen and in doing so, fostered an environment for visionary thinking and practice for leaders among many vocations: Ida Rolf in physical therapy, Fritz Perls, who developed Gestalt therapy, Buckminster Fuller, who perfected the geodesic dome in architecture, and even political figures such Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich” (Bourutta 2009, online). It is well known that Dick Price, PhD (1930-1985) cofounded Esalen with Michael Murphy.

2. Rolf taught Rolfers by lecturing and then demonstrating the work with model clients from the community. To start the training, students in the auditing phase would watch the demonstrations of the work. And then students in the practitioning phase of the training would be doing the demonstrations with direct instruction from Rolf and her assistants.

3. Emmett Hutchins (1934-2016) and Peter Melchior (1931-2005) went on to co-found the Guild for Structural Integration in 1991, and Judith Aston is the founder of Aston Kinetics™.

4. The last time I looked, the International Association for Structural Integration (IASI) had twelve recognized programs teaching structural integration. And I went through and looked at each one’s front page, so to speak, at their statement of purpose, lineage, and alignment. Lots of those schools focus on psychomotor effect, energetic work, and mystifying about the potentials of the human being. I consider the structural integrators as part of our club. I am convinced that with DIRI, we have a trade school where we teach people how to make a living at doing this work. We don’t impose on students with the intension of spiritually transforming them. People bring their own religion. We teach people how to roll up their sleeves and actually deliver Rolfing work so that they can go out and be a useful member in their community. This is my view. I’m a firm believer in the orthopedic applications of our work, not that it should be exclusively that, but that is the foundation. To do that, you have to study rigorously.

Jan H. Sultan’s initial encounter with Dr. Rolf was in 1967 as her client. In 1969 he trained under her. In 1975, after assisting several classes, Rolf invited him to become an instructor. After further apprenticeship, she invited him to take on the Advanced Training. Over the next ten years, Sultan taught several Advanced Trainings with Peter Melchior (1931-2005), Emmett Hutchins (1949-2016), Michael Salveson, and other faculty members, collaborating on refinements to the Advanced Training. Sultan currently teaches Basic Trainings, continuing education, and Advanced Trainings for the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute and continuing education to the extended structural integration community. He feels strongly that his responsibility as an instructor goes beyond simply passing on what he was taught, but also includes the development of the ideas and methodology taught by Rolf.


Borutta, Rick. March 3, 2009. “Esalen and the human potential movement.” CBS News. Available from

Magoun, Harold Ives. 1976. Osteopathy in the cranial field. self-published.


Rolfer; Ida Rolf; Esalen Institute; human potential; Emmett Hutchins; Peter Melchior; Judith Aston; International Association of Structural Integrators; growth processes; private practice; orthopedics; vitalism; gravity; myofascia; Rolfing education. ■

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