[ WHAT is STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION ]
An effective human being is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
–Dr. Ida P Rolf
Structural Integration works by strategically affecting the shortened fascia in your body by means of hands-on bodywork and movement. Because changes in your myofascial system cannot be done at once, the work is divided into ten sessions of approximately 90 minutes each.
Each session focuses on a different area of your body and has a goal. The first three address the superficial fascia. The next four work on the core. And the last three are about balancing and connecting the length achieved through the previous sessions.
Throughout the sessions, as the fascia in your body gets released, the practitioner will teach you how to integrate your newly aligned body into your everyday life.
There is a soft tissue in all of your body called fascia. It’s not just a seamless membrane that surrounds your body, it envelops and goes within, connecting muscle groups, individual muscles, muscle fibers and even muscle cells and organs. It connects muscle to bone, bone to bone and muscle to muscle.
Fascia is what provides us with structure and posture. It’s not an overstatement when it is said that fascia is everywhere in our body.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to hold a good posture? Imagine the fascia of someone who spends all day long, seven days a week slouched in from of a computer. Their tissue will start memorizing that posture and any attempt to change it later on might be challenging and short termed.
These ‘fascial holding patterns’ are a natural aspect of our lives and happen due to immobility (like the example given above), repetitive movements, traumas, lesions, etc. Eventual they can cause issues like pain, limited range of motion.
Structural Integration is a very effective technique to dissolve those fascial holding patterns by re-conditioning the shortened tissue.
An example of a compressional structure is a brick house. The walls are formed of brick layers, these are the compressional elements. Each brick layer carries the weight of all the layers on top, the lower layer being the one burdened with the most compressional force.
Within a tensegrity structure you’ll find both compressional and tensional elements. Unlike the bricks, on the previous example, the compressional elements on these structures are not touching each other and the compression is being carried equally by all tensional elements surrounding them. Tents, modern day bridges, sailboats, all of them with their cables and poles are good examples of tensegrity systems.
Remember those skeletons in anatomy class? Most of us have the misconception that we are supported by our own skeletal system, similar to a brick house, one bone on top of the other. If you think about it, all bones in your body are basically floating within a web of fascia. Just like in a tensegrity structure. Think of it as your bones being the compressional elements and your fascia being the tensional elements. Our support comes from our fascia not our bones.
All your life you’ve been told to hold yourself strong, to straighten your back, to tuck your stomach in. This rigidness provided you with the illusion of strength, sort of like an armor (or a brick house). What if instead, it makes you brittle, more prone to injury? SI aims to reclaim the space that was lost due to fascial constrictions, so the body, like a tensegrity structure becomes stronger and resilient to injury by becoming adaptable.
History of Structural Integration
Before Structural Integration, there were only a few systems that had looked into the human body structure in a systematic and scientific way. Hatha yoga, osteopathy and the work of a few isolated therapists. Osteopathy was the first modern Western approach to see the integration of the body as an important component of health. It views structure through the skeleton and works by gently manipulating soft tissue and freeing capsular restrictions around joints.
Dr. Ida P. Rolf (1896-1979) was an American scientist who began her career in biochemistry. She turned her attention into helping her family and friends with their physical problems and having studied with some of the first generation osteopaths, she learned soft-tissue manipulation techniques.
Over a period of about thirty years, Dr. Rolf developed and refined her methods. She originally called her work Structural Integration, but some of her clients at Esalen jokingly remarked they were going to be ‘Rolfed’. So the word ‘Rolfing’ stuck and is today a registered service mark with the Rolf Institute.