Perhaps because my original studies focused on psychology and Classical Chinese Medicine, I have always viewed Structural Integration through a slightly different lens. And I have long struggled to describe my vision of the work.
I have never thought of SI as a form of deep tissue work, or even myofascial work. And over the years, I have come to see this work as less and less about muscles and techniques, and more and more about intention and movement.
My original training at the Rolf Institute with Peter Melchior was primarily focused upon structure. We were tasked with shifting the position of the body’s bony structures (e.g. cranium, spine / sacrum, shoulder girdle / arms, pelvic girdle / legs) and aligning these structures within the gravitational field. In class, we talked about fascia and the connective tissue system as ‘structural components,’ and as functionally separate from the bones and muscles that they surrounded and attached to.
Peter and Dr. Rolf described fascia and the connective tissue system as the ‘organ’ of structure, and divided the system into two distinct components – the body’s outer ‘sleeve’ and its inner structural ‘core.’ We were taught that the sleeve and core were structurally distinct, and that each needed to be free to move independently from the muscles, bones and organs they surrounded and contained.
In totality, they said, the body’s outer fascial layers acted like a fishing net, containing and distributing stress throughout the net’s entire warp and weave. The body’s deeper fascial layers and transverse planes defined the body’s structural core, Dr. Rolf said, and this core also needed to move independently from the internal surfaces of the thorax and spine before a person could be structurally stable and optimally functional.
Instead of tissue, she and Peter focused on movement – how our clients walked and breathed, and how weight and strain transferred through the body when they moved. We talked about the ability and inability of these facial envelopes to move freely, and about the impact of this mobility or immobility on clients’ patterns of moving. And, of course, we talked about the transfer of breath and movement through the core.
I realized that these were the same concepts my acupuncture teachers were talking about. And from that point on, seeing my clients in motion and seeing the way movement transferred through their bodies became the lens through which I determined what to do, and how to assess the effects of my work. From that perspective, I have been able to assess the effects that mobilizing and aligning the body’s fascial envelopes and structural components have on the fluid transfer of motion through both the body’s outer sleeve and its inner core.
At the same time, my training in psychology focused on the work of Dr. Wilhelm Reich. Especially his observations regarding the correlation between the mental health and wellbeing of his patients and their ability or inability to let go of physical contraction. His belief that this determined their ability to breathe fully has always rung true for me. And his observations regarding a person’s ability to build, contain and fully release an energetic charge has always felt congruent with both my study of SI and of Chinese Medicine.
As a beginning student of psychology in the early seventies, I struggled to understand change and the process of change. I agreed with Reich’s observations that a person’s ability to let go and be less armored and defended was a critical precursor to a person’s ability to change. But that didn’t help me to understand those like myself who felt ‘undefended’ and ‘collapsed.’
As I received more SI and studied more of Dr Rolf’s work, I realized that it was the energetic ‘flow’ through the system – like water flowing through a hose – that was also a critical component of a person’s ability to both build and discharge emotional stress. And to feel the physical and emotional support needed to change!
In my practice and teaching, I have always tried to be true to Dr. Rolf’s and Peter’s vision of Structural Integration, and have emphasized to my students the profound structural changes that this process can support. I have also always tried to be true to my larger vision of what determines emotional and energetic integration, and what it might take to help our clients be fully integrated across structural, energetic and emotional domains.