Every living creature has form and a relationship to gravity. All things have structure that is affected by the gravitational field in some way. Our bodies have living, dynamic structure that also relates to gravity.
We are made of major body segments that include the head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Each of these major body segments has a center of gravity. In an organized body, the centers of gravity of these major segments line up directly over each other. If you were to drop a plumb line down the center of that body from the top of the head to the feet, you would see equal amounts of body mass to the front, back and sides of that person’s structure. That body will relate well to the gravitational field. It will have ease, flow, and organization within it.
In Structural Integration, we organize the major body segments to balance around that central plumb line. We call it the “Rolf” line in honor of Dr. Ida Rolf, the founder of the work. In order to do this, we use a series of 10 sessions that Dr. Rolf described as a recipe. Each session proceeds in a sequential order with specific goals and areas of the body that are addressed.
The recipe addresses superficial and deep layers of body tissue. The first three sessions open up the outer layers of the body. By addressing the superficial layers, a Structural Integration practitioner then has access into tissues closer to the core of the body in the next four sessions. As a lessening of tension occurs in those deeper layers, changes in tensional balance in those deep tissues get transmitted back into the outer layers of the body, creating more changes in the superficial layers. During the last three sessions, the practitioner integrates tensional changes between the inner and outer body layers so the body can work homogeneously as an integrated structure.
This ability of the connective tissue to spread compressional force in the body is known as a tensegrity quality. Buckminister Fuller first coined the word tensegrity. It can be used to refer to the function of the guy wire like connective tissues that are responsible for holding the body upright. It is the connective tissues that we have to thank for our upright posture, not our bones.
Regarding Dr. Rolf’s recipe, one of its ingredients is time. If a person proceeds in the recommended manner of receiving one session a week, it takes ten weeks to experience the full Structural Integration series. As the structure of the body changes during that time and becomes more at ease, the functioning of the body will also change. Structure and function are like two peas in a pod. They are very intertwined. As structure changes, function will change; as function changes, the structure will shift. Both occur in Structural Integration. People’s bodies can change a lot during their series. The more compromised a person’s body is, the greater their potential for change.
In the process of easing structure, a practitioner will educate the client in new ways of moving, such as standing, walking, sitting, and lifting. Disorganizing habits may need to be changed. Lifestyle changes could be called for. If people want different results in their body, they may need to do something different. Dr. Rolf described Structural Integration practitioners as educators first and foremost. A practitioner assists change in the body, and that body is doing the change.
The wisdom of the body will emerge within a structurally integrated individual. By the end of a ten series, a person’s body is much more intelligently connected and will give quick, accurate feedback when a person does something that creates strain in their body. As the slate becomes wiped clean, so to speak, that still small voice of internal wisdom becomes louder. Internal feedback can be more quickly heard and responded to. People will do things differently after a ten series. They do not want to put back the same strain we so diligently worked to remove.
When I take someone through the 10- session Structural Integration series, I follow that recipe and customize it for each person. Each person is different from anyone else. So each person’s series will be a unique expression of that person; as it should be. We all have different histories, personalities, and traits that have affected our bodies in different ways. So the work will vary according to the history and needs of each person. I like to consistently address problem areas for a person as I take them through a Structural Integration series.
A practitioner of Structural Integration works to release patterns of strain in the body. Neal Powers, one of my first teachers of Structural Integration, described strain as stress that has become internalized. That stress will show up as hard tight places where the tissue has shortened or twisted. Perhaps it will be dense with scar tissue adhesion. Strain shows up in a multitude of ways in the body.
In order to release the strain, a practitioner slowly uses their fingers, knuckles, elbows, or forearms to stretch the connective tissue or fascia of the body. Fascia includes ligaments, tendons, cartilage, bone, adipose, blood, and the layers of connective tissues within muscle tissue.
Areas of strain may resist pressure by the practitioner’s hands. When this happens to me, it feels like I am running up against a roadblock in the tissues. There will not be a transmission of movement through those areas when they are initially touched.
To ease those areas, I will move into them slowly with the intention of their release. Art Riggs, a structural integration practitioner once described it like pushing a heavy boat away from a dock. You push, push, push; nothing happens; then suddenly the boat starts moving. Getting movement through strained tissue is like that. As the tissue starts to move, it feels like a “melting” of hard areas under the practitioner’s fingers. We call that “melting” of the tissue, myofascial release.
Myofascial release is a good thing. Sometimes it is accompanied by a strong sensation of burning or heat release or pain. If the sensation is painful, it shouldn’t be for very long and it should feel like a good pain, the release of pain leaving the body. Within seconds of myofascial release, the practitioner can often move through that same area of the body again, at the same speed and depth with little or no uncomfortable sensation for the client following its release.
According to Thomas Meyers, a teacher of Dr. Rolf’s work, known for his book Anatomy Trains, there are three different types of pain in the body. There is pain that enters the body, pain that is stored in the body, and pain that occurs when the stuck pain is being released.
During Structural Integration, the practitioner releases stuck pain in the body. It’s not the intention of a practitioner to create more pain for their client. Rather, a person shows up with the stresses and strains they have accumulated, and we help them release it. As areas of strain release, that body becomes longer and more spacious. A practitioner stretches and lengthens the fascia to create more space within that body. That spaciousness allows tissues to move more freely.
Because all the major systems of the body including the circulatory system, nervous system, digestive system, lie within the fascia, easing strain there will help each system function more efficiently. Circulation will flow better, electrical impulses will conduct efficiently, nutrients can be delivered and wastes removed, energy levels will rise, and that body can have more freedom of movement.