What is Structural Integration?
The Rolf Method of Structural Integration is a hands-on process of re-educating the body through touch and movement. It systematically releases patterns of stress and impaired function. The primary focus of Structural Integration is facilitating the relationship between gravity and the human body.
What does Gravity have to do with Structural Integration?
The earth's gravitational field is the most potent physical force that the human body has to deal with. Although most people realize this tremendous force exists, they somehow believe they are immune to it. Gravity's constant effect on any soft, pliable mass is to make it a formless, chaotic and spherical unit. Since the body has a great deal of plasticity and is much broader at the top than at the base, it is greatly affected by gravity when imbalances exist. Most bodies are in a state of imbalance. As we grow older, we often "shrink" in height and slowly lose flexibility. Our bones stay the same length and our muscles can still function, but the connective tissue is what changes the most.
What is connective tissue?
It is a very tough, strong tissue, otherwise known as the myofascial system.
Connective tissue is the support system of our body. All of the major systems in the body - circulatory, digestive, nervous, musculo-skeletal, and organs - are en-sheathed in connective tissue. A healthy and balanced connective tissue system's characteristics are flexibility, elasticity, length and resilience. The tissue absorbs and responds to gravitational force, illness, injury, emotional trauma and plain everyday stress. Any of these factors will immediately, or over a period of time, cause an imbalance in the tissue system. When imbalance exists the system's healthy characteristics are affected. The imbalance is identified as a shortening, thickening, dehydration of the tissue which impairs joint mobility and muscle function. This is usually felt in the body as chronic pain, discomfort, stiffness, or decreased flexibility and impaired movement.
Connective Tissue has Memory
Any imbalance in the body - no matter what the cause - is imprinted as
change in the internal structure and has a long - range and cumulative effect. The body may attempt to return to its original state but without assistance it remains misaligned. For example, when someone sprains an ankle it is only natural to protect it by keeping as much weight as possible off the injured ankle and compensating with the other ankle by shifting as much weight as possible to the uninjured side of the body. This natural response to the injury changes the entire body's relationship to the gravitational field, and the neuromuscular system is re-patterned as part of this process. Patterns of neural activity, blood and lymph flow, and muscular contraction are altered. When the ankle heals and pain subsides, the person assumes that he/she is returning to normal movement and function; however, this is not the case. That new pattern created from the shift of weight has been recorded in the internal structure and remains there as part of that persons movement and holding pattern, and remnants of the injury will be maintained in the structure and function indefinitely. Although I have used a sprained ankle as an example, this change in the inner system and re-patterning can take place from something as simple as the habit of carrying a heavy bag on the same shoulder of holding the telephone receiver between one's shoulder and era. In order to remain upright the entire body has to compensate and some muscles are forced to shorten. When a muscle is chronically shortened it loses its ability to relax which then results in a constant state of tension. When these changes and patterns occur, the connective tissue needs assistance in order to return to its normal, health state. Structural Integration is of particularly great benefit at this point.
How does Structural Integration work?
SI works by lengthening and opening the patterns in the connective tissue. As a result the thickened, toughened tissue becomes soft, re-hydrated and more pliable, thus allowing movement and flexibility. Structural Integration changes the body's compensations because it organizes the imbalances in the tissue. The systematic approach to relating gravity through the myofascial layers aligns the body and improves posture. The body lengthens allowing muscles the space to work and joints the freedom to function.
What are the benefits?
Structural Integration is a very personal process. It is important to remember that because no two people are alike, their experience and the benefits will never be exactly the same. As a result of the process people often appear taller and slimmer. Some actually gain anywhere from 1/4" to over one inch in height. Feelings of discomfort or pain are often alleviated. Other often experienced benefits are greater flexibility, a feeling of lightness and fluidity, better balance, increased breathing capacity, increased energy and greater self-confidence.
Are there psychological benefits?
While Structural Integration is primarily concerned with physical changes in the body, it affects the whole person. We are made up of emotions, attitudes, belief systems and behavior patterns as well as the physical being. All are related. Align the physical structure and it will open up the individual's potential. Clients often report positive changes, stating less stress, greater self-confidence and improved ability to handle life's changes. Such changes have been reported in all age groups.
How does Structural Integration feel?
(Or in the words of so many, does it hurt?!) I find it interesting that many people who have opinions about Structural Integration being painful have never experienced the process. Much of this reputation for pain came from the early days when Structural Integration was first gaining public recognition. Since that time, the process has greatly evolved. As far as the actual experience is concerned, the area being worked will vary in sensation and feeling depending upon injuries to an area or holding of chronic stress as well as other factors. Feelings can range from pleasurable release to momentary discomfort. My goal is to make each client's experience one of self-empowerment. This process is yours not mine. We will work together at your level and pace.
Does Structural Integration last?
Yes, but keep in mind however, as life changes, bodies change in response. All injuries, accidents, lengthy illnesses and emotional stress may necessitate additional work.