Structural Integration

What is the body? That shodow of a shadow of your love,
that somehow contains the whole universe.


Awareness-Oriented Structural Integration

This modality arose in an unbroken lineage from the work of Ida Rolf (“Rolfing”), but it is unaffiliated with the Rolf Institute in Colorado. A person’s own awareness becomes the catalyst for sustained tissue change.

The technique uses very slow, relatively deep massage strokes in order to achieve length, breadth and differentiation in the connective tissue, also called fascia. The fascia is the continuous net that wraps around all structures in the body, including every muscle & every group of muscles. Fascia is composed of collagen fibers and a gel-like matrix called the ground substance. Author and Rolfer Deane Juhan speaks of it this way in his book Job’s Body:

[C]onnective tissue in its various forms can be regarded as a fluid crystal, a largely non-living material that can be adjusted over a wide range from sol to gel—here watery, there gelatinous, here dense and elastic, there hard as stone.

Myofascia is the combination of the fascia along with the muscle it wraps around. Often, myofascia becomes unnecessarily rigid and restricted as a result of trauma, overuse, postural habits, and/or nutrition. The fascia around neighboring muscles can get glued together, preventing individual muscles from working effectively. The lack of muscular articulation can create strain and discomfort.

Structural work combs through the tissue. It encourages the liquid crystal to soften, facilitates hydration and suppleness in the tissue, permits efficient muscular movement, and restores elegance of form. In practice, this isn’t at all abstract—it’s quite palpable to the recipient and frequently visible to the eye.

Following the Inspiration of Each Individual Body

A trained practitioner is like a detective looking beyond symptoms for underlying patterns. A client may come in complaining of shoulder tension, for example, but the pattern’s root may be in locked-up respiratory muscles or the psoas muscle, a hip flexor located at the body’s core. “Structural integration,” as the name implies, is interested in helping the client to find overall balance and health, instead of fixating on symptoms. According to Ida Rolf—a biochemist who created the modality in the mid 20th century to resolve family health problems—when we evolved into two-legged creatures we entered a new and often unhappy relationship with gravity. We each develop our own characteristic way of living in the gravitational field, with compensations that pull us out of vertical alignment. According to practitioner Rosemary Feitis,

Structural Integration helps to envision how each individual idiosyncratically pulls and twists away from uprightness, and [the practitioner must] understand how to unravel the mesh of rigidities and tensions that maintain [the client’s] shape.

We do this by spiraling our way in from the outermost layer of fascia, to the deepest core muscles which attach the pelvis. In Awareness-Oriented Structural Integration, the sensations become an educational adventure in which we retrain the nervous system. The body transitions from habitual patterns to a rejuvenating freedom of movement. The experience can be profoundly liberating.

Unlike Swedish massage, this type of massage promotes change that is sustainable over the long term. Benefits experienced by my clients have included better posture, enhanced physical function and relief from chronic pain, as well as emotional integration, emotional release, and psychospiritual insight.