The process of structural integration
Our bodies are meant to use the force of gravity to move effortlessly and efficiently, rather than to fight it to stay upright. Unfortunately many of us have lost this ability because of an injury, emotional trauma, repetitive movements or habits, or simply because of the everyday demands of technology and life in the modern world.
Our connective tissue remembers and stores these traumas and movement patterns and over time we feel more rigid and restricted, like we are constantly carrying extra weight on our shoulders.
Even when we are physically active, we often force our body to move in a way that conforms to the aesthetic standards of our chosen discipline or commonly held ideas by our teachers rather than really listening to what feels natural to the body. We tend to think of exercise as something that has to be done so that we can stay healthy, and we often tune out and ignore our bodies, including our aches and pains, when our mind is too busy and we just want to get on with our lives.
The overall aim of structural integration is to find the natural ease of movement and a harmonious state in the body that we have lost through the years. We achieve this by releasing adhesions and restrictions in the connective tissue through bodywork, and by exploring ways of movement that respect the body's natural instincts and desire for balance. The slightest shift in any joint also produces a change in any other joint in the body, and being aware of these connections greatly helps reduce chronic pain, injuries and compensations.
The ten session series
My sessions follow the 10-session process of structural integration where in each session we look at the body from a different perspective in order to arrive at a balanced state where the body is in harmony with gravity. Each session explores the body from a different perspective, cultivating a sense of alignment and awareness of connection between parts of the body that we normally think of as unrelated.
The sessions alternate between upper body and lower body and are broken up into three main groups:
- 1-3: the sleeve sessions — central themes are the pattern of breathing, support in the feet/lower legs, the side line of the body
- 4-7: the core sessions — finding the mid line, separating the core from the limbs, putting the head on top
- 8-10: the integration sessions — shoulder girdle, hips, diagonal lines in the body, using the core. We do more somatic exercises, and address personal themes for each client.
It is best to do at least the first three sessions to feel the benefits of the process. Once we start session 4, it is a good idea to finish the rest of the 10 sessions because the core sessions involve deep work which takes time to integrate and fine tune for every body.
How is this different from massage or physiotherapy?
Massage therapies work with muscles and typically target the area where the client experiences the problem. Similarly, physiotherapists often work on isolated muscles directly related to an injury. In Structural Integration sessions we work on the connective tissue, and the aim is to find a balanced state for the whole body. The connective tissue “remembers” the changes achieved in a session and often the body keeps adjusting for months and years after sessions. The new, easier ways of movement are integrated into the body and reinforced using somatic exercises. It is this balanced state of the body, where every part is used equally, that allows injuries to heal and enables pain free posture and movement even as we age.
What to expect in a session
The sessions are an hour and fifteen minutes long and begin with body reading where we spend some time looking at your body in walking and standing. In later sessions we might also do somatic exercises to tune in with the body and explore the theme for the session in movement.
The core of each session is hands-on body work using slow and often deep strokes to manipulate the connective tissue, and to "organise" the body by pointing out connections between different parts (for example, drawing attention to how the legs connect to the pelvis and lower part of the spine). I also often ask for movement on the table in order to remind the body of specific ways of moving that are not part of its habitual patterns.
Most sessions end with seated work and more somatic exercises to draw awareness to the changes that happened in the body during the session.
It's best to wear modest underwear or a swim suit for the sessions, something that you feel comfortable in and allows you to move. I recommend sports bras for women, and traditional briefs for men.