I’ve been doing a lot of carpentry over the past few months, and – surprise! – I’ve been finding a lot of useful analogies to the Structural Integration process.
One of the most basic things I’ve learned is that houses, like our bodies, have lots and lots of layers. There are outer layers of siding and vapor barriers, under which are plywood, stud walls, insulation, wiring, plumbing, drywall and paint. And that’s just the outer layers that surround and protect the inner spaces.
The body’s outer and inner spaces are also surrounded by and separated into functional spaces by layers of fascia. And just like in houses, both the body’s outer and inner layers must have integrity in order to function properly. In a house, the vapor barrier – siding and roof – have to encase and protect the entire space. If they fail, a leaky roof can literally bring down the entire structure over time.
And that’s true in the body. I cannot overstress the functional importance of being able to mobilize the body’s surrounding outer fascial layers before being able to move deeper. And of mobilizing the body’s deeper facial envelopes – the ‘load-bearing walls’ – that line the inner thorax, abdomen and pelvis before being able to affect your client’s ability to breathe fully, digest food properly and move and feel pleasure within their pelvis.
The first thing a carpenter has to master is demolition. (And I can say in all honesty that I excel at this phase of the process. Other than an excavator, nothing brings a wall down faster than a 16 pound sledge and a good kiai! Grunting while pushing and pulling with a big pry bar is also a great way to reduce something to its elements!)
In the body, this successful application of leverage upon a fulcrum also allows one to pry things apart. To tear down the ‘walls’ of adhesion built up from repetitive motion, emotional holding and trauma. With leverage, wiggling and grunting, layers come apart from each other and the walls come down. I have also found the ‘wiggling and grunting’ method works quite well when trying to separate muscle and fascial layers from each other, and from their bony attachments.
Horizontals and verticals are always a major concern for carpenters, and the need for structures in the body to be both vertically and horizontally aligned is no less of a concern for bodyworkers. There are the pelvis and shoulder girdles, which should be horizontal and rarely are. And the spine, which should be more or less vertical, but rarely is. And the knees and ankles, which should hinge at right angles to each other. And the ear, humeral head, greater trochanter, lateral knee and ankle, which should all lie vertically along the body’s lateral midline, but rarely do.
Another essential carpentry skill is measuring and cutting. Especially tricky is learning to cut two things to the same length, and I’ve learned the hard way that if the sides are not the same height, then nothing else will be level. So, the takeaway for me, as a practitioner of SI, is that easing lateral flexion, rotation and getting side-to-side balance in the thorax seems to be the secret to getting the shoulder and pelvic girdles horizontal, and the spine vertical.
The hardest thing that I’ve had to master as a carpenter is cutting angles. Angles are everywhere in houses. You have right angles at the corners, and acute angles on the rafters and roof as well as moldings and plumbing runs. For things to fit together and function properly, all these angles need to be exact. And the same thing is true in the body. Both shoulder and hip joints need to be free to extend fully for the girdles to function properly, and the ankles, knees and hip joints should not be rotated and offset from each other when walking.
Now for the part of carpentry (and bodywork!) that nobody seems to want to talk about – the plumbing. In a house, you have to be aware of grade, because just like in the body, gravity rules. And you have to design and install a system that has adequate flows and drains, and won’t suffer leaks and clogs.
The movement of food through the digestive system seems pretty straightforward, but it also has to have adequate flows, which means making sure that the ileocecal valve, hepatic and splenic flexures are not kinked and that things are flowing properly. And that your client can chew and swallow easily, and that the esophageal, gastric and hiatal opening are functioning properly.
Finally, there’s the electrical system of the house. Yes, I call a licensed electrician to deal with the main box, but before I do that, I make sure all the smaller junction boxes in the house are wired correctly. In the body, I also focus on ‘junction boxes’ – especially the lumbosacral, lumbodorsal, dorsal, cervical-thoracic and occipital-cervical junctions.
Easing rotation and protraction at the junction of the cranial base and cervical spine can and will affect your client’s blood pressure, and, through affecting the vagus nerve, their heart rate. Easing rotation and torsion between the pelvis, sacrum and lumbar spine at the SI joints, lumbo-sacral and lumbar-thoracic junctions, can and will ease sciatica and lower back pain.
Supporting the mobility of the pelvis and pelvic floor can and will affect the neurovascular bundle at the base of the sacrum and clients’ ability to feel pleasure. Easing rotation and torsion between the girdles at the dorsal junction, can and will affect the solar plex and respiratory diaphragm’s functioning.
Which brings us back to the building process. As Structural Integrators we must simultaneously see the details and the bigger picture of what we are building. Foundations are equally important as the electrical circuits.. ultimately it all comes together to be a place where we can call home, be safe, find peace, and live in harmony with our surroundings.