The Art of Structural IntegrationShawn Aarons July 1, 2007
2007 has been a big year for Structural Integration (SI). In North America, SI practitioners have been swamped with new clients responding to an article published in Vogue Magazine in March, and to the Oprah television show in April airing a segment on the benefits of SI.
Structural Integration is a bodywork utilizing hands on manipulation, awareness, and movement education. It involves an organized series of ten sessions designed to restore postural balance and functional ease by aligning and integrating the body in gravity. SI is based on the work of Dr. Ida P. Rolf. It is practised by people trained in SI at schools in accordance with the standards established by the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI).
Dr. Ida P. Rolf was a woman ahead of her time; she earned her PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University in 1920 and worked as a research scientist for Rockefeller Institute for 13 years. As a lifelong seeker of knowledge, she sought ways to help herself and her family. She combined her scientific background and experiential knowledge to develop a system of hands-on body work, which she called Structural Integration. This evolved into the 10 sessions which she referred to as ‘The Recipe’.
A major principle of Structural Integration is that the body is significantly affected by the powerful force of gravity. When out of alignment, the body moves inefficiently, labouring to stay upright in the field of gravity. Stresses of daily life, physical injuries, unhealthy movement patterns, and attitudes are things that can impact physical structure. Over time, the body shortens and tightens to accommodate stresses, creating stiffness, pain, fatigue and lack of well being.
The gravitational force is one of the strongest unseen forces that determines our uprightness or lack of it. Like all other material bodies, we are subject to the laws of mechanics; one of these laws states that masses must be balanced in order to be stable. If the material body of your house is subsiding and your door no longer shuts properly, you have a choice: plane the frame to fit the changing surroundings or stop your house from collapsing. The first approach will solve the problem temporarily, but you’ll have to do more and more work as the structure continues to topple; it’s the same with your body.
Humans consist, more or less, of stackable units: head, neck, rib cage, pelvis, legs and feet. The agents of this balance within the human body are the bones and the connective tissue called myofascia. When myofascia is lengthened there is more space for the bones to settle into a new and better alignment.
Dr. Rolf noted that misalignment of any body part causes pain and other symptoms that increase with gravity’s ever-present downward force. She saw that it wasn’t enough just to relieve the most painful or troubled area. Instead, to solve the problem, the entire structure has to be re-balanced from its foundations. We only have to look at the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa to see this; the entire structure is visibly fighting against gravity. The same forces apply in the unbalanced body; the connective tissue shortens and the result is tension and a lack of mobility. When the body’s structure is balanced gravity flows through and being upright feels easy.
Changes in the body are achieved by manipulating the myofascia. SI practitioners use directed pressure with their hands to lengthen and loosen the fascia throughout the body. The fascia is a protective layer of connective tissue that surrounds each muscle and muscle fiber. Fascia gives muscles and bodies their shape and support. As fascia releases one experiences a variety of sensations including a deep feeling of relaxation, lightness and freedom.
The ten sessions are designed to affect all the layers of tissue and all the segments in a way that integrates the body’s structure. Each session builds upon the last and the SI practitioner educates the client to become aware of habitual and inhibiting movement patterns and make the appropriate changes.
The benefits are many; greater ease in movement, better posture, relief from chronic pain, improved breathing, sensations of lightness, increased energy and strength, and greater emotional balance and perceptual awareness.