As a teacher of Structural Integration, I’m often asked by prospective students how I ‘see’ the body. Most assume we focus on muscles and bones, so it comes as a surprise when I explain that our primary focus is on the body’s connective tissue system. And that we see the body’s connective tissue system as functionally separate from the muscles and bones that they surround and attach to within the body.
From our perspective, everything within the body is connected by, and held in suspension and alignment by, connective tissue. Perhaps a good analogy is the way a net contains a haul of fish. We don’t see the origins and insertions of muscles as endpoints, but as part of this larger three-dimensional myofascial matrix.
That means that wherever we are working in the body, we are affecting the body’s entire connective tissue matrix. And because the entire body is supported and organized by these fascial envelopes, releasing adhesions between these envelopes allows us to affect posture and functioning.
But this post is not about connective tissue, any more than a post about fishing is about the nylon filament the nets are made from.
As SI practitioners, we focus on our clients’ posture, repetitive movement patterns and the ability to breathe and move the core. This directs our working intention toward supporting the mobility of the respiratory diaphragm and pelvic floor, the pivoting motion of the pelvic girdle and sphenoid, and the transfer of breath and motion through the body’s structural core.
To support our clients’ posture, balance and long-term structural integrity, we focus on creating greater balance between the body’s outer myofascial sleeve and its inner structural core. To support their mobility and flexibility, we focus on creating greater side-to-side balance between joints. And to support their emotional wellbeing and ability to dissipate tension, we focus on their capacity to breathe fully and transfer breath and movement through their structural core.
When we look at our clients’ bodies, we don’t look for perfect side-to-side symmetry. We look for mobility and differentiation between the outer myofascial sleeve and the inner structural core. We look for a full range of motion and balance between sets of joints, and for horizontal and vertical alignment between the body’s weight-bearing segments. We see the body in three dimensions and focus on easing patterns of strain in both the outer myofascial sleeve and the inner structural core.
Structural Integration requires us to see the big picture before attempting to understand and address specific aches and pains. We hope to address specific joint and structural problems by focusing on creating better alignment and overall balance. Metaphorically speaking, we focus on aligning your car’s suspension before your tires are worn, not after.
We also look for what in our clients’ bodies can move, and what cannot move but should. Again, we’re after optimal functioning, rather than treating isolated aches and pains. We see the space between muscle, bone and tendon structures and how adhesions between connective tissue layers affect these spaces. And, in turn, how these adhesions restrict our clients’ mobility and alignment, and their ability (or inability) to transfer motion and breath through the core.
SI sees the body’s structural core not so much as intrinsic musculature that supports the spine, but more as a three-dimensional structure that has its own integrity and mobility, and moves independently from the body’s extrinsic myofascial envelope. Easing rotation and torsion of the body’s structural core and supporting the mobility of its many diaphragms is another primary focus. A good analogy might be a garden hose. While we’re concerned with untwisting and easing kinks in the hose jacket, our true intention is enhancing its ability to transfer water through its core.
Because much of our work is focused on supporting the mobility of the body’s many internal ‘diaphragms,’ we look for breath and mobility in the respiratory diaphragm as well as in the plural dome (thoracic outlet) of the upper thorax. We look at breath and mobility in the floor and roof of the mouth, in the pelvic floor and in the transverse plane of the sphenoid as reflections of the core’s ability to function optimally. And we look for the inner core to be able to support clients’ ability to think clearly, breathe fully and dissipate emotional strain.
This is a very different way of seeing and working than the standard ‘muscles and bones’ perspective so many of us were taught earlier in our careers. It’s a powerful and holistic way of supporting our clients’ overall integrity and well-being, and that’s really the focus of our practitioners’ training.