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Why it’s important to Connect to your Connective Tissue

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.

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A Simple Shift in Your Body Can Actually Change Your Life

“Change your body, change your life.”  

Linda Bienenfeld decided to give Hellerwork Structural Integration a try after witnessing the transformational effect it had on her roommate.  

After completing the Hellerwork series, her roommate displayed a presence that blossomed, reflecting newfound self-confidence and energy that led to success in her career and other aspects of her life.  

Linda was inspired by that transformation, so she signed up for the 11-session series to experience the modality’s effects firsthand.   “I went through the series and a light bulb went on. I felt so different. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The outcome was more energy and I felt more joyful. I had no pain and I had much more flexibility. I felt more comfortable in my body.”  

In 1980 she began studying with founder Joseph Heller to become a Hellerwork practitioner and has been practicing since she completed her training in 1982. Hellerwork, a type of Structural Integration, aims to reorganize the physical structure of the entire human being and create change in the connective tissue adhesions in the body. It’s comprised of three parts: bodywork, movement education and dialogue.   Through bodywork the practitioner uses a hands-on approach, working with the client to break up rigid or dense pockets of connective tissue, also called fascia, to release tension and allow for more fluid movement, greater flexibility, improved posture and less discomfort.  

By applying the pressure of the hands and palpating the tissue, the practitioner can help create a chemical change in the fascia to loosen rigid pockets and break apart adhesions. Fascia is made up of different receptors with different purposes that researchers only recently are beginning to understand through organizations like the Fascia Research Congress.  

Movement education teaches the client how to move to maintain this fluidity, while dialogue helps identify which events and emotions might trigger certain movements and habits that create problems.  

Adhesions of the connective tissue occur as a result of repetitive strain, poor postural and movement habits, lack of movement, stress, dehydration, chemical exposure, scarring and more, Linda said.   People are usually inclined to try Hellerwork because of physical pain. “Then, they find their whole life opens up,” Linda said. It creates a chemical shift in the body and people just have more joy. “It’s really hard to explain to people, but when you change your body, you change your life.”  

Hellerwork works the same way other holistic modalities do by focusing not just on one symptom of pain, but on the whole person. Fascia adhesions can occur throughout the body, but the discomfort might show up in only one area. For example, someone might feel pain in his shoulder, but the problem might be in the feet.  

Linda said doctors often refer clients for Hellerwork as a last resort. She had one client who had been suffering from 18 years of pain after falling on a marble floor. The client had gone through six back surgeries, yet still had pain. A physician sent her to Linda in part because nothing was alleviating the pain. Through Hellerwork, Linda was able to help break up a pocket of fascia crystals located in the area of her rib cage where she fell 18 years ago. During the course of Hellerwork the physician was also injecting homeopathic remedies into the area of the crystals. The client’s pain disappeared after these treatments.  

“Sometimes it’s as simple as too much density in the fascia,” Linda said.  

Hellerwork also played a role in helping a client heal a broken ankle 21 years ago.  

After surgery and three months in a cast, the client returned to the orthopedic surgeon to have the cast removed. When the doctor said he would have to re-cast the ankle because it wasn’t showing the correct range of motion, Linda proceeded to work on her client’s ankle in the surgeon’s office. Within five minutes the ankle moved correctly – and the client didn’t need the new cast.  

Whether tissue adhesions are a result of an accident, stress, poor movement or a lack of movement, Hellerwork facilitates a chemical change in the fascia that leads to greater flexibility and fluidity, which can awaken the whole person.  

Linda quoted Ida Rolf, creator of Structural Integration, to describe the foundation of Hellerwork. “Ida Rolf used to say, ‘There’s no psychology – there is only physiology.’ It’s more complicated than that, but she’s correct.”  

Linda Bienenfeld has been a Hellerwork Structural Integration practitioner for 30 years. She resides in California and can be reached at linda.bienenfeld@gmail.com.

– By Jessica Braun
Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.

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Hellerwork Is Transformational Experience for Practitioner

Anne-Marie Duchêne represents all that Hellerwork stands for. She explored several paths before discovering that Hellerwork was her passion. The modality not only inspired her, it gave her the will to give it a try.

Through Hellerwork, “I began to see that I could do what I wanted to do with my life and have the courage to do it.” Today Anne-Marie is a Hellerwork practitioner and owner of Art of Alignment Structural Integration in New York City.

Hellerwork is a type of structural integration founded by Joseph Heller. It is comprised primarily of three parts: realignment of the connective tissue through bodywork, movement education that aims to maintain the bodywork, and dialogue that encourages the exploration of thoughts and how those thoughts affect the body.

The goal of the modality is to restore balance and fluidity in the body, which can result in a physical and mental realignment of the person.

Hellerwork can help relieve physical pain like migraines and backaches. It also can help in coping with emotional issues like weight loss, depression, financial woes, relationship problems and stress.

The modality typically occurs over an 11-session period, each of which focuses on a theme based on the dialogue.

Inspiration is the theme for session one. During each session unexpected conversations start, leading to an increased awareness.

The session might begin with little to say because the person might not have much at the forefront of his mind because of stress, pain, anxiety or other reasons. He might talk about a lack of inspiration initially.

Whatever the response, the practitioner is listening and observing how the person's dialogue relates to his body.

Dialogue continues as the person moves under the guidance of the practitioner. Through breathing and slow, subtle movements, the person is able to release adhesions of tissue.

By the end of the session, the person might have named several things that inspire him as he connects with the deeper parts of himself through this movement and dialogue.

“It’s a conversation of liberation,” Anne-Marie said. People connect to their body both physically and emotionally.

Such a connection helped give Anne-Marie the perspective to identify what she really wanted to do with her life.

Anne-Marie moved to New York from Montreal in 1986 to pursue a career in dancing. After 10 years, though, she grew restless of the city and needed a change. She moved to San Francisco to attend the Universityof California, Berkeley, and study Cultural Anthropology. While there, she landed a job as a business leadership coach for companies like Oracle and Microsoft.

After completing her degree and spending five years as a corporate coach, she made plans to set up her own coaching company. At the same time a friend encouraged her to apply for a scouting job at Cirque du Soleil. She got the job, so she returned to her dance roots. She moved back to Montreal, where she was a scout and dancing specialist for Cirque.

When the company moved most of their scouting online, Anne-Marie knew she needed to find something new.

“I’m not a good desk person,” she said.

She moved back to New Yorkwhere she scouted for Cirque on the East Coast and danced. At this point she was thinking more and more about how she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

“I kept asking, ‘What’s my purpose and how can I serve?’”

After Anne-Marie spent two years of scouting on the East Coast, Cirque offered her a job as artistic director in 2006. At the same time she received a gift certificate for her birthday for a Hellerwork session.

She was skeptical about Hellerwork and she was busy, so it took her eight months and three cancellations before she attended the session. Anne-Marie, who had been battling 10 years of back pain, finally made the time to go in hopes of easing that pain. Her plan was to go to only one session, though, not all 11.

After the first session she felt invigorated. Not only did her back pain ease, but her body and mind had eased as well. She made another appointment the following week.

“I immediately felt the power of this work,” she said.

Her body felt more aligned with every session. She had more mobility and flexibility not just throughout her body but in her mind, which resulted in more energy. Plus, her back pain had vanished.

By the sixth session, she had a Eureka moment.

“I was overwhelmed with joy and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to learn this modality.’ I wasn’t sure what my plan was going to look like, but I just jumped.”

She enrolled in the Hellerwork Structural Integration program in 2007 and, because she enrolled late, she received training from Joseph Heller himself out of his home in California.

“It was hard to give up salary and benefits, but I knew there was something more significant deep inside myself. I said, ‘I’m going to trust this.’”

She is now the owner of Art of Alignment Structural Integration and has plans to expand the studio to include coaching. She also plans to rename her business to her last name, Duchêne, which means “of the oak” in French.

“I feel like I am a model for what I speak for,” Anne-Marie said.

“Jump off the edge and then let your wings appear.”

Read more about Anne-Marie Duchêne, Hellerwork and Art of Alignment at www.artofalignment.com.

 

– By Jessica Braun

Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.

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Structural Integration for Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by “long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. It also has been linked to prolonged or chronic bouts of fatigue, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, and headaches.” Fibromyalgia is a diagnostic term created to objectively define symptoms but each person experiences this syndrome quite differently.The cause of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) remains unclear without any stout and effective solutions. Therefore, the efficacy of existing therapies varies widely from person to person.
The role of connective tissue, specifically fascia, can contribute to relieving the chronic pain and tenderness in the entire body. Our fascial system dutifully locks in our outward appearance and shape. It is believed that FMS is triggered by physical and/or emotional trauma, and in turn, causes structural imbalances due to the chronic pain felt in various parts of the body. Structural Integration is beneficial in slowly realigning these structural imbalances at a depth and speed the client is comfortable with.
FMS clients experience a plethora of tender points along the body and feel pain in the joints. It is highly important for a Structural Integrator to work fascial planes at a slow pace while simultaneously treating localized pain sites and aligning the whole body as one unit all at once. As a rule of thumb, working cautiously and lightly on the client’s tissue is significant for pain relief. Being open to the results is advised, as response to deep tissue treatment is often highly unique to the individual. FMS clients can be more susceptible to flare-ups, so a lighter touch will often feel significantly deep enough for the client. Generally, I will suggest NOT to participate in any extraneous stretching and exercise that would cause extra soreness 24 hours after his/her session.
It is believed that the issue is related to the nervous system, and not so much in the fascial tissue system that Structural Integrators (aka Rolfers) are known to especially manipulate, lengthen, and reorganize. I find that it is helpful to calm and detune the nervous system into parasympathetic (rest and digest ) ease. Once anxiety wanes, the body will be more receptive to deep tissue work. Usually, as the client progresses through the series, the body is ready for deeper work.
I always recommend an integrative approach for a client, which entails paying attention to and investing the time into determining what the possible root cause of their disease might be. The healing process for the client requires that he/she find relief and support from many arenas such as nutrition, stress management, counseling, homeopathy, craniosacral therapy, lifestyle changes, and perseverance. The beauty in the difficulty experienced is an opportunity for great self-growth and discovery. The Rolf Method of Structural Integration contributes structural and functional optimization, increased body awareness, and the space to ground and relax the overstimulated mind and body of a FMS client.
By Minki KimStructural Integration Professional & WholesomeONE Health Advisor
image source: flickr.com/photos/cosmic_bandita/1145076265/
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Natural Relief from Shoulder Tension and Sciatica caused by Sitting

Saman Maydani had been exploring holistic therapies like yoga and meditation, partly to try to ease muscle pain triggered by her job. As a filmmaker, she was either sitting at a desk all day editing film material or carrying heavy equipment.

 

When her husband, a web designer, agreed to help structural integration specialist Minki Kim redesign his website, Saman took advantage of the opportunity to try something new and signed up for a 10-session program with Minki.

 

Saman, 29 years old, had shoulder tension and sciatica and wanted to improve her posture. Her knees had been aching and cracking and she had joint pain. She didn't exercise much and wasn't motivated to start.

 

Structural integration is a form of bodywork that focuses on the fascia system, part of the connective tissue that surrounds the organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers and allows for flexibility and motion. Gravity, habits and emotions affect how we lean and move. Structural integration aims to restore balance and functional ease throughout the whole body.

 

Minki began each session with a grid to measure where Saman's body lined up and then customized the bodywork accordingly.

 

"He works with who you are, not against who you are," Saman said.

 

Early sessions focused on specific parts of the body and then later sessions integrated the whole body.

 

Saman said he paid close attention to her body type and how it affected her posture and movement. He observed that one of her legs was longer than the other and that she had an anterior-tilted pelvis and a curved spine.

 

The bodywork, which lasted about an hour per session, was intense and sometimes painful, but Saman always left the sessions feeling relieved and relaxed.

 

She began to better understand just how connected everything in her body was when she felt sore a few days after one session. Minki had done a lot of work on her ankles, yet her knees felt sore.

 

"It's all connected so you feel sore in a different place than you would think as your body readjusts itself," Saman said.

 

Saman said she learned a lot just by asking questions based on the charts that Minki hung on the wall. She learned, for example, that legs don't start at the hips; they start with a muscle in the ribs. She now thinks of her legs as dangling from her ribs when she walks, which has improved her movement.

 

Saman said Minki included light dialogue in each session so he could better understand how emotions affect her movements. He asked her how she views stress and what her idea of control is, for example. She said she always felt comfortable because he wasn't pushy and immediately sensed whether she was interested in further exploring a topic.

 

She discovered an emotional and physical connection when Minki worked on her pectoral muscles. She said when he focused on those muscles she felt grief and sadness, like she wanted to cry.

 

"I thought, 'Wow, look at that. These things are so connected. My heart literally aches.'"

 

Saman said Minki's work uncovered pain she unknowingly held in her neck muscle under her chin. She felt pain in her temples and Minki told her that pain was a result of her jaws locking. He also uncovered tension when he massaged the inside of her mouth, focusing on her gums, tongue and chewing muscles.

 

"It was funny to see where I held pain," Saman said.

 

At the end of each session Minki provided Saman with movement lessons such as how to get out of bed, how to stand after sitting in a chair and making sure to push off her toes when she walks.

 

"I was amazed at how mindful I was being with his movement lessons. Minki makes movement more effortless instead of full of energy."

 

Today, after completing the 10-session program, Saman said her knee pain is gone. Her knees and hips don't pop and crack anymore either, and she hasn't had any bouts of sciatica. Her joint pain has vanished and her shoulder tension has eased significantly. She also has less of a curve in her spine.

 

She said she also feels a desire to exercise for the first time in awhile.

 

A surprising benefit of the program was the positive effect it had on her self-esteem. She said she just felt better being in her own body because she felt more connected to her body.

 

Plus, the structural integration program provided benefits that last.

 

"I can have a stressful week, but I still can't undo what he's done. He created an awareness and you can't take that away."

 

It takes up to one year after completing the program for the body to fully reintegrate itself and adjust to the fascia work.

 

Saman said anyone can benefit from the program.

 

"We're all using our bodies incorrectly all the time. Structural integration helps us become aware."

 

"It was a really good way to get in touch with my body. It provided an overall wellness for me. I just feel better."

 

– By Jessica Braun
Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.
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Treatment

Structural Integration

Structural Integration focuses on improving physical functioning by releasing musculoskeletal tension, misalignment, and imbalances caused by the effects of gravity and habitual patterns.

How it Works

A practitioner uses her hands to deliver pressure and heat the layers of fascia. They use their palms, elbows and fingers to apply slow, deliberate strokes lasing 1 to 3 minutes or more. The fascial layer is softened which relieves tension and promotes healing.

Benefits

Tension and chronic pain relief, improved body alignment and faster recovery from injury are the most common benefits. People might also experience improved balance, more fluid movement and better athletic performance.

Precautions

Structural Integration is not appropriate for those suffering from osteoporosis, broken bones, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, acute skin inflammation, chronic addiction, aneurysm, and tumors. Practitioners should avoid areas of the body with bruises, fractures, or wounds until they are healed.

Summary

The goal of Structural Integration is to reorganize the body into an integrated functioning whole unit that reacts to stress, such as gravity more efficiently.

 

References

 

Reviewed February 2019 by Minki Kim, Structural Integration Professional