Hurt so good: Rolfer brings alternative bodywork practice to North Tahoe
Special to the Sun
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Joe Dunkley’s home office resembles the look and feel of a massage studio or day spa.
But his practice isn’t exactly a jasmine-scented-aromatherapy-drool-on-the-pillow type of experience most people associate with alternative bodywork therapies like massage and chiropractic.
“It’s the deepest of all types of bodywork,” said Dunkley, a practicing Rolfer for 15 years. “It sometimes has a reputation for being very painful, but it’s not overtly painful, it’s just very intense — like a good hurt.”
Named after its founder, Dr. Ida Rolf — a biochemist from New York City who began studying the practice in the 1920s — Rolfing is a type of bodywork that digs deep into the connective tissue known as the fascia, allowing the muscle fiber to realign, thereby restoring the body’s proper range of motion.
“Before Rolfing came along, you had to just accept stiff hips and a sore neck and all other aches and pains as a normal part of the aging process, but that’s simply not true anymore, and that’s the most exciting thing about Rolfing,” Dunkley said at his home office for JD Rolfing in Incline Village’s Tyrolian Village subdivision. “It’s a completely different way of thinking about the body as a whole.”
GETTING A GRIP ON ROLFING
The fascia tissue is the connective tissue that surrounds, stabilizes and locks muscles together, Dunkley explained.
Over time, the fascia forms adhesions due to things like bad posture, injury, chronic tension, and prolonged stress.
“It’s kind of like when you peel back an orange,” Dunkley said. “The layer of white skin underneath the orange peel is similar to the body’s superficial layer of fascia, and as you peel away each section of the orange, there’s even more layers of tissue that hold the orange together, just like there are deeper layers of fascia that hold our muscles together.”
By releasing the underlying tensions of the fascia, Rolfing (also known as Structural Integration) is believed to improve posture, strength and flexibility, while significantly reducing or eliminating minor to extreme aches and pains.
Though the practice of Rolfing has been around as long as the first “Peanuts” Cartoon strip — or roughly 1950 — it didn’t land on Dunkley’s radar until a half-century later.
“I was in a car accident that caused some pretty severe injuries,” Dunkley said. “I tried going to a chiropractor, an acupuncturist and a massage therapist, but nothing was really doing it for me and that’s when I heard about Rolfing.”
FROM PAIN TO PURPOSE
The only thing Dunkley had to lose was the excruciating pain he was suffering, so he sought the help of a certified Rolfer near his then-hometown of Whidbey Island, about 30 miles outside of Seattle.
“As soon as he sunk his fingers into my back and my neck at that deeper fascial layer, I said ‘that’s it — that’s where all the pain is coming from,’ and I immediately began to feel better,” Dunkley said.
The most surprising part of that initial experience was not only the immediate relief, but the fact that the results lasted — that is, for a couple of weeks anyway.
“I had fully recovered from my injuries, and then I was rear-ended again about two weeks later,” Dunkley said.
The second accident caused his injuries to once again rear their ugly head, and Dunkley went back to the Rolfer for more treatment.
At his last appointment, it finally dawned on him to inquire about a career in Rolfing.
“I was always interested in natural health and healing,” said Dunkley, who had founded a natural health education company in 1995. “Two weeks after that final session, I moved to Boulder and began my studies at The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.”
From there, Dunkley opened a practice on Whidbey Island, where he helped countless clients reach their full fascia potential through Rolfing’s most famous process, the 10 Series Postural Realignment.
“When people come to see me they tell me almost the exact same story every time, which sounds something like, ‘I have this pain, I went to the doctor, I was given anti-inflammatory medication or pain killers, but that didn’t work, so I went to chiropractor, which helped a little bit, but it didn’t go away entirely, so I went to a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, and a physical therapist, but nothing stuck, so now I’m here to see you,’” Dunkley recounted. “There is simply no other therapy that produces the kind of results that Rolfing does.”
Alongside his sister and co-owner, the duo of siblings operated a successful practice in the Pacific Northwest for 15 years, until an unspeakable pain struck Dunkley and his family in a way no form of bodywork could possibly heal.
“After my sister passed away from cancer about two years ago, I knew I needed to get the hell out of Whidbey for a while and take care of myself,” said Dunkley, who also lost his mother and other sister to cancer a few years prior.
And, after a short but sweet stint working as a Rolfer to the rich and famous in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Dunkley was ready to replant his roots on U.S. soil — more specifically, the northeast shores of Lake Tahoe.
“Tahoe is absolutely stunning, and the people here are so friendly,” Dunkley said. “I already feel more at home here than I’ve ever felt anywhere else in my entire life.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.