Structural Integration (often referred to as “Rolfing”) is primarily about re-educating the body, or at least educating it back to it’s most integrated state.
In the 1930s, challenged by a friend’s disabilities and dissatisfied with the available medical treatment, Dr Ida P Rolf explored osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga, the Alexander Technique and homeopathic medicine to develop a breakthrough process working with people who had been unable to find help elsewhere.
During her research, Dr Rolf made the fundamental discovery that the same network of connective tissue (fascia) which contains and links the muscle system when it is healthy can be effectively used to reshape it when it has been pulled out of proper order. When the human body is vulnerable due to the stress of daily activities and physical injuries, the force of gravity can actually work against the body pulling it further out of alignment. Result? The fascia shortens, tightens and adjusts to accommodate the misalignment, causing the body to become imbalanced and less efficient, resulting in stiffness, discomfort and a loss of energy.
Through a process of systematic release, an SI practitioner helps to hydrate and lengthen the fascia and releases many of the traumas that have created negative patterns over the years. The body begins to realign and in time begins to move with greater ease, requiring less energy to function. Good posture becomes effortless and breathing easier; the body becomes more flexible, more co-ordinated and athletic performance often improves.
In recent years, Structural Integration has been used by Olympic athletes, professional runners and cyclists, golfers, tennis players and basketball players to gain competitive edge, help with balance and to recover from injuries more quickly.
Tuning into your body’s innate wisdom
What relationship do you have with your body? For most of us, the body is merely a vehicle which carries us around, unconsciously dealing with day to day events, trials and efforts.
In fact, left to its own devices, the body is self-organising. When we experience pain, our body automatically creates new patterns to take us away from that pain. Those patterns often foster additional strain in our bodies, about which we remain blissfully unaware. If the pain is relieved relatively rapidly, the body may be able to return to a more natural balance. However, if the strains and tensions have developed a more permanent pattern, the body remains imbalanced and ingrained in compensations which, more frequently than not, lead to chronic, long term problems.
An essential element of holistic healing is the faith that the ‘sick’ person’s unconscious holds the key to his or her own cure, if only it could be unlocked. Learning to become aware of your body is an important step in helping it remain healthy and balanced. And enhancing your experience of your body will allow you to tune into its innate wisdom.
Structural Integration is a hands on approach which unwinds patterns embedded in the connective tissue that have developed over the years. The goal is to align the body so that it moves and rests easily within gravity, allowing harmony and healing to occur naturally.
Combining Structural Integration with client-specific movement strategies clients are able to maintain balance and muscle memory is encouraged to hasten recovery from injury pain or postural imbalances. Clients are finally able to fully embrace and maintain their new body awareness.
Ten Sessions and Beyond
Before we begin the sessions, the client and practitioner talk through your physical history and, if necessary and appropriate, emotional history too. Together we will paint a picture of your goals and as the sessions progress, we determine ways to enhance your experience and discuss any new goals that come up.
Each session begins with the practitioner reviewing the client’s structure before beginning work. The client is typically dressed in underwear or a swimsuit. Most of the session is conducted with the client on a rolfing table, but elements also take place with the client seated on a specially designed bench. During each session the practitioner will ask the client to perform small specific movements while they connect into the desired tissue layer. This creates the changes more quickly while enhancing the effectiveness of the process.
Depending on the desired outcome of the sessions or client’s history, the client may be asked to walk on a treadmill in order for the practitioner to review the patterns of movement, in particular walking.
The sessions progress through the body beginning with the superficial layer of fascia which is released during the first three sessions. The middle four sessions are deeper and address the more intrinsic muscles often referred to as the ‘core’. These sessions aim to stabilize the muscles closest to the spine.
The final three sessions focus on integrating the ‘core’ and ‘sleeve’ allowing a freedom of movement between the client’s torso and arms and legs. It is during these sessions that we look at more underlying problems specific to your structure and we develop a movement therapy to enhance the process. Your body becomes more proprioceptively cognizant and, through your new awareness, you are able to maintain and sustain the changes that continue into the months after the sessions have concluded.
Post ten series sessions are also offered. These usually begin several months after the ten series has been completed, but this is dependent on each client’s individual circumstances.
The post ten series usually consists of three sessions which are designed specifically to work with ongoing structural and integrating issues specific to the client.
Session by session
- Session ONE
Focus is on enhancing the breath while lengthening the front of the torso.
- Session TWO
Our connection to the earth, the focus is on the feet, releasing the lower pole and getting length through the back
- Session THREE
Working the sides and shoulders to achieve length though both sides of the body
- Session FOUR
Inner thigh and inside lower leg. Bringing balance to the inside to complement the balance on the outside already achieved
- Session FIVE
Deep abdominal work, touching in on the psoas and the front of the lower spine. Brings organization to the anterior lumbar region
- Session SIX
Working along the back of the legs and the gluteals, session six begins to bring balance to the hamstrings, sacrum and heels
- Session SEVEN
The upper pole. The goal of the hour is to bring the head into balance with gravity.
- Session EIGHT
This session begins the integration phase. Usually this hour focuses on the lower girdle: pelvis, legs, knees, ankles and feet
- Session NINE
Integration of the upper girdle
- Session TEN
Integraiton of both girdles around the diaphragm
The process of SI is designed to organise, align and balance the body, allowing it to feel light and fluid and to move with greater efficiency. Through the series, negative patterns of daily stress and impaired function are released, true mind-body awareness increases and a positive relationship between gravity and the body is facilitated.
While Structural Integration practitioners do not work to ‘cure’ specific ailments, it is well documented that many chronic problems are relieved and often resolved. These include: