We all know the important parts of the human body, right? Skeleton. Check. Muscles. Yep. Connective tissue. Huh?
Even if you earned an “A” in high school biology, it’s entirely possible a type of connective tissue called fascia is not on your radar. And you’re far from alone in that oversight. Plenty of people go to the gym to exercise their muscles, visit the salon to have a particular sore spot massaged, see a physical therapist for a localized problem—yet completely overlook their connective tissue. That’s where structural integration comes in. (Some people may be more familiar with the term Rolfing® which is a type of structural integration founded by Dr. Ida P. Rolf in the early 1970s).
Think of your body like a house suggests Libby Eason, outgoing president of the International Association of Structural Integrators® and Certified Advanced RolferTM in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia.
If your roof is tilted at an angle, you could bring in a contractor to re-align it but that’s really only fixing the cosmetic issue rather than addressing any underlying problems in the basement or foundation. Our bodies are no different.
While some people like Ms. Eason herself begin Structural Integration out of curiosity or word of mouth, many come because of pain issues that have not been able to be resolved through other methods. “Structural integration is a little like detective work,” says Ms. Eason. “You may feel pain in the left neck or shoulder and may not remember you sprained your right ankle last year and shifted the way you walk to the left. You go to a massage therapist who works on the pain but it still doesn’t go away because it’s not the underlying foundational cause. It’s a result rather than the structural issue.” And to solve that structural issue? You guessed it—work on the connective tissue.
A fine white fibrous network, connective tissue surrounds everything in our bodies—all the cells, muscle fibers, organs and so on. And because of this deep connection, it has critical implications when it comes to our health—even when you least expect it. “I have been working on someone’s ankle and we both feel their neck change,” says Ms. Eason. “When you have skills you learn as a professionally trained structural integrator you realize you’re never working with just what you’re touching but you’re listening to the entire matrix and seeing where the pattern is connected.”
The typical structural integration program consists of 10 to 13 sessions with the option to return for tune-ups and/or more advanced work. It begins with an evaluation of the body looking at everything from posture and basic movements to how the body is reacting to gravity. Over time work is done to open up the breathing followed by focus on the outer layers and then moving deeper.
Education is also crucial and Ms. Eason helps her clients become more aware of their bodies and patterns of movement. “You can actually show people how to work with their movement differently,” she says. “It’s not exactly like exercises but it’s new movement possibilities—different than your familiar ways that might be taking you back toward your old less-than-ideal patterns.”
Patience is important as well with Ms. Eason reporting it can take six months to a year for the body to fully reinforce and incorporate the new patterns established in the connective tissue.
The reward, however, is well worth the wait—in terms of how you feel both physically and emotionally. “It’s experiential,” says Ms. Eason. “Not only can you perform better because you’re not fighting with physical compensations and the way gravity is pulling on you but it has the potential to transform your attitudes which are in your body as well.”
For anyone interested in learning more about structural integration or finding a local structural integration professional check out the International Association of Structural Integrators at www.theiasi.org.
Kristen Stewart is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, parenting and lifestyle topics. To learn more, visit her website at www.kristenestewart.com.