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HERE ARE THE PRINCIPLES OF
STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION BODYWORK.
THEY'LL TELL YOU HOW IT CORRECTS TIGHTNESS AND BACK PAIN.
from the book, Back Fix Bodywork, Section VI Part 1
Go to Part 2
by Lou Gross, School Certified Master Postural Integrator
27 years successful experience
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FIRST, AN INTRODUCTION TO STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION.
The Structural Integration Method of Connective Tissue Manipulation is a physical therapy and body-mind educational experience developed by Ida P. Rolf in the 1950’s and 60’s. With a Ph.D. in Biochemical physiology, Dr. Rolf worked for the Rockefeller Institute between World Wars I & II. She then combined her own prior knowledge with that of other therapies she learned, like yoga and osteopathy, to develop this unique system. It is based on structural principles of the body that she discovered from others, and from years of pioneering investigation of her own.
Often known by its original and most famous "brand" name, Rolfing, the treatment used to have a reputation for being painful and traumatic, as well as effective. Nowadays, the system, and others patterned after it, are taught in over a dozen formal schools here and abroad. New techniques and more in depth knowledge have made the process more comfortable and even more effective. And each school has its own brand name and special improvements.
Besides Dr. Rolf’s original Bodywork principles of structural alignment, she and others added the principles and training of Rolfing Movement, a way to move and function in daily life without tension and with greater energy and flexibility. This movement education enhances the structural change developed with the Bodywork, and to some degree, can also help those who have not had the Bodywork. I described a little of it in Section IV on arms movement.
A further development was the discovery that the body and mind were one and the same, and that old emotional energies trapped in the fascia would come out of the body during the manipulations. It was also noticed, by clients and practitioners alike, that psychological bearing and demeanor improved along with the physical structural alignment. So Structural Integration was found to be a therapeutic psychological tool as well. In the beginning of Rolfing, some of the emotional release was due to un-orchestrated and unsophisticated use of this aspect. Nowadays, with greater knowledge of body-mind energies and body-oriented psychology, connective tissue manipulation and structural change can be an even more powerful tool for personal transformation.
Structural Integration Bodywork, Movement Training and Body-Mind Psychological Therapy can be combined into a very effective personal growth system, freeing people from past limitations and enabling them to accomplish themselves further, in an easier and more fulfilling manner.
WE ALIGN THE SECTIONS OF THE BODY, ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, WITH THE DOWNWARD PULL OF GRAVITY.
WE DO THIS BY RE-LENGTHENING THE SOFT CONNECTIVE TISSUE IN THE MUSCLES, IN A WAY THAT RE-ALIGNS THE BODY BACK TO ITS PROPER SHAPE.
Structural Integration is a systematic loosening and reordering of the body’s soft connective tissue, called fascia (fah’ sha), which surrounds the whole body and surrounds and goes through all of the muscles
The form of our whole body, at any time, is the form of this fascia. It gets pushed into various shapes by our falls and injuries. And it grows into the shapes we regularly put our bodies into, either by holding a shape daily, or by intensively tightening, as in athletics, house and yard work, or long-term emotional tension. All of these conditions create shortness in the muscles and fascia. Since everyone grows up with falls, tightness and tension, our fascial shapes develop with these shortened "deformations." And the overall shape of our bodies maintains these various distortions as we grow up.
Dr. Rolf observed that everyone’s bodies were out of alignment with the constant, downward pull of gravity. The various segments of the body: head, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, pelvis, thighs and lower legs were not stacked one on top of another in a balanced way. The segments zig-zagged front and back, left and right, and twisted one way or the other. Dr. Rolf observed that because of this, the force of gravity, continuously pulling down, pulled these out of alignment segments further out of line. And muscles on the opposite sides of the body had to compensate, becoming tighter and tighter to keep the person standing up. Then, just like any other distortions, these tightnesses become fixed as shorter and tighter fascia.
As she developed her technique and was able to align bodies so the segments did stack one upon the other, Dr. Rolf observed that gravity then kept the stacks up and the body balanced. This meant that the tight muscular compensations to hold the body up against the pull of gravity were unnecessary, and they disappeared. Along with their disappearance went the chronic pain and constant tiredness due to all-day-long tightening. And the tissue became much softer on a daily basis.
Thus, she discovered that gravity is an aid to people if they are structurally aligned, and an enemy of people who are structurally out of balance. Since most of us grow up out of line, we are "at war" with gravity; we have to make lots of effort against it to stand up. And the aspects of that war are what cause decreasing structural flexibility and vibrancy, and pain, as we get older; especially the very common back, shoulder and neck pain.
In trying to help people, Dr. Rolf discovered some principles of human body structure that were not being used in other therapies; among them, these concepts of stacked body segments and the necessity of being in balance with gravity. By incorporating these, and other, principles into her treatment, she found she was able to correct problems that the other therapies could not. She then developed a basic 10-step system plus an advanced set of treatments based on these principles and began to teach it to others as well as use it on patients herself.
HERE'S HOW WE GO STEP BY STEP TO REORGANIZE A PERSON'S BODY SO IT PERFORMS BETTER.
WE FOLLOW A "THE RECIPE" OF MANIPULATIONS.
One of the brilliant features of Ida Rolf’s basic Structural Integration "recipe," is that by doing it, patients are helped and, at the same time, the practitioner learns about body structure, body problems, and how to correct them. It is a self-teaching device.
Another feature of the system is that once people receive it, other physical therapies and psychotherapeutic techniques work better and the person gets more out of them.
The basic treatment consists of a series of 10-20 treatments, 1-2 hours long, arranged in an order of 10 steps, where each step works a particular local or general area of the body. (Dr. Rolf originally set up one hour per step but because many people are very large and/or very tight, and often in pain for a long time, it usually takes longer to do each step thoroughly.)
The other major principles Dr. Rolf discovered and incorporated in her system are described in the rest of this section.
(I want to emphasize that these principles are not opinions intellectually derived by Dr. Rolf and other practitioners. These are facts about human anatomy that she learned about in her studies and through her experience. Her unique contribution as a pioneer is that she developed a wonderful system to treat the whole body that makes even "healthier" people move around better and feel better. And as with other important discoveries, her knowledge and application has been added to by others joining the field.)
Later in this section ( in the actual book ) I’ll explain the areas of the body worked in each step of this recipe, and then explain a few ways to "tailor" the basic treatment for different individuals.
IN THE “BODY SUIT” WE CALL THE FASCIAL SYSTEM, MANY DIFFERENT PARTS OF US ARE CONNECTED TOGETHER. AND WE PERFORM THE STEP-BY-STEP RECIPE IN ACCORD WITH THESE INTERCONNECTIONS.
The body structure is one whole piece. Tightness and imbalance in one place manifests as tightness and imbalance all over. So treating chronic tightness as a local condition can never completely cure the problem. The whole body tightness and imbalance must be corrected. Otherwise, the tightness and imbalance in the rest of the body will force the treated area back out of line and into pain.
While we study individual muscles and bones to facilitate understanding, there is no place where one part of the body stops and another begins. Muscles overlap joints and connect to bones. So the muscles of the arm join into the back and chest, the muscles of the legs join into the buttocks and lower abdomen, and so on. Thus, a tightness in the arm muscles pulls on the shoulder bones, or a tightness in the legs pulls on the torso.
Tightnesses develop all over the body. It is like a bunch of knots in a sweater. Each knot pulls in all directions, and a tear in the garment often occurs in other places rather than at a knot. The same thing happens in the body. Pain often occurs at a point distant from the major tightness causing that pain.
In addition to this interconnecting aspect, the muscles and bones of the body are part of a system based on the principle of balancing the tensions of the muscles and fascia with the resistance to those tensions by the hard bones. We can say that the Bodywork improves the lengths of the muscles and fascia so that these forces are better balanced. Then the body works better when it moves and stands up straighter with better posture.
A simple balanced system is a tent pole and guy ropes. The tension of the ropes pull on the pole and the rigidity of the pole resists the tension. When the pulls are just right, the pole stays up vertically. If they’re too loose, the pole falls over. If they’re too tight, the pole could snap. And if some are too tight and others a little loose, the pole might stand up but on an angle.
In the body, the bones are the poles and the muscles with their fascial lengths are the ropes. When the muscle tensions are adjusted properly with regard to the length of the bones and to the other muscles, the body sections will stand upright, one on top of the other, without strain or purposeful muscle effort. It just stays up by itself, like the tent. And the person feels light. This improvement is what the Bodywork aims to do.
The human body is more complex than a tent. Its structure is also like a geodesic dome. These are the round-like roofs of houses that need no internal beams or supports. The roofs of enclosed sports stadiums are also built on this same principle. They can go over 100 yards without needing a supporting pillar because their unique design transmits their weight through their different struts and out to the sides of the building. In our bodies, all the muscles and bones can act as a spherical or multi-sided self-supporting system if the forces of muscles and bones are properly balanced.
This is tensegrity; a system that holds together because of the tensions. It is different from the principle of compression with which our usual apartment buildings are built. In compression, the weight of the roof pressing down on the walls keeps the building together. But if a human tries to operate with the principle of compression, he’ll feel bunched-up and probably have lower back pain. And that’s the problem; many of us tend to fall into compression because we bunch up and first learn to stand up and walk around without lengthening the psoas muscles.
So most of us grow up without tensegrity. Rolf’s system re-establishes tensegrity, or something close to it. And with this improved "organization," our bodies work a lot more efficiently and can do more with less effort, less stiffness and a lot less pain. Again, in a well-adjusted tensegrity system, all the tensions are "optional." The muscles have good "tone." And what determines optional tension and good muscle tone in a human body is the proper length of the fascia.
HERE'S MORE ABOUT THE OTHER, VERY IMPORTANT FEATURE OF THIS TREATMENT.
The shape of the body is defined by its soft connective tissue, the fibrous fascia, in and around every muscle and around the whole body. This fascia is passive; it takes, and keeps, the form it’s put into.
All the squishing and mushing our bodies receive as we grow up affect, and misalign, our structures: the imbalanced ways we learn to walk, the repetitive tight activity, the intensive strain, and the falls and injuries. Even the distortions of coming out of the birth canal create misalignments in our structures. So do wearing baby diapers and high heels, sitting in constricted school desks, and learning over a table day in and day out.
Everyone develops misalignment along a few general patterns, with one’s own unique set of shortness, imbalances and poor movement habits.
These tightnesses of all different kinds destroy the "orderliness" of human movement. Our forms have become randomly arranged and the way the muscles and bones move inside our structures is random and disorganized. All the parts aren’t moving in a harmonious, naturally supporting direction.
Besides everything being too short with lots of zig zags, many parts even pull back against the movement of others. Besides pain and stiffness, this fixated disorganization makes some people clumsy, awkward, withdrawn, over bearing and uptight, where even pills don’t work. Physical Education cannot fix these patterns and people with them feel, or are treated as, "less" than others. It is not a pure neuro-muscular control problem. It is very much a fascial organization problem.
can be moved back into it’s longer, more appropriate shape by skilled
finger, hand and arm pressure, pushing and pulling it in the right
directions. This will re-order that body and a lot of these problems I’ve
mentioned really do go away. And this is what "Structural Integration"
connective tissue manipulation does. It puts the body back "in order" by
correcting the effects of our past misaligning experiences.
Copyright 2002 Louis A. Gross All Rights Reserved