Training Notes for Students
Learning Structural Integration can be like learning a new language. Language acquisition can be exciting as well as overwhelming at times so we have created a forum for capturing training notes for our students. If you are considering structural integration training, check out our training/ clinic notes that are specific to how the NW Center conceptualizes the ten session series and the process of change.
Prelude to the First Weekend of SI Training
In September we begin another year-long Practitioner’s Training. As we proceed, each new practitioner will face new opportunities and challenges. Many of these will be perceptual, rather than purely physical. You’ll have to learn how to define Structural Integration (SI) and its ‘intent’. How to communicate this intention to clients. And, finally, how to move toward actualizing this vision of integration.
For many of you, this will be the first time working with connective tissue, and with releasing adhesion. It may also be the first time you have worked with ‘movement’ and the requirement that imposes to ask clients to move as you work. And for many of you, SI will offer a totally new way of ‘seeing’ the body. With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines to help you through this transition.
It may seem obvious that every part of the body is connected, but it often isn’t obvious at first glance. It takes some time to understand that the knee pain a client presents with is really a result of rotation in the hip due to immobility in the lower back. Imagining that everything is connected and asking your client to move as you work (twist, rotate, flex and extend) will be helpful.
Connective tissue is the ‘glue’ that holds everything together. It surrounds muscles and bones and binds them together. But it can also glue tendons into bundles, limiting their ability to move independently and elongate fully. To release adhesion between connective layers, you’ll learn to use both hands. One to hold or ‘anchor’ a muscle or bone in place, and one to separate or ‘pry’ layers apart. It can help to think like a tailor. Before you can do new alterations, you need to take out the old seams.
Look for what is not moving. As your client moves, notice whether both sides of the body move equally. Do both hips and shoulders extend fully? When he walks forward, do both legs ‘track’ straight’. Is one side of the body more rotated than the other?
Then imagine what you would like to see. When I look at my client’s shoulders, I imagine them extending as he breathes. When I look at my client walking, I imagine both hips extending fully and both legs tracking straight.
When I work, my client is also working. We are a team. Typically I will anchor a muscle or bone in place as my client moves the layers of muscle and connective tissue adhered to it. In this way they get to control the duration and intensity of the release, and take greater ownership of the process.
SI is a process that typically takes ten or more visits to complete. My role in it is to help my client first move through ‘stuckness’, and then to learn new patterns of moving. At times, it’s more like being a dance teacher than a therapist. We work together as a team and even have fun in the process.
Integration is truly different than ‘fixing’, and we’ll focus more on balancing the body than fixing it. In class, I will ask you first to mobilize the outer body, then to mobilize its core, and then to balance the two. This will likely be your greatest challenge. But don’t worry. You get to spend the next year figuring it out and mastering it!
See you in September.
Welcome to Structural Integration!
This past weekend we started another year-long practitioners’ training. I’m sure you’re all tired after 14 hours of bodywork, and probably trying to sort out when just happened to your body and how this perspective is going to change the way you’ll work with your clients / patients from now on. I asked you to define your vision of Structural Integration, and what your ‘intent’ would be before your models walked in the door. As a class, we agreed that supporting our clients’ ability to breathe fully and their ability to walk forward without rotating their torso, hips and legs would be good places to start. When our models arrived, we communicated these intentions to them and asked them to ‘buy in’ to our game plan – and they did.
So, we struggled to learn new ways to release the connective tissue adhesions keeping our models’ bodies rotated and limiting their ability to breath fully. We worked to extend the shoulders and mobilize the clavicles. We released adhesion between the rectus abdominus and obliques and freed (unglued) these layers from the costal margins of the thorax. And we cheered as our models ‘breathed’ and extended their thorax. We worked to free the obliques from the anterior bony pelvis and the Tensor and quads from the ilia. Then we worked to free the hamstrings from the ischial tubes and gluteals, and we cheered again as we watched our models extended their hips when walking without rotating their hips and torso. (Oh my God! It’s working!)
This was our class ‘recipe’ for session one. This was what we discovered was needed to actualize our vision for ourselves and for our models. And we discovered that this was also Dr. Rolf’s recipe for her clients and students.
Way to go, all of you!! Welcome to the wonderful world of Structural Integration.
Building a working relationship with your client in Session One
The conventional explanation of Structural Integration’s first session is that it focuses on the fascial layers between and beneath the extrinsic (outer) muscle layers of the body. Specifically, the pectoral fascia beneath the pectoralis major and the gluteal fascial layers beneath the gluteal muscles. It is these fascial layers that anchor the hamstrings to the ischial tuberosities and the abdominal obliques to the costal margins of the thorax. But to say that’s what Session One is about is to confuse the ‘how’ with the ‘why’. And the ‘why’ is always more important.
What we should really say is that Session One is about our client’s ability to move his or her thorax, clavicle and pubis when breathing. And their ability to extend their shoulders, arms, legs and hips fully when walking! Yes, it is the release of fascial adhesions that allows these things to happen. But please don’t confuse simple fascial release of these outer layers with long-term change. Real change will take time and ‘ownership’ on the client’s part, so the real intent of Session One is setting the stage for these changes!
In this session we have asked our clients to enter into a working partnership with us to help them facilitate these changes. We have asked them to be an equal participant in this effort. To move parts of their body that we know they are unable to move, and to envision with us being able to walk, sit, stand and breathe differently. We have asked them to assess with us where they are ‘stuck’ and cannot breathe. We have asked them to begin to move parts of their body that have been injured and that they have been afraid to move. And we have asked them to begin the process of ‘occupying’ parts of their body that they have been lost to them – both physically and emotionally.
And in doing all of that, we have asked them to do the real work of the first Session of SI!
Learning a New Language of Bodywork.
After the second weekend of the training, we know the information can feel a bit overwhelming so we thought a brief overview might begin order. Don’t worry about remembering all of the details. Focus on the bigger picture, try out the new language of SI with your models, and practice, practice, practice!
In class we focused on releasing adhesion in fascial layers surrounding the feet, ankles and lower legs. We talked about the retinaculum, and supporting mobility and independence between the longitudinal arches of each foot. And about the ability of the metatarsals and ankle to ‘hinge’ (flex / extend without rotating) when the foot is dorsiflexed. We assessed our client / model’s ability to ‘walk through’ their foot and ankle, and noticed that if the ankle and metatarsals were unable to hinge, the foot would be forced to supinate, evert or pronate. We worked to free adhesion of the retinaculum to the ankle, and adhesion keeping the metatarsals rotated. We worked to ‘balance’ the arches of each foot, easing supination and eversion, and shifting the navicular and cuboid bones back into alignment. We began our exploration of the back, focusing first upon easing rotation of the posterior thorax and supporting the back’s ability to ‘flex’, or bend without flattening. We talked about the role of the back’s outer layers – the traps, lats and erectors – and explored different positions from which to free these layers.
We talked about how these layers are part of a three dimensional cylindrical ‘jumpsuit’ and that ‘back work’ in this session could be viewed as a continuation of ‘front work’ in Session One. We also talked about ‘seeing’ the surrounding outer layers of the lower body as if they were a pair of ‘pantyhose’, and how eversion of the foot and lateral rotation of the leg will strain or twist the pantyhose and lower jumpsuit. And that side-to-side imbalance between the SI joints could be a direct result of a foot or ankle injury. We worked to ease rotation of the foot, lower leg and back, and we discovered just how interconnected they are. We used our client / model’s foot and leg movements to help us release adhesion in the hips and back, and ease strain / rotation in the body’s outer jumpsuit. And at the end of the day we all felt different – less twisted and more grounded!
Please be sure to remind yourself that this is a very similar process to learning a new language. You are working on basic skills and that can take a lot of emotional and physical energy. Don’t panic if you find yourself going blank or feeling unsure when practicing. Check out your manual, go back to the basics, and remember the intent of the session. If you are feeling relays tuck, send me an email or give a call for clarification. This is one of the beauties of a small training program~ we are here for you during the month for questions and clarification! Most of all, trust the process and enjoy this journey!
Like life, Structural Integration is a process and a journey. SI is defined by the practitioner’s clarity of intent, their capacity to communicate a vision to clients and their ability to actualize that vision. The process and the journey are as important as the outcomes. How we get to where we hope to go counts! In each of the ten sessions, we are looking to see the physical and understand the functional. In Session One, we focused on shoulder and thoracic extension in the hope of supporting our client / model’s ability to breath, and their sense of expansion. In Session Two, we assessed the back’s flexibility along with how well our client / model deals with change. When we assessed the lateral rotation of the lower legs and the mobility of the fascial layers of the shins, we were also assessing how stable our clients felt when standing and walking, and their ability to adjust their stance in all situations.
This weekend you all became more conscious of the existence of the body’s outer ‘sleeve’ and the reality that all of the body’s surrounding layers of muscle and connective tissue are interconnected. That rotation in the outer layers of the foot and lower leg could ‘spiral’, when the client walks, through their hips, lower back and torso. You all really got the reality that fascia connects everything in the body, and that if you pull on one end of the body you better look at what is happening at the other end!
This weekend we all struggled with the discipline and the patience required to do SI. We had to acknowledge that the job of releasing the adhesions that keep all of the body’s outer layers from moving freely was going to take time and sustained focus. I asked you all to trust that freeing these outer layers was important, and to simply watch and feel how this process and journey unfold.
Walk like a Duck
As we begin our exploration of Session Two, let’s first take a look at where Session One left off. In Session One, we worked to shift the shoulders and hips into greater extension, thus easing thoracic rotation and supporting the ability to breathe fully and stand upright. So it makes a great deal of sense that Session Two should focus first on supporting our client’s ability to stand on his legs with greater balance, and to bear weight equally between both feet and lower legs.
Session Two also begins the process of helping to ‘ground’ or move strain through our client’s vertical center to the ground. As a beginning student I never really understood what grounding meant. And it made even less sense when my teacher said that I should work on my own and my client’s medial shins to do it.
My teacher’s explanation was simple. He said that if I ever wanted my own legs to ‘track’ in a straight line when walking, I should get more shin work. And that if I continued to ‘walk like a duck’, my SI joints and lower back would continue to twist.
Now, I could imagine how releasing the surrounding fascial layers of the shins and lower legs was critical when attempting to ease lateral rotation of the lower legs and thus strain at the SI joints. But grounding as a concept and a physical reality was still very confusing.
The idea that the insides of my legs were ‘channels’ was a concept I had studied in my Classical Chinese Medicine classes. But movement through my own body and legs to the ground was a whole new concept. For me, it was like having a garden hose that wasn’t connected to a water source. I couldn’t feel any ‘flow’ and didn’t see any water coming out of the hose.
To take this analogy just a little further, let’s imagine the whole body was some sort of garden hose that was twisted or kinked in the middle. Then of course you wouldn’t feel any flow or see any water moving through it!
Ah Ha! It was starting to make sense. But where was my particular kink? It was the twist in my lower back, and the ‘blockage’ was the chronic flexion of my hips and pelvic floor. For years these postures had destabilized my lower back and reflected my emotional state of being. I was definitely not grounded!
It took many, many sessions to untwist and ‘unkink’ my core, for my back to be stable and for me to get grounded. But I am so much happier for it.
Connection Between the Feet and the Back
Session One opened our clients up to breathe more, and thus feel more. Session Two builds on that by increasing structural stability and helping to ‘ground’ or move strain through the body to the ground. Session Two focuses upon the connection between the feet and the back. As a beginning Structural Integration student, I never really understood that connection. And when my teachers would say things like, ‘The feet are part of the core,’ that made even less sense to me.
It wasn’t until I started working with clients in standing and seated positions that my understanding and approach to the feet changed. In these positions, it was easier for me to imagine – and to feel – how the bottoms of the feet really were the inside of the body. And how extension of the Achilles, calf and heels supports the lumbar spine’s ability to extend and the body’s vertical stability.
Now I’ve come to imagine the feet like the base of a tall, vertical cylinder – the more aligned and stable the base is, the greater the cylinder’s vertical stability. With this image in mind, I can then see the bottom of the feet as the open end of the body’s inner core, and more easily imagine the potential for movement and energy to flow through the bottom of the feet and into the ground.
There is much more in this session about the connection between the arches of the feet and the other ‘transverse planes’ of the body (e.g. pelvic floor, diaphragm) that some of us will find it conceptually challenging. But not to worry – we’ll get further into all that in sessions Four and Six.
Easing Strain and Rotation in the Thoracic outlet and Respiratory diaphragm
Session Three focuses on easing strain and rotation in the body’s surrounding layers of muscle and connective tissue. As with Session Two, there are both superficial and deeper aspects to this session. At its most superficial level, the session attempts to ease rotation of the thorax and torsion between the girdles.
At a deeper level, the session attempts to ease rotation and strain in the thoracic outlet and respiratory diaphragm. The integrity of these deeper transverse muscular and fascial planes is critical to maintaining the structural integrity of the inner thorax and thoracic spine.
I used to think that Three was about the sides of the body. My reasoning was that in Session One we worked on the anterior thorax, and in Session Two the posterior thorax, so in Session Three, we must work to free the sides. But now I’ve come to realize that Session Three is really more about relationships. The relationship between the thorax and shoulder girdle, and the relationship between the thorax and the pelvic girdle.
At the start of this session, we need to assess the relationships between the girdles and thorax. We need to determine whether the girdles can move independently from the thorax, and whether the arms and legs can move independently from the girdles. And we need to assess the relationship between the head, neck, shoulder girdle, thorax and pelvic girdle as seen from the side.
I now understand that the focus of Session Three is on easing rotation and creating greater balance between the thorax and girdles. It’s like rotating and aligning the tumblers of a lock so it can be opened. We seek to support the radial alignment between the head, neck, shoulder girdle, thorax and pelvic girdle. Once again, we are not trying to fix specific problems – we are simply attempting to address underlying imbalances to help move our clients in the direction of optimal functioning.
By easing rotation of the arms, we hope to ease strain at the glenohumeral joints. By easing rotation of the legs, we hope to ease strain at the hip joints. By easing rotation of the thorax and supporting the shoulder girdle’s ability to move independently from the thorax, we hope to ease strain at the thoracic outlet. And by easing rotation and lateral flexion between the thorax and pelvis, we hope to shift the position of the pelvis and ease strain at the SI joints and respiratory diaphragm.
In many ways, Three completes the work of mobilizing the body’s surrounding outer layers of muscle and connective tissue begun in Session One. It is the experience of living within a body that is flexible and mobile that we seek to impart to clients! Like being released from the confines of a twisted jumpsuit that is too small, we seek to support our clients’ ability to move, breathe fully and ‘take up space’.
While it is the overall mobility of the body’s outer ‘sleeve’ that helps to ease rotation of the thorax, it is the girdles’ ability to move independently from the thorax that sets the stage for the deeper core work to come. To help you envision the deeper work that will be needed, I asked you to envision the flow of water through a garden hose. For water to be able to transfer through the hose, both its outer sleeve and its inner core must have integrity.
I asked you to envision your client’s inner body being free of rotation and thus better able to transfer motion through it. To envision your client’s respiratory diaphragm being free to move within their thorax, and to envision their thoracic outlet being free to move as they breath. I asked you to imagine how rotation of the head and neck in one direction and the shoulder girdle and thorax in the opposite would block the transfer of motion through the body’s inner core at the cervical thoracic junction.
I asked you to see how rotation of the pelvic girdle in one direction and rotation of the thorax in the opposite direction would block the transfer of motion through the core at the lumbar thoracic and lumbosacral junctions. And I asked you to see into the future and to envision being able to ease these deeper rotations and imbalances, knowing that it will take more time and more work to support these inner movements.
In this session, I also asked you to be aware of what happens at the hip when the leg is freed to rotate, and what can happen at the SI joints, and I asked you to ease this strain. I asked you to be aware of what can happen at the base of the throat when the shoulder girdle and thorax are freed to move independently and torsion is eased, and I asked you to ease this strain.
So much strain is freed in this session! But strain can also be driven deeper into the sacrum, or driven into the respiratory diaphragm. These deeper rotations and strain must be addressed in Sessions Four through Seven before inner integrity can be realized, and before the core will be free to transfer motion through the body’s vertical center.
Connective Tissue and Shrink Wrap
No matter how many times I say I’m not working on muscles, and talk about connective tissue, I know some students remain confused about what I’m ‘really’ working on. I can understand that confusion, because if your frame of reference has been muscles and bones, it doesn’t seem to help when I say that I’m working between, under or around muscles, but not ON them.
The conceptual shift I’m asking of you in Session Three is to move your focus from working to release muscles, to conceptualizing and working with the body’s fascial layers. So, for today, I’m not going to talk about muscles or ‘myofascial’ linkage.
Today, I’m going to talk about the body’s fascial ‘shrink wrapping’ that surrounds the head, neck and torso. About the body’s large fascial ‘envelopes’ that line its internal cavities. About the body’s transverse fascial ‘diaphragms’ that separate these large internal cavities (pleural, abdominal, pelvic basin). And about how to mobilize these fascial planes and how the body’s fascial network literally interconnects the entire body into a unified system.
In Session Three we are tasked with the job of mobilizing the body’s surrounding outer fascial envelope. When this envelope is released, the head and neck are freer to turn, the thorax freer to expand with the breath, the ribs freer to move upward and downward with the breath, and rotation of the thorax eased.
We are also tasked with the job of supporting the shoulder girdle’s ability to move independently from the thorax. If the body’s surrounding outer layers and the layers connecting the shoulder girdle to the thorax remain adhered, it will be impossible to shift the position of the girdle and upper thorax.
The release of the body’s surrounding fascial layers also supports the pelvic girdle’s ability to shift position and to move independently from the lower thorax. If these fascial layers remain adhered, it will be impossible to shift position of the pelvic girdle and its relationship to the thorax will never change.
If you stand back with your client / model lying on his side, you might notice that the upper body and lower body are not in alignment. That the neck and head are ‘forward’ of the shoulder girdle and that the neck is twisted in relationship to the shoulder girdle.
Walk around your client / model and notice that his body is three dimensional. That the upper half of the body is not separate from the lower half, and the front of the thorax is a continuation of the sides and back. Notice as your client / model breathes whether the clavicle and ribs move. If the ribs beneath the shoulder girdle are held in elevation.
As your client / model rotates his thorax forward and back, feel (from within the axilla) for the thorax / ribs to be free to rotate. As your client / model rotates, feel whether the anterior surface of the scapulae is adhered to the sides and posterior thorax, and whether the shoulder girdle can move independently from the thorax.
As your client shifts his hip forward and back, feel (from the side of the hip) whether the femur (greater trochanter) is free to move independently from the side of the pelvis, and whether the leg is free to rotate medially.
Don’t focus on muscles. Feel where the body’s surrounding fascial envelope can and cannot move. Feel where the fascial layers between the shoulder girdle and upper thorax are adhered and release them. Work to release the surrounding fascial layers adhered to the greater trochanter and sides of the pelvis, and to ‘unglue’ the neck’s surrounding layers of fascia and adhesions between individual muscles.
Finally, keep your vision ‘global’ (whole body). Expect change in one part of the body to ‘spiral’ through the entire body. Notice how rotation of the shoulder girdle and upper thorax spiral upward into the neck and head. Notice how strain / rotation of the foot / ankle and legs spiral through the hips and lower back.
In this session, as rotation of and twist between the head, neck, shoulder girdle, thorax, pelvis and legs ease, look for the vertical alignment (at the side of the body) to change. Look for the ear to line up with the shoulder (the humeral head). Look for rotation of the thorax to ease, the twist between the lower thorax and hip to ease, and for the humeral head and greater trochanter of the femur to align at the side of the body.
Third Session Revisited
In this session we are tasked with ‘organizing’ the three large internal spaces of the trunk – the inner thorax, the inner abdomen and the pelvic basin. Each of these cavities is differentiated by their muscular and fascial ‘diaphragms’. The pleural cavity is differentiated by the thoracic outlet and respiratory diaphragm, the abdomen cavity by the abdominal viscera and omentum, and the pelvic basin by its pelvic floor.
Dr. Rolf clearly understood the importance of easing rotation between these cavities and of mobilizing the structures that differentiate them. But as a beginning student I had no idea how to access and mobilize these structures and I had absolutely no idea what she meant by ‘organization’.
I understood the importance of mobilizing the respiratory diaphragm, but my understanding of any of the other ‘transverse planes’ of muscles and connective tissue was limited. I simply had no idea there was a pleural ‘dome’ (thoracic outlet), much less how to access it. I had no idea of the importance of the omentum and abdominal viscera. My teachers told me that the diaphragm and the pelvic floor were related, but I had no idea how.
Up until this session (Session Five) my linear, two dimensional view of the body was working pretty well. But when it came to organizing three dimensional transverse fascial planes, I hit a conceptual wall. I simply had no vision of how to do that, and as a result, I couldn’t understand the session.
Five finally started to make sense to me when I began asking my clients to move.
As soon as I did that, it became apparent that people couldn’t move these transverse planes! That the respiratory diaphragm couldn’t move if my client was stuck in a ‘collapsed’ seated posture. That my client couldn’t move areas of their inner abdomen when digesting food, and that they couldn’t move their inner pelvis when breathing and making love.
With that understanding, the most basic focus of Session Five became to support my client’s ability to move these areas. To breathe fully. To digest easily, and to move and feel their inner pelvis.
After shifting my focus to mobilizing these transverse planes, I’ve seen that breathing significantly improves. Digestion and elimination become easier, and life in general seems a lot richer and ‘juicier’!
Seeing the Body in Three Dimensions
Session Four is about working to mobilize the body’s intrinsic fascial layers. Here we shift our focus from releasing the body’s surrounding outer layers to releasing the fascial layers adhered to the bones of the legs and pelvis. By releasing these layers, we ease rotation of the legs and support the mobility of the pelvis. By supporting the mobility of the pelvis (and pelvic floor), we in turn support the mobility of the body’s inner core.
This session helps us to see the body in three dimensions. We see the ‘vertical’ fascial layers surrounding the long bones of the arms and legs and the ‘horizontal’ fascial layers that transect the arches of the feet, pelvic basin, abdomen and inner thorax. We see the bones of the legs and arms as separate from their surrounding muscular ‘sleeves’. We see the legs’ ability to move independently from the pelvis and the pelvis’ ability to move independently from the legs. We see the pelvic floor as a three dimensional diaphragm within the pelvic basin and the core as a separate three dimensional ‘cylinder’ within the cylindrically-shaped thorax.
The session focuses specifically on supporting the ability of the tibias and femurs to rotate freely within their myofascial sleeves, and the femurs’ ability to move independently from both the illia and the ischia. It supports the pelvis’ ability to tip both forward and back without excessive rotation, and continues to support the radial alignment between the foot, ankle, tibia, knee, femur and hip, and thus the client’s ability to walk without excessive rotation in legs and hips.
Four begins the work of mobilizing the transverse ‘diaphragms’ of the body; the arches of the feet, the pelvic floor, the respiratory diaphragm, the pleural dome, floor of the mouth and sphenoid. These diaphragms can be likened to circular ‘trampolines’ stacked vertically throughout the body. Their ability to move and ‘spring’ is critical to our ability to bear weight, breathe and move fluids. This is where the ability to move ‘chi’ through our bodies comes from, and ability to build and dissipate sexual tension and emotional strain.
That ability to move is what Session Four is really about. It seeks to ‘empower’ our clients through supporting their ability to move their pelvis and inner body. To support the awareness of what is keeping them from moving and feeling, and their ability to change. In this way, we are asking our clients to move from within, and thus to work at a much deeper level.
As a beginning student of Structural Integration, I was totally confused when watching my teacher Peter work. He wasn’t working particularly hard and when he would say something like, ‘There it goes,’ I had no idea what he was talking about. One morning when I asked him what he was doing, he said that he was working on the ‘core’.
All I could say was, ‘Huh?’ He just smiled and said, ‘Give it time.’ So I walked away confused. How could working on the medial shin and spreading the hamstrings and adductor muscles of the inner thigh apart open anything? I could understand how releasing adhesion between these muscles could widen the inner thigh and working on the shin could help to ease rotation of the leg, but the concept of ‘openness’ and ‘flow’ through the core eluded me for many years.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s imagine that sessions One through Three focus only upon easing rotation and untwisting the outer body. Up until this session (Session Four) we have not talked about the inside of the body.
In Session Four, we begin our exploration of the body’s vertical center or ‘core’. We shift our perspective and focus from working to mobilize the body’s outer fascial layers to working to mobilize and balance the body’s deeper vertical fascial ‘planes’, three-dimensional fascial ‘envelopes’ and transverse fascial ‘diaphragms’.
It can be helpful to see the inner body as if it were an apple core within an apple. Clearly the body’s inner fascial layers are deeper than the body’s surrounding layers. And like the core of an apple you wouldn’t confuse it or its function with the apple’s outer skin.
But once we understand that concept, what does it mean in terms of how we work with the body’s fascial core? And more importantly, what is the function of the core? The traditional answer is that the core is a group of muscles that support the spine. And the traditional way of working with them is strength training, such as PT, Pilates and yoga.
Those are all wonderful things. But there is another dimension. Another way of seeing it. And that is that when all of its fascial layers, envelopes and diaphragms are aligned, integrated and mobile, the core functions like a ‘pump’. It pumps breath, fluids and ‘chi’ through the body.
It has taken me many, many years, but I think I now know what Peter was trying to tell me – that to work on the core doesn’t mean pushing harder or working on the muscles close to the anterior spine. It means supporting the core’s integrity and its ability to transfer movement and life force through it.
It means shifting focus from working on muscles to attending to the body’s internal fascial layers and their vertical and horizontal mobility and integrity. And when I say in class, ‘There it goes,’ and my students say, ‘Huh?’ I’ll just smile and say, ‘I know this makes no sense yet, but give it time.’
Shifting our Focus
It seems amazing that we are already halfway through this year’s practitioners training. So much has shifted in our bodies, and still there is so much more that needs to be mobilized and integrated.
Session Five asks us yet again to shift our focus. We are tasked with the job of easing rotation, elongating and mobilizing the body’s inner vertical center – its core. It can be helpful to envision the core as if it were the fuselage of an airplane. To see it as a three-dimensional inner space that has integrity and connects the inner head, neck, thorax, abdomen and pelvis – supported and separated into three large compartments by the thoracic outlet, respiratory diaphragm and pelvic floor.
To understand the intent of this session, I asked you to envision what a mobile core might look like. To imagine the respiratory diaphragm being able to move freely upward and downward within the inner thorax. To imagine your client’s pelvis being able to rock both forward and back, as the inferior pubic, ischial rami, sacrum and pelvic floor all move with each breath. To imagine the entire core being able to elongate within the abdomen and pelvic basin as the psoas layers on both sides are freed to move independently.
To envision the three-dimensional thorax being free to ‘lift’ upward and expand as the diaphragm moves upward and downward with the breath. To envision a pelvis that is horizontal – not rotated or tipped. A pelvis that can pivot and a pelvic floor that moves with the breath. And to envision the lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves all being free to elongate and extend with each breath.
To really understand this session, you have to imagine a core that can elongate, untwist and move independently from the pelvic basin, anterior and lateral edges of the spine, inner thorax, neck and inner head – a core that can breath and a core that can move.
As practitioners, we must also understand that the session’s intent is not only to ease rotation and to elongate and remobilize the core, but also to support our client’s ability to move through and from their core. It is not enough to have a core that has the potential to move and elongate. In this session, we seek to ‘awaken’ the core and to empower our clients.
To understand this intention, we must also be able to talk about the what can block or constrict the flow of motion through the core. To understand that when a joint is held in chronic flexion – and when there is side to side imbalance – the core will be forced to rotate and twist. And if the core is rotated and twisted, its ability to elongate and support the spine – and therefore our client’s ability to breath, digest, make love, feel supported from within and move in the world – will be affected!
Awareness of Layers
The conceptual challenge of Session Five – and often the hardest skill to master as a new practitioner – is maintaining your awareness of which ‘layer’ you are working on. As you proceed in this session, it will be critical to maintain your awareness of the overall integrity of the body’s outer myofascial layers (the outer sleeve or ‘jumpsuit’) as well as those lining the inner body and core.
The session begins by easing thoracic rotation and creating greater independence between the shoulder girdle and thorax (as you did in Session Three). The primary goal of supporting the pelvis’ ability to tip both anterior and posterior (begun in Session Four), is continued by mobilizing the anterior bony pelvis (pubis and A.S.I.S.) and by creating greater mobility and differentiation between the extrinsic and intrinsic layers of the abdomen and thorax.
When the myofascial layers surrounding the abdomen and anterior thorax and those lining the pelvic basin and inner thorax are mobile, the pelvis is freed to tip both anterior and posterior, and to rest in horizontal alignment. It is the mobility of the pelvis and its horizontal alignment that in turn supports the stability of the lower back and lumbar spine. And it is the mobility of the hips and their side-to-side balance that will in turn support the side-to-side balance between the SI joints and sacrum.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Layers
When I first began my Structural Integration practice, I thought Session Five was all about the psoas muscles. It was their ability to elongate and their side to side balance that I also imagined to be key to easing my own long-term lumbar spine instability and sciatica.
My teachers agreed that balancing the psoas muscles was important, but said that I also needed work on my rectus abdominis muscle and abdominal ‘layers’. I accepted that because they said so, but I wasn’t really clear why.
It took a lot of years for me to understand what my teachers were trying to tell me, but I now realize that it is the balance between my body’s extrinsic surrounding fascial layers (not the rectus abdominus) and its intrinsic fascial layers (not the psoas muscles) that is key to lumbar spine stability. To ease rotation in the lumbar spine, or for that matter anywhere in the body, we must release, mobilize and balance both the body’s external and internal fascial layers.
To release the rotation in my lumbar spine and create long term stability, I needed to release the fascial envelope surrounding my anterior thorax and abdomen as well as the intrinsic fascial layers closer to the anterior surfaces of my lumbar spine. And it worked! Sometimes we have to trust the unknown.
Fifth Session revisited.
I have always focused my Fifth Session upon continuing the work begun in Session Four – mobilizing the bony pelvis and supporting its ability to pivot at the femoral heads. To support the pelvis’ ability to shift position, I would typically start the session on the legs. Clearly easing lateral rotation of the legs at the A.S.I.S. is important when attempting to support the pelvis’ ability to shift position and pivot.
So, why did Dr. Rolf traditionally begin her Fifth Sessions on the arms?
I think it’s because another way to look at Session Five is to see it as a continuation of the work begun in Sessions One and Three – of mobilizing the shoulder girdle and supporting its ability to pivot at the humeral heads. And shifting the shoulder girdle into a new position will be difficult to do without lessening the rotation in the arms.
The bones of the arms, like those of the legs, are often held in rotation by muscular imbalance and fascial adhesion. Thus arm work (like leg work) focuses first upon freeing these bones within their myofascial ‘sleeves’. As these fascial envelopes are freed, the humerus, ulnar and radial bones are freed to shift position and to rotate fully.
Freeing the bones of the arms eases torsion between the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, and supports the shoulder girdle’s ability to pivot. Which are all really important, but I don’t think that was what Dr Rolf was really focused upon in her Fifth Session.
I think her focus was upon the deeper fascial layers of the arms and legs and their relationship to the deeper fascial layers of the thorax and pelvis. That the fascial layers lining the thorax and pelvic basin and those of the arms and legs are continuous. And that to understand and support the functional integrity of the body, these deeper fascial layers must be addressed as a whole.
From this perspective, working to mobilize and reposition the deeper fascial layers of both the arms and legs significantly affects the deeper fascial layers lining the inner thorax and pelvis. And from this perspective, what my Chinese Medicine teachers were telling me about the ‘meridians’ of the arms and legs suddenly starts to make sense.
It is clear from the way Dr Rolf structured this session that Session Five’s primary focus is on the mobilization of the deeper fascial layers ‘lining’ the inner pelvis, abdomen and thorax and the mobilization of the respiratory diaphragm and pleural dome. The release and mobilizing of these layers clearly supports the body’s structural and functional integration.
Which, of course, is the point.
Moving the Core.
Session Five supports your client’s ability to move his inner core, from his pelvic floor to his inner throat. The fact that so few people are free to move their inner core – and that so few practitioners focus their work upon supporting its mobility – speaks to the need to better educate our clients and colleagues.
The body’s three-dimensional myofascial core has integrity and it moves. It is a cylinder within a cylinder. And this cylindrical inner core must be free to move independently from the outer body, and from the spine.
To function optimally, the myofascial core within the thorax must be free to move upward and downward within the thorax. The diaphragm and thoracic outlet must be free to move upward and downward within the thorax. And the myofascial core within the abdomen and within the pelvis must be free to move independently from the bony pelvis and abdomen.
The core’s ability to move freely becomes possible when the respiratory diaphragm is freed from the costal margins of the thorax. When the upper portions of the psoas layers are freed from the anterior and lateral edges of the lumbar spine. When adhesions between the iliopsoas and QL layers are released and these layers can move independently. And when the iliacus layers are freed to move independently from the pelvic basin.
And when the body’s inner core is free to move independently from the anterior surfaces of the spine and pelvic basin, it becomes possible to traction and elongate the body’s inner core from the pelvic basin to the inner throat. And once you can feel that, you understand the intent of Session Five.
Post and Beam
So here we are at Session Six, more than half way through the series. It is my hope that as you learn each session you are gaining greater clarity and understanding of the body and Dr. Rolf’s vision. That you are beginning to see how all the pieces fit together and how they all move. As a beginning practitioner of Structural Integration, I found the Sixth Session – with so many structural and functional objectives – simply overwhelming. My teacher Peter explained that to function properly, the body’s inner core needed to move ‘independently’ from the sacrum, spine and posterior thorax.
He described the spine as an upside down ‘post and beam’ supporting the core from behind. And the core, contained within the pelvic basin and thorax, as an ‘egg’ with the pelvic floor on one end and the diaphragm at the other. Fortunately, he also told us that getting the core to move independently from the sacrum, pelvis, spine and thorax was going to take many sessions!
For a long time, I remained confused about the role the spine played in supporting the core’s ability to move. My teachers talked a great deal about the importance of the ‘spinal junctions’ (lumbosacral, lumbodorsal, dorsal and cervical / thoracic) and about the mobility of the spinal curves, but I continued to think of the spine as fixed in place, like a rigid armature.
Of course the spine and sacrum are not rigid at all. They are in constant motion, flexing and extending, rotating and twisting. And I now realize that to transfer movement and energy through the body’s vertical center, the entire spine must also be free to move.
In this session, we are tasked with supporting the pelvic girdle’s ability to ‘pivot’ at the femoral heads. The core’s ability to move independently from the spine and internal surfaces of the pelvis and thorax. The sacrum’s ability to move with the spine. And, of course, the spine’s ability to move independently from the posterior thorax and paraspinal layers.
In many ways the session is very straight forward – get the sacrum and spine to flex and extend freely. But to get the sacrum to be free enough to shift anterior / posterior as the spine flexes and extends presupposes the pelvis’ ability to pivot at the femoral heads, and mobility and side to side balance at the SI joints. Getting the spine to flex and extend without excessive rotation presupposes mobility in the paraspinal layers and posterior thorax.
Neither is an easy task. But when these things happen, people are transformed. Fireworks go off and vital force flows through the core. And when these things happen you and your client get to celebrate!
Being, not Doing.
Peter, my original Structural Integration teacher, never talked a lot. But when he did, it always make me stop and think. So one day when I was looking particularly confused, Peter came up to me and said, ‘Session Six is about being, not doing.’ Of course I could only say, ‘Huh?’ And he smiled and said for me to think about it.
Well it’s been 40 years and I think I’ve finally figured out what he was trying to tell me. That the session is not about what I was doing to my client. It is about what my client was experiencing. Session Six is about being awake, moving your pelvis and being fearless!
So here we are at Session Six, and how do we make sense of that? If you’ve read my manual or were trained in Dr. Rolf’s work 30 or 40 years ago, you would say that the most fundamental intention of Session Six is supporting the pelvis’ ability to ‘pivot’ at the femoral heads. Creating mobility and balance between the iliopsoas layers and lateral hip rotators would also be important. And of course, supporting the sacrum’s ability to move with the spine more than with the pelvis. And let’s not forget supporting lumbar spine stability.
Please don’t get me wrong. These are really important goals. But there’s another way to look at Session Six.
When the sacrum and spine are freer to rhythmically flex and extend with the breath, people wake up! The autonomic nervous system functions better. When Dr. Rolf talked about Session Six, she talked about the importance of the ganglion impar. She said it was as important as the solar plexus.
When the pelvis is free to pivot at the femoral heads and the pelvic floor (pelvic diaphragm) is free to move with the breath (respiratory diaphragm), people ‘breathe’ and ‘feel’ within their pelvis. They no longer have to numb themselves or squeeze their anus. For better or worse, they feel their genitals.
When the legs are freed to extend and there is balance between the iliopsoas and lateral hip rotators, people experience ‘being supported’ from within by their lumbar spine, and it is profound!
Session Six is not an easy session. It makes you look at who you are and that can be scary. It can bring up old trauma, abuse and hurt. It will very likely challenge you on all levels as a practitioner. You will move through this process, just like your clients, and open to you to all kinds of possibility.
The River that Runs Through Us.
Sessions Five and Six have both structural and functional objectives. At a structural level, we seek to support our client’s ability to support himself in an upright position in gravity – to support the balance and integrity of the lumbar spine and the pelvis’ ability to both pivot and to ‘rest’ in horizontal alignment.
At a functional level, these sessions focus upon the ability of the hips to flex and extend fully and equally, the ability of the pelvis to pivot at the femoral heads, and the ability of the pelvic floor and diaphragm to move upward and downward within the inner pelvis and thorax.
Sessions Five and Six also have important emotional and energetic objectives that should not be overlooked. At an energetic level, we seek to support the transfer of breath and movement through the core and to enhance the client’s awareness of this breath and movement. We seek to support their experience of feeling ‘filled’ by their breath, connected to their feelings, and moving from and through their core.
In these sessions, we capitalize upon the relationships between movement, awareness and emotion. In our daily lives, we use words like being ‘filled’ with love or ‘drained’ of vitality to describe our emotional ups and downs. We acknowledge at a very fundamental level that if we stop moving, we stop feeling and are diminished.
As fascial restrictions are released and the core is freed to move, our client’s awareness of their core radically shifts, and core becomes real. As they feel breath fill their inner body and blood fill their inner pelvis, core becomes real. As people let go of chronically contracted obturator layers that limit both mobility and sensation in the pelvic floor, core becomes real.
Unfortunately, it is rare for a person to be able to move their core. It is rare to encounter a client that can flex and extend the entire spine without rotating one or more vertebrae. Rare to encounter a client who is free to move their pelvic floor and diaphragm fully when breathing and making love. And even rarer to encounter a client that is free to rhythmically move their sacrum, pelvis, spine, maxilla and sphenoid in response to their breath.
What we more typically encounter is fascial adhesions and side-to-side imbalance between the intrinsic layers of fascia and musculature surrounding and supporting the spine. We find fascial adhesions that limit a client’s ability to move their diaphragm, pelvic floor and spine. And we find clients who feel disconnected from their bodies and unsupported by it because they are unable to move their core.
The core is more than just the spine and the intrinsic layers of muscle and connective tissue surrounding it. It is more than the pelvic floor, respiratory diaphragm, thoracic outlet and sphenoid. It is more than the sum of its parts, and more than its anatomically linked chains of muscles and structural components.
The core is the river that runs through us. The movement of our breath and the transfer of energy that supports and sustains us. And that is what we are hoping to affect in these sessions.
As we work our way through these last three sessions, I find myself reflecting once again on just what Structural Integration is.
In these later sessions we’ve moved from working ‘on’ the core to working ‘through’ the core. We’ve shifted our focus from supporting the mobility of the core’s intrinsic layers and horizontal planes (the pelvic floor, respiratory diaphragm, floor of the mouth etc.) to supporting the transfer of motion through these horizontal planes and diaphragms. From working on the pelvic floor to supporting the transfer of motion between the floor of the mouth and the pelvic floor.
I believe that it is the transfer of motion through the core that structurally supports the inner body and ultimately changes people. In fact, I think supporting ‘flow’ through the core is the ‘prime directive’ of Structural Integration. That it is the ‘gestalt’ and the experience of Structural Integration. And that it is the ‘seed’ that we hope will grow stronger over time and bear fruit in our clients’ lives.
Movement through the core is powerful – and often elusive. It is not something you will find in an anatomy book. It is not something that is well understood in our culture and medical paradigms. I suppose that’s why so few practitioners focus upon it.
Now, as you complete your initial SI training, you are faced with those same questions. What is Structural Integration? What is your intent? What is your prime directive? And what is your way of answering when clients ask you to explain what it is that you do?
Session Seven is a major way point along our journey, and it can be extremely challenging –technically, conceptually and emotionally – for practitioners and for clients.
When Peter first described the Seventh Session to me, he said that it was about ‘gravity’ and our ability to move around within it. That as practitioners we were trying to teach clients to stand, sit and move in gravity. And that in this session we were to focus first upon the overall mobility and vertical alignment of our client’s head and spine. Then we could focus on the mobility and ‘horizontal’ alignment of the floor of the mouth, the maxilla (roof of the mouth) and sphenoid.
Now I describe Session Seven as more about ‘awakening the core’. About helping people feel less congested and more focused. And about helping them to get their head and heart, thoughts and feelings aligned and moving.
It can be difficult enough keeping all these vertical and horizontal relationships in our minds as we work. But now we’re tasked not only with supporting our client’s physical alignment, but also their cognitive and emotional alignment.
We’ve done a lot of physical work by now, and we still have many pieces to mobilize to put it all together. As was the case after Session Three, when your clients first experienced a mobile ‘sleeve’, we and they have an opportunity to assess what has been done and what remains to be done. What lessons have been learned and what changes are still needed.
But this is also where we recognize how much emotional work we still have to do. If, after this session, your client suddenly becomes aware that they have been moving and acting in patterns that really don’t work very well for them, a really big question arises. If they really start to see these patterns, are they willing to do what is necessary to change them?
A person’s ability to move from and through their center can take many Seventh Sessions to actualize. Over the years I have received this session many times, and each time it has brought more of my issues to light and confronted me at both a physical and an emotional level.
I don’t presume to know what issues in your client’s life this session will bring up, but I do know its power to confront and to transform. So Session Seven is also the point where we truly realize how powerful SI can be emotionally – and where we really see that play out in our clients and ourselves.
Seating the Core
If you see the Ten Sessions of Structural Integration as a journey, then it becomes much easier to see each session both as steps along the path, and as an experience. If you see Structural Integration as a puzzle, then it becomes easier to see Sessions One through Seven as the pieces, and Sessions Eight, Nine and Ten as the time you assemble all the pieces into a picture.
So here we are at Session Seven. The stage in the journey when it first becomes possible for clients to experience their core as separate from their sleeve. It is the culmination of your and your client’s efforts to mobilize their core.
This experience can be pretty profound. For the vast majority of clients, it will be the first time in their lives that they experience the core of their neck elongating and sitting back within their cervical ‘sleeve’. The core of their head being able to sit back within their head as their cranial base, maxilla and sphenoid move, retract and pivot. And the core of their pelvis, abdomen and thorax being free to elongate and sit back within the pelvic basin, abdominal and thoracic cavities.
Session Seven is the experience of ‘seating’ the core within the head and neck! Of an inner throat that is mobile and free to elongate. Of the cranial base and floor of the mouth being able to retract and shift forward and back without flattening the cervical curve. Of motion through your vertical center. Of the connection between your head and body. And the rhythmic motion of your breath moving your sacrum, spine and sphenoid.
Let's Balance the Head!
Of all the sessions in Dr. Rolf’s Structural Integration ‘recipe’, Session Seven is probably the most misunderstood. In this session we are asked to assess the mobility and ‘balance’ of the head’s most basic movements.
Can the head and neck move independently enough for both to turn easily? Are the fascial layers connecting the spine and cranial base free enough to allow the cranial base to protract and retract? Is there mobility and side-to-side balance at the TMJ? And can the sphenoid, maxilla and cranial base pivot, flex and extend rhythmically with the sacrum and spine?
I totally understand how confusing this session can be to those who may not be aware that the head ‘moves’, nor of the importance of fascial mobility. That may not have experienced their own cranial base’s ability to protract and retract. Or the sphenoid’s ability to pivot at the greater wings. Or the maxilla’s ability to move with the sphenoid.
The intent of this post is to help answer the most basic question – why do we do what we do in Session Seven? At the most basic level, we work in the nose to mobilize the sphenoid. We work in the mouth to mobilize the maxilla, temporal and sphenoid bones. And we work on the floor of the mouth to mobilize the cranial base.
Session Seven is all about movement. And from this perspective it can be seen as a continuation of Session Six. Both sessions focus upon supporting the mobility of the core. Both sessions work to ease rotation and support the ‘fluid’ motion of the sacrum / spine and the neck / head. And both sessions support the ‘pivoting’ motion of the sacrum and sphenoid.
These movement are as basic as breathing. They support our ability to think clearly, breath fully, digest food and take in nourishment. These movements are our life.
And that’s what this session is really about!
The Head's Inner Core
One of the trainings we have under way right now is a 10 month long Structural Integration Intensive Practitioner Training. The students are all practicing professionals and we meet one weekend a month to work through Dr. Rolf’s 10 session protocols.
This past weekend was Session Seven – What I call ‘The Head’s Inner Core.’ It focuses on easing rotation and supporting the movements of the inner head and neck. This is a big one, because in many ways these areas are the emotional center of the body where we feel and hold the pressures of our daily lives.
We clench our jaws in anger or frustration. We wrinkle our brows in confusion and our noses in disgust. We express our emotions through our eyes, coloring our vision with hopes and dreams, and crying real tears of love and sorrow. We hold the tension of fears and the burden of defeats in our neck and shoulders.
It’s not surprising then that this is an emotional weekend for most of the students and the models as we work on releasing those physical and emotional holdings. Over the course of the two days we had tears, fears, clashes and occasional pushback. In the closing circle, one student said, ‘I’m going home to cry now.’ One of the models was so emotionally and physically exhausted from releasing patterns that go back some 60 years that I had to make sure he was able to drive home safely.
So why did all this come up now? Especially, as one student said, since we’ve been working on this for the last six months?
The answer is that for the first six sessions, we were working on alignment. Shifting the position of the shoulder and pelvic girdles; easing rotation and aligning the ankles, knees and hips; easing rotation and supporting the spine’s ability to flex and extend.
But alignment is not the key to emotional release – it’s only an assist. It’s like putting a key in a lock. All the tumblers align, but you still have to turn the key – to move. It’s the forward and back movement of the pelvis, the spine, the head that creates a wave of motion and emotion.
It’s the sudden experience of that movement in their core, which is very powerful in itself, plus a new willingness to move that releases the patterns of holding.
That’s the heart and soul of my work, and that’s what makes my trainings different – the structural alignment, the internal and external movement, the awareness of that movement, the release of the patterns of holding, and of the process to achieve it.
Sessions 8 and 9
Putting all of the Pieces Together
This week in Class and Student Clinic, we have been exploring Sessions Eight and Nine. This is the point in the series where we are tasked with creating greater overall balance within the core and putting all the pieces together.
Sessions Eight and Nine ask us as practitioners to change perspective yet again. To work from our client’s inner core ‘outward’ towards the sleeve. To support their ability to move their core, and to free the core from the sleeve.
The big questions we need to ask in these sessions are, what is the relationship between the bones of the arms and legs and the girdles? What is the relationship between the spine and the girdles? And, can my client move his spine and core from his coccyx to his sphenoid?
I continue to see the easing of rotation and torsion in both the core and sleeve as the primary objectives of these sessions. I want to support my client’s ability to move and transfer motion through his vertical center (to be centered) and to move through his legs into the ground (to be grounded).
After completing Sessions Four through Seven (the core sessions) we are again confronted with what is still keeping the core rotated and preventing it from moving freely. To support the core’s structural (vertical) integrity, it will be necessary to again release and balance the body’s intrinsic musculature from the head to the feet. To support the core’s long term stability, it will be necessary to again mobilize the ‘diaphragms’ and ease rotation of the girdles.
To support the transfer of motion through the body’s vertical core it will also be necessary to support the spine’s ability to flex and extend without excessive rotation. This means we will again need to free adhesion and mobilize the paraspinal layers, support the girdles’ ability to pivot at the femoral and humeral heads, the sacrum’s ability to move independently from the ilia, and the cranial base’s ability to move independently from the cervical spine.
As rotation of the shoulder girdle eases, look for rotation at the CT (C7-T1) and Dorsal (T8-T10) junctions to also ease. As rotation of the cranial base eases, look for rotation at the OC junction to ease. And as rotation of the pelvic girdle eases, look for sacral rotation and strain at the LS (L5-S1) and LD (L1 T12) junctions to also ease.
When rotation of these spinal junctions eases, greater flexion and extension of the spine become possible. When rotation of the girdles eases and they are freed to pivot, motion and chi are freer to transfer through the spine and body’s vertical core – and your client becomes structurally integrated!
Didn't we already do this?
So, here we are again . . . in many ways Session Nine is like doing Session Seven all over again. In both sessions we are asking our clients to let go of deeply held tension and emotion, and as you experienced for yourself, after both sessions there can be a lot of emotional fall out!
As both ends of the body’s inner channel unwind, greater ‘flow’ through the core becomes possible. However you describe it, the experience of letting go of deeply held emotional tension and of moving it through one’s inner core is the very definition of being grounded and centered.
There are a lot of possible reactions to this opening. For some it is tears and grief. For others, it provides the strength to make fundamental changes in their lives. And for some it may be intense anger when they realize that no one outside of themselves is going to ‘fix’ them.
All of you saw it in your clients, and all of you felt it in yourselves. And we all asked the same question – Am I strong enough to grow and to change?
The Great Unwinding.
Here we are at Session Nine, tasked with the job of unpinning the body’s outer sleeve and unwinding its inner core. The most basic question we need to ask as we begin this session is, where are the places in your client’s outer body that remain adhesion or ‘pins’ and what is causing him to rotate or twist when walking and sitting?
To understand the intent of this session you must remain conscious of the effect that your work in the lower body is having upon the upper body and vise versa. So as you work to ease rotation in one girdle that ‘spiral’ will need to be addressed in the other girdle. Thus to ease rotation of the shoulder and pelvic girdles and imbalance between the psoas and rhomboid layers, you need to understand that a rotation in one girdle ‘spirals’ through the entire body when moving. As whole body rotation and spirals unwind, it becomes possible for the pelvis to tip both forward and back and for the shoulder girdle to ride forward and back atop the moving thorax without rotating.
It can be helpful to imagine that the entire session is attempting to unwind and ‘draw water’ through the core. As rotation and twist in the sleeve are eased, look for the body’s anterior and posterior ‘compartments’ to move independently and for the front of the body to lift with the breath as the back of the body elongates. As rotation and side-to-side imbalance in the core is eased, look for the inner body to elongate and lift with the breath as well. At the completion of this session look for the outer sleeve to ‘drape’ around an elongated inner core.
Remember to stand back away from your client often in order to see the big picture and to move fluidly between the upper and lower ends of the body. Stay in your heart and follow your client’s ‘lead’. As they move, respond by releasing those areas that remain rotated or twisted.
Sit at your client’s feet or work from the floor of the mouth, diaphragm and pelvic floor until the inner core unwinds and strain ‘drains’ through the legs. And then stand back, allowing them to experience their core moving and the profound sense of ‘letting go’ that is now possible.
Bear in mind that there will be some fallout! This is Session Seven on steroids. There will be reactions once the core is really open. They are literally draining emotional strain by letting go of what they are holding on to. They drop through the core and let go of the core and move the core.
This is profound to see. 99% of the universe is holding – their throat, genitals, breath, gut . . . And the question is, can they let go in a safe way? And when they let go, will they be supported?
So we’re draining that strain through their legs into the ground. The goal is to be grounded and centered, meaning to let go through the entire system so there is no retained charge.
This is the main even of the whole series. In some ways, this IS the series. And because there is no separation between the physical and emotional unwinding, because each is a component of the other, people can have incredibly powerful reactions.
There is going to be a tendency on the part of us as practitioners to want to ‘fix’ that. To think, ‘Wow! What did I do?’
But don’t worry. We’re going to take care of it in Session 10. In fact, we’ll let the clients stew on it until that session, because it allows time for them to feel and process and reflect on it.
Time to Dance!
When Peter first explained Session Ten to me, he said that we should focus our session upon mobilizing all the joints of the body. That the ankles, knees and hips should work like ‘right angle hinges’, and that the joints of the legs should be able to flex and extend without excessive rotation. The girdles should be free to pivot, and the ribs should be mobile and lie in horizontal planes.
He asked us to look at all the joints and horizontal planes of the body and watch them move. That when moving the ankles, knees, hips / pelvis, ribs, shoulders, cranial base / jaw, maxilla and sphenoid, the body’s entire outer sleeve should be free to move upward in the front and downward in the back. That when your client stands up at the end of this session and takes a breath, their chest lifts upward, their shoulders extend, their pelvis pivots and their lower back elongates.
We shouldn’t spend a lot of time working in the vertical core, he said, because the Tenth Session assumes your client has had Sessions Eight and Nine. That their body’s vertical core is mobile and that its horizontal diaphragms are indeed horizontal. And that in this session it is possible to reposition, or ‘drape’ the entire outer sleeve around an inner core that is both vertically and horizontally in balance.
So here we are at long last at Session Ten, having done all those things that Peter asked me to do, and I in turn have asked you to do. And, of course, you feel ready and your client feels ready to put it all together and to be done.
‘Well, maybe’, you say. ‘But what about this? And what about that? And what if my client’s not feeling ready to be done? And what if I’m not sure I’ve done enough to be done?’
Now, I know you’ve heard me say many times in class, but let me repeat. Doing SI is like teaching dance. We can’t move for our clients any more than we can dance for them. SI is a process, and now it’s time for them to go out and dance. It’s the time to take what they have learned and to move. To breathe. To feel. To practice and to do the work that it will take to become the best dancer they can be.
I hope, as we complete this phase of your training, that you feel like you know the basic steps to this dance. And that you can move from your core, connect your head and heart, and feel like you can do this work. Because now is the time to keep dancing and to keep practicing.
To become the best dancer you can be!
Grounded and Centered
Any attempt to define Structural Integration is really an attempt to define what a structurally balanced body looks and feel like. Thus far, I have resisted any and all attempts to talk about specific ‘imbalances’, because until we have adequately defined ‘balance’, the term ‘out of balance’ makes absolutely no sense.
So, here we are at Sessions Eight, Nine and Ten, and you now have a better understanding of what balance looks and feels like. You now know that when the cranial base is unable to move independently from the cervical spine, the neck will be forced to flatten. That when the temporal bones are unable to move forward and back (as you nod your head) the mandibular condyles will not ‘sit’ properly in the temporomandibular joint.
That when the humeral or femoral heads do not sit comfortably in the glenohumeral and hip joints, the girdles will be unable to pivot and the spine will be forced to rotate. That when the humeri and radial bones are out of radial alignment, there will be strain at the wrist. And that when the lower leg is laterally rotated, the arches of the foot will also be forced to rotate
You now know that when motion / chi is unable to transfer through the core, people feel disassociated from themselves and others, and feel disconnected from their own feeling and emotions.
It is my sincerest wish that you now know what it feels like to be grounded and centered.
Putting it all Together
This past weekend we talked about ‘putting it all together’. We talked about Sessions Eight and Nine in which we are tasked with supporting optimal functioning and alignment of both the shoulder and pelvic girdles. We agreed that for the glenohumeral joint to function optimally, the shoulder girdle needed to be free to pivot at the humeral heads and the humeral heads needed to able to sit in sockets that were not rotated. That for the hips to function optimally, the pelvic girdle needed to be free to pivot at the femoral heads, and the femoral heads needed to be able to sit comfortably in hip sockets that were not rotated.
I asked you to feel what was keeping the humeral head from sitting in the glenoid fossa and what was keeping the scapula rotated or elevated. I also asked you to feel what has keeping the femoral heads from sitting comfortably in the acetabulum and what was keeping the pelvis from pivoting or rotated.
We talked a little about muscles and connective tissue and a lot about feeling for what was unable to move, and what remained adhered to bony surfaces as your client rotated his arms and legs. When working on the upper body, I asked you to focus upon your client’s ability to rotate and extend his shoulders. Upon his ability to ‘horizontally’ (radially) rotate his clavicle and the scapulae’s ability to inferior glide. When working on the lower body, I asked you to focus upon your client’s ability to flex and extend his hips and pivot his pelvis without rotating his legs.
We talked about different ways to approach working on the girdles and supporting greater balance between the body’s outer sleeve and its inner core. We talked about easing torsion between the upper and lower halves of the body and, finally, about supporting the fluid transfer of motion through the core.
After the Tenth Weekend Training...What's Next?
In class today, the question I found most difficult to answer was what to do after completing the ten sessions. My immediate response was that I would continue to unwind the core and to support my client’s ability to be grounded and centered. Fortunately, you all knew what I meant by that. But what to do in a ‘post ten’ session may not be as simple as untwisting the body’s inner ‘bath towel’.
Many practitioners trained in Chinese medicine work to balance the meridians and the organs to which they correlate. Those trained in neural-glide or cranial-sacral may seek greater neurovascular balance. And those trained to work with the emotional body may choose to do more emotional unwinding. And then there are nutritional support and exercises and movement work to teach, right?
The whole conversation left me a little overwhelmed and feeling like it was time to go back to school or at least check out the great CEU classes being offered at IASI. But I have to admit that I don’t really believe doing more ‘things’ post ten is ‘the answer’ Or that growth and change is a linear process.
Please don’t get me wrong. All these modalities are good and important, but what changes people? I think time, relationships and new experiences – both the good ones and the bad ones. I guess I see it like dancing. You learn all these new movements and patterns and now you need to dance, not take more classes.
There is something so fundamentally basic about learning to move differently and being able to unwind one’s core. And we need time for this ‘seed’ to grow. Time to be present with it and experience it.
So here we are at the end of our year long Structural Integration Practitioner Training knowing that there is more to learn and do. But it’s also the time to exhale and to dance. To celebrate and to watch the seeds that you planted and watered, grow!
For me the Tenth session has always been about finding my client’s ‘line’ and helping them navigate through their core. The core, like the current in a river, is dynamic! And river guide that I am, finding that line and navigating through my client’s vertical center is critical. Yes, there will be some obstacles to navigate around and blockages to move through, but today we will move through the core.
So here we are at the Tenth session and graduation. How will you guide your client through their core?
Today in class we all agreed that our Tenth sessions would focus upon continuing to mobilize and ‘unwind the inner core’. That we would ‘organize’ the body from the inside out and hope to see at the completion of the session, a mobile and elongated inner core with the outer sleeve ‘draped’ comfortably over it.
We agreed that seeing the dorsal and LDH unwind, the head and neck move into vertical alignment and the lumbar spine extend would also be part of our ‘recipe’. And, of course, supporting our client’s ability to move through their core and be grounded was critical.
We worked to mobilize those areas of the core that remained stuck and we tried in one session to ‘open’ and ‘channel’ our client’s motion and emotion through their core. We wanted to leave them ‘standing within their core’, with head, heart, pelvis and legs connected. And having met the ‘demons’ that arose in session nine and ‘channeled’ them through their core!
And you did all this, and more. You are amazing!
The Process of Change and Emotions
The Ten Sessions and the Process of Change
It has always been my belief that we become better practitioners when we are aware of the physical and emotional demands our clients experience during Structural Integration sessions. Paradoxically, in each session we are asking them to move that which we know they are not yet able to move, and asking them to breathe and to feel in areas of their body that they may have been protecting or defending for a long time by not breathing and feeling.
My intention is to empower my clients to move, to breathe and to feel. So when my clients tell me they can’t move / breathe / feel, I finish their statement with the word ‘yet’. The power of opening to possibility is the beginning of the process of change.
But change is also risk, and emotional responses to this work can unnerve our clients.
One of my students shared a recent experience of a client crying during her SI session. The client asked if this was ‘normal’, worrying that her response was unusual. ‘Is this normal?’ is often synonymous with the question, ‘Am I normal?’ Which is a guarded way of asking the core question, ‘Am I safe?’
Powerful emotional responses ranging from anger to confusion to grief and shame can take us by surprise if we are not mindful of the bigger picture of the process of change and transformation. For this reason, an awareness of the ‘emotional themes’ that may correlate with the postural patterns and movement limitations we encounter in each session is critical to supporting our clients through this process.
This doesn’t mean we have to be mental health therapists to practice Structural Integration. I think a better metaphor is that we are dance teachers who are teaching a new way to move in the world. But just like learning the Tango, that new movement can initially feel awkward, embarrassing and even frightening if we think we’re not doing it ‘right’.
So in the same way that a beautiful dance can evoke a joyous response or a chaotic one can evoke unease, it’s common for clients to have emotional reactions to Structural Integration. Here are some of the most common emotional experiences I see at various points in the SI protocols, and a bit about ways to integrate them. Of course, we’ll go much deeper into all this in the trainings.
Session One – Opening to change.
At the start of this process I imagine my client’s ‘outer body’ to be a reflection of lifetime injuries, repetitive movements and actions, and the ‘inner body’ a reflection of beliefs and emotional states. For example, if I see that sitting at a desk all day has affected the client’s posture, I might start this session by helping to extend the shoulders and back and thus support the ability to sit upright and breath fully.
At the most basic level I am asking my client to look at how he / she spends the day working, which is a relatively safe entry point. You and your client are looking for a ‘good fit’ which is akin to a solid working relationship. It is evitable that issues relating to how to work in partnership, trust and safety will also be explored. Through this work, you will be asking your client to be an active participant in this process, and clarifying the client’s expectations here is vital.
Session Two – The foundation
This session addresses issues of physical balance, stability and flexibility, and begins the process of ‘grounding’ your client. We are asking clients to be aware of their connection to self and to others, and to be ‘rooted’ in their body. Thus the questions that are addressed in this session are often related to whether your client feels supported by their body, whether they can stand upright on their legs, and do they have a stable base of support from which to move in the world.
Session two also begins the process of easing rotation and supporting the flexibility of the back. Issues related to flexibility and inflexibility may arise. The foundation of trust addressed in the first session will often support your client in adjusting to the changes that you are asking them to make physically as well as emotionally.
Session Three – The Outer Boundary
This session focuses upon easing rotation / twist in the body’s outer sleeve. In many ways, the body’s outer layers make up our first line of defense and our physical and energetic boundary. Issues related to defending oneself, being vulnerable, reaching out and knowing where you stop and others begin may arise at this point.
The third session is also the time to assess your client’s desire and ability to work with you at a deeper level. Do you have a good working relationship and does he / she have the external support needed to continue? In other words, does it feel safe?
Session Four – Grounding
This session focuses upon your client’s ability to transfer movement through the inner pelvis and legs. Thus the questions that arise are: Is the client able to move her / his pelvis? Are they connected to they feelings? Are they able to let go of tension in the pelvic floor and sphincters and to feel / allow sensation in the genitals?
Issues related to past pregnancies and sexual abuse may arise here. Your client’s ability or inability to ‘let go’, to feel pleasure in the pelvis and the experience of feeling grounded through the lower body are what this session is about.
Session Five – Stability
This session works to support the mobility and side-to-side balance of the pelvis and lumbar spine. The pelvis is the structural ‘cornerstone’ of the body. Side-to-side imbalance and the inability of the pelvis to ‘pivot’ both forward and back often leaves a person feeling collapsed and unsupported, or tipped forward and rigid.
It is the experience of structural support and mobility through one’s core that is fundamental to this process. If a person does not feel supported by their core, they may feel the need to rigidly defend themselves from the outer shell. The lack of this inner support can also lead to feeling of inadequacy and powerlessness. This session is all about our client’s ability or inability to express anger, to balance their own needs against others’ expectations, their fear of performance, the need to control and the fear of losing control!
Session Six – Core Mobility
It is the experience of being able to move and feel one’s inner core when breathing and making love that we seek to support in this session. It is the kundalini – the movement of one’s vital force through the vertical core that changes everything – and the inability of a person to transfer their breath and ‘vital force’ through their core that concerns us in this session.
Can the client navigate through stressful situations? Can they move forward with a sense of direction? Do they have the inner strength, support, mobility and structural balance they need? Are they grounded, ‘rooted’ in the lower body and able to feel and move energetically through the pelvis and legs to the ground?
Session Seven – Connecting Your Head and Heart
The seventh session focuses upon easing rotation and supporting the movements of the inner head and neck. In many ways the head is the emotional center of the body. We feel in our head the pressures of daily life and we feel our connection to others here as well as in our heart.
Issues pertaining to emotional clarity, expression and authenticity in a person’s life are front and center in this session. Does your client feel clear headed, congested or unfocused? What has affected their ability to move the neck and head freely? Have they had a closed head trauma, dental trauma, sexual abuse or birth trauma? The ability or inability to hold the head high, speak one’s mind and make meaningful connections with others may also be of concern.
This is a really big one for many people, and I wrote about some of the impacts in a recent Session Seven class on the blog here.
Sessions Eight and Nine – Integration
These sessions focus upon the integration of the upper and lower halves of the body and supporting the transfer of motion through the inner core. In these sessions clients are asked to look at their ability to be grounded as well as to move outward and express themselves. To look at their ability to both to give and to receive, and their ability to take actions that are congruent with their core values.
Session Ten – Balance
Session ten asks clients to be aware of their core while moving and interacting with others. The focus of the session is to align and ease rotation between joints and to help clients move forward in their chosen direction feeling supported both from within and without. The session must also deals will a client’s fear of moving and change and their fears of failure and backsliding
Motion, Emotion, and Discharging Strain
Most clients who come to Structural Integration recognize that much of the tension and strain in their bodies is not the result of injury or physical overwork, but of stress from a job or relationship. They are aware of the connection between their emotional and physical stress but have no idea how to change that.
On a deeper level, people are painfully aware of the physical strain that emotional stress is causing them, but are typically unaware of its effect on their ability to move freely, think clearly and transfer breath and movement through their core. It seems that as people lose the ability to move through their core, they also lose their awareness of it. And as they lose the awareness of that movement, they can also lose the ability to be physically and emotionally grounded.
Clients are most often aware of the strain in their neck and shoulders, but far less aware of their inability to move between and through their head, neck, and thorax. They typically do not connect shoulder and neck strain to the inability to swallow or breathe fully.
They may be aware that their lower back hurts and that they don’t feel physically stable when standing, but may not be aware of losing the ability to move through their core and legs, and concurrently, to feel grounded and centered.
SI practitioners conceptualize the body’s inner core as more than a set of muscles that are suspended from and supportive of the spine. We see the core as a three-dimensional myofascial structure that supports our ability to be upright in gravity and to transfer breath and motion through the body’s vertical center. And we are acutely aware of the effects that neck rotation and torsion between the girdles can have upon that ability to support us and transfer breath and motion through the vertical center.
We see the transverse planes of the inner head, cranial base and thoracic outlet as integral parts of the body’s structural core. And we are acutely alert to any ‘disconnect’ that occurs between the head and body. We know that when clients lose the ability to move their head and necks freely, their awareness of the connection between thoughts and feelings and their ability to transfer breath and motion between and through their head and core is radically affected.
SI practitioners also know that the bones of the head can move and that injury and trauma to these bones are all too common. The debate between the Osteopathic and Allopathic communities over whether adult cranial sutures are fixed or movable, and over the significance of the cranial sacral respiration may never be resolved. But the mobility of the mandible, temporal, maxilla, TMJ, cranial base and sphenoid – when freed from adhesions in the myofascial layers that surround them – is not in dispute.
Thus, the ability or inability to move one’s sphenoid, maxilla, mandible and cranial base can have a profound effect upon a person’s ability to think clearly and to feel connected to their body. And the inability to physically transfer motion between the head and body and through the core can leave us feeling numb and emotionally disconnected.
Exploring the connection between motion and emotion is an integral part of our year-long Practitioners Training because awareness of these connections will significantly affect the intentions and outcomes of our work with clients.