What is Structural Integration, and what could it do for me?
Structural Integration (SI) is a form of holistic bodywork. It is a systematic approach to balancing an individual’s physical structure in relationship to earth’s gravitational field. SI was created by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist who studied collagen. Collagen is the building block of the body’s connective tissue, or fascia, and forms a continuous net throughout the entire body, giving us our three-dimensional shape. Our bodies become misaligned as the collagen fibers of the connective tissue become too tightly bonded together through aging, everyday stress, physical and emotional trauma. Habitual patterns of movement, like holding a telephone receiver between the shoulder and ear, or carrying a backpack or purse slung over one shoulder, can lead to adhesions in the connective tissue as well. The adhesions that are formed result in the chronic pain, discomfort, and impaired movement that many of us have come to accept as part of life. Because our bodies are a plastic medium, and are extremely malleable, Dr. Rolf found that these adhesions could be freed through energy, intention, and pressure. As a SI practitioner, this is exactly what I do—work to free the fascial layers, and align the major segments of the body around a vertical line. As a person’s body becomes more organized and aligned, they begin to function more efficiently, gracefully, and comfortably.
Dr. Rolf used to say that if you start with the same assumptions you end up with the same answers, no matter how elegant the solution. SI challenges basic assumptions about what it means to be healthy. Being healthy is more than just being free from sickness and disease. It’s also about being free from dis-ease in the body. I have found that working through the connective tissue is a consistent method for attaining a healthier and happier state of being.
Everyone experiences Structural Integration in their own unique way, but commonly experienced benefits include an increase in energy and vitality, increased breathing capacity, feeling lighter, fluid, and better balanced, greater flexibility, feeling taller and slimmer, and relief from discomfort and chronic pain.
Can you explain more about the connective tissue?
Sure- connective tissue is more than our tendons, ligaments, muscles and fascial layers. Connective tissue exists down to the cellular level, ensheathing all of the systems and organs of the body – circulatory, digestive, nervous, and muscoluskeletal. Everything that happens to us in our lives is encoded and imprinted in our connective tissue. When you sprain your ankle, for example, the immediate response is to protect it by shifting your weight to the uninjured side. The entire body adapts to this new position, and all of the joints and muscles on the uninjured side are put under new stress. As the ankle gradually heals and becomes able to bear weight again, you might begin to feel like your body is getting “back to normal.” Unfortunately, the adhesions in the connective tissue created during the compensation/healing process have become a permanent part of your structure.
Without assistance or intervention, the connective tissue will continue to form thicker, stronger adhesions, forcing muscles to shorten. When a muscle is chronically shortened, it loses its ability to relax, resulting in a constant state of tension. Again, this is where Structural Integration can help.
How quick does Structural Integration work?
Results from Structural Integration sessions can be seen as quickly as a single session, although Structural Integration should be seen as a process rather than a quick fix. The neck pain that draws the complaint is usually being caused by an aberration elsewhere in the body. Freeing the big toe might give relief to the pain in the neck, and the person would actually experience how the “toe-bone is connected to the neck-bone.”
As a person goes through the Structural Integration process, the connective tissue lengthens layer by layer, allowing for a gradual release of tension and stress. This release can be felt as space in the joints and freedom of movement throughout the body.
When people come to me who have never had any SI work, I usually work with them in the context of a Ten-Series. The Ten-Series is a set of ten sessions which work together to help create a unique pattern of organization in a your body. It takes you from being organized around the random events of life to being organized around a central vertical axis that runs perpendicular to the planet. The Ten-Series is usually done as ten sessions, but sometimes more or fewer sessions may be needed. The effects of Structural Integration are cumulative, and the changes multiply exponentially as the Ten-Series progresses. Once you are organized around your central vertical axis, you are available for post-ten work in the form of single sessions or three-series. As you progress with the Structural Integration process, deeper levels of work, such as the advanced five series, become available.
So people primarily come to you for the relief of chronic pain and injuries?
People come to me for lots of different reasons. Yes, the typical client that I see is someone who has struggled with a chronic problem in his or her body and has not found relief through conventional physical or drug therapy. I am the “anything” in their statement: “I’ll try anything to get rid of this pain!” But I also work with athletes, dancers, musicians, yoga and tai chi practitioners – anyone who is trying to attain higher level of performance from their bodies. Business people come to me to reduce their stress level, children are helped through developmental blocks such as ‘knock-knees’ or bow legs, and senior citizens come to relieve the aches and pains of a lifetime. I have also worked with individuals with disabilities to increase their range of movement and comfort. Basically anyone can benefit from the work.
I’ve heard rumors about Structural Integration being very painful.
Is this true?
Not necessarily- Structural Integration does have a reputation for being a painful process, but much of this painful reputation came from the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, when Structural Integration was initially gaining public recognition. Since then the work has evolved with an understanding that a lighter touch is more efficient at opening the connective tissue. I’m a big believer in “No Pain, No Pain” (as opposed to “No Pain, No Gain”). If a person is in pain during a session, then they will tense up and be unable to work with me to release the adhesions in their connective tissue. I work with the client to determine which kinds of touch are acceptable to them and how much pressure is comfortable.
The actual experience for a person while getting the work varies, depending upon injuries or other chronic holding patterns in a given area. Sensations in the area of the body being worked on may range from pleasurable warmth to momentary discomfort. At times, there may be a lack of sensation altogether. Further, as a person’s body changes over the course of the ten-series, these sensations will fluctuate. I remain open and ready to accommodate a client’s changing demands.
Every person is unique and will experience the Structural Integration process in their own unique way. My goal is to make Structural Integration a self-empowering process.
How does it work with other types of therapy?
Structural Integration can be a great compliment to many other modalities. As the connective tissue releases and softens, the effects of the different therapies can be more readily felt. It has been effective with physical therapy, chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, and craniosacral therapy, among others. Structural Integration is also especially powerful in relationship to movement education modalities such as Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Continuum, and Pilates. I have also found that the SI work deepens and enriches Tai Chi/Chi Kung and yoga practices.
So, what could I expect from a session?
Sessions run about an hour-and-a-half. The time during the session usually includes body analysis, massage table work, seated bench work, and movement work. Traditional attire for sessions is underwear, but I can work with people in any state of dress- really whatever makes a person comfortable. I utilize a computer-imaging program that takes pictures of clients before and after their sessions, so they can see the actual changes that occur in their body. Its interesting to look at the pictures as they invariably show a systemic relaxation and release of tension from the before image to the after image.
It sounds like Structural Integration has the potential to change your life…
In a lot of ways, it does. In my experience, it seems that as a person’s structure becomes more vertical, balanced, and upright, concomitant emotional, psychological, and spiritual changes can occur. Aligning the physical structure opens up the potential for recognizing limiting patterns in every aspect of one’s life.
Structural Integration is really about change, growth, and transformation. It’s about consciously evolving towards a fuller experience of being human. I think my teacher, Emmett Hutchins, sums up what the SI process is really about: “Structural Integration is about the whole person…The sensation of moving from weakness into strength, the exhilaration of owning a new part of oneself, the immediate and simultaneous reeducation of one’s being and action, the joy of self empowerment, waking up. These are the experiences of Structural Integration.”
This is what I hope to give to my clients.