We recently celebrated the graduation of our 2017 Structural Integration Practitioners Intensive, and I find myself reflecting on just how far we traveled together over the past year. When I think about all the challenges people faced and overcame, and all the changes that occurred, I am truly impressed and humbled by everyone’s growth and effort.
Early on, the challenges were conceptual – defining and clarifying intention, and learning to work with fascia and in the spaces between muscles and tendons rather than on them. Students had to learn to identify and release adhesion between fascial layers and to use their clients’ movements to help release these adhesions. For some, it probable felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them – learning to think and work with fascia, learning to work with clients’ movements and learning to look at clients’ bodies from a fundamentally different vantage point were challenging and sometimes frustrating.
The next challenges were structural. Students were quickly confronted with their own physical limitations and imbalance. How rotations in their own lower legs created rotation throughout their entire body and how supporting side-to-side balance between the arches of their feet was necessary to support the structural balance and vertical stability of their entire body.
In the second class, people realized just how shaky their own foundation was. How past injuries and emotional traumas had destabilized their own bodies, and how much work it was going to take to re-balance and stabilize themselves. That was also the point that everyone realized there were no quick fixes, and that learning and doing this work was going to be a much longer and more intense process than most had imagined.
In the third class, we continued to learn new ways of working with clients and better body mechanics. We worked on not twisting and straining our own bodies while trying to ease strain in, and untwist, our clients. We were also challenged to see the big picture and think in three dimensions. To see how each of the body’s weight bearing segments needed to be both radially and vertically aligned, and how by creating differentiation between the body’s anterior and posterior compartments, rotation and torsion could be eased.
This is where we learned to assess what was moving and what wasn’t moving in clients’ bodies. And to play ‘whack-a mole’ as we chased rotation and spiral strain from one end of the body to the other and back again. We learned to shift awareness from the physical to the energetic, and to evolve from working on isolated parts of the body to supporting balance and integration between structures.
Session Four required another shift in awareness – from the clients’ outer bodies to their inner bodies and their structural core. And then from the structure core to the ability to move and transfer breath and movement through the core. This required another radical shift in our understanding of what it means ‘to work deeper.’ We had to learn to create safe therapeutic partnerships with our fellow students and with our clients. And in turn, these partnerships helped make it safe for us to work deeper and to help our clients move, breathe and feel in parts of their bodies that had been injured and numbed.
Some of us also realized that our own legs weren’t supporting our weight equally and that our pelvic floor wasn’t moving as much as we would like it to, and that our ability to move and breath in our own core had become limited. And it took work and courage to learn to feel for and move in our own pelvic floor and to move and ‘breathe’ through our own core.
This was also where we learned that our own inner body – our core – is capable of moving separately from our outer body, and like the rubber diaphragm within a bicycle pump, our own and our clients’ internal diaphragms could be free to expand fully and to move both upward and downward within the body’s vertical core. And suddenly we felt more alive and empowered as our inner body was freed to move and breathe, and we really began to feel and understand what this work is truly about!
Session Five revealed that to support the mobility of the core and body’s respiratory diaphragms, it is necessary to mobilize and ease rotation within the fascial compartments of the abdomen, thorax and pelvic basin. We learned to feel for the organs contained within these cavities, and to feel ‘through’ the core in order to track rotation and side-to-side imbalance.
Students were also confronted with the strain within their own gut and with just how supportive or collapsed their own inner body was. Most of us were surprised how different we felt after receiving this work, and we learned that not only must real structural support come from within, it must also be experienced before it can truly be understood.
In Session Six we learned to support the pelvis’ ability to pivot, and that as the pelvis was freed to pivot and the sacrum was freed to move separately from the pelvis, the sacrum moved with the spine and breath and energy were able to transfer through the core. For some, this session – with its focus upon mobilizing the pelvic floor, tailbone and sacrum – engendered a huge confrontation. By working in partnership, we found safety and support to address our own fears and immobility. And in the process, to help clients find their inner strength and mobility.
As students’ ability to move their pelvis, sacrum and spine improved, the awareness of the autonomic shifts happening within the clients’ bodies also grew. As did the ability to support clients’ physical and emotional process.
In Session Seven, we found our ‘line’ and in response, our own ability to support the transfer of breath and motion through our core and to stay grounded and centered radically improved. We also learned to support the body’s ‘autonomic respiration’ by easing rotation and mobilizing the spine and cranial bones. And our focus shifted once again, from the structural to the energetic and from the physical to the emotional.
In Sessions Eight and Nine, we balanced core and sleeve to ease spiral rotation in both. We become comfortable with being able to assess structural alignment and to follow patterns of strain from one end of the body to the other. And we learned to think algorithmically and to devise strategies for creating greater whole-body balance and ‘organization’ in clients’ bodies. Everyone was becoming a Structural Integrator.
In Session Ten, every participant demonstrated the ability to embody and teach this work to clients. Everyone knew how to balance core and sleeve, to support the horizontality of the shoulder and pelvic girdles, to ease rotation of the vertical spine and to support the transfer of breath and motion through the core. We had become Structurally Integrated in our own bodies and had Structurally Integrated our clients’ bodies.
The transformational process from student to practitioner was complete.