1. WHERE YOU THINK IT IS, IT AIN’T
Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the founder of Structural Integration work, was known by her students and associates to have a sharp mind and tongue. She had an insatiable scientific curiosity and a gift for putting sometimes complex ideas into concise phrases. My teachers frequently used three of her aphorisms to remind us of the basic principles of Structural Integration. Here we will look at the first of them.
“Where you think it is, it ain’t.”
Dr. Rolf developed her work by focusing on the tough fibrous web which holds all the bits and pieces of the body into a cohesive bundle. It is called the myofascial system. Next to water, fascia, also known as connective tissue, is the most abundant substance found in the body. It forms a living matrix which is continuous throughout the body giving it form, strength, and flexibility. Extending to the cellular level, it is connective tissue which forms the cell walls and holds the cells together. Each muscle fibre is encased in a sheath of fascia in which its contraction takes place. The bony skeleton acts as a spacer within the system. It provides points of attachment for specialized fascia such as tendons and ligaments. Fascia determines the placement and alignment of the bones. Plastic in nature, manipulation of fascia by the application of pressure can change the alignment of the bones in the skeleton. Dr. Rolf saw the body as a balanced structure organized around a vertical line, supported by gravity. The integrity of the structure is maintained by balanced tensions within the myofascial system.
Fascia is the bodys memory storehouse. As we experience life our bodies are subject to stress and strains which are absorbed by the fascia sometimes causing damage to it. Damage can be caused by injury, emotional disturbance, or postural quirks. As it repairs itself, fascia contracts and becomes thicker, creating scar tissue and other compensations to facilitate healing. Loss of range of motion in the affected area can be a side effect of the healing process. Balance in the tensions supporting the body is changed so that chronic pain in a part of the body far removed from the original injury may be related to it.
An old injury to your calf has healed, but it has affected the articulation of that knee. The bodys compensation for that change has been a rotation in the hip girdle which created an imbalance in the muscle structures of the back. The resulting strain manifests itself as a pain in your neck. No amount of treatment to the neck will alleviate the pain until length is restored to the original trauma in the calf. Where you think it is, it ain’t.
2. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, GET THE HELL OUT AND GO SOMEWHERE ELSE
Dr Ida P Rolf (1896-1979) was a respected scholar and medical researcher. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University in her native city of New York in 1920. For the next nine years she worked at the Rockefeller Institute in the department of organic chemistry. Her search for solutions to her own and family health problems lead her to an exploration of homeopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic healing methods. From her practice of yoga she became fascinated with movement and the relationship between form and function. She determined that impaired function could be improved if form was changed by restoring length to the connective tissue in and around the impaired area. Finding ways to encourage length into these areas is the art of Structural Integration.
The second aphorism; If at first you don’t succeed, get the hell out and go somewhere else is Dr. Rolfs reminder to practitioners that the art is better practiced with finesse than a bigger hammer.
The bodys’ myofascial system is made up of a long chain protein molecule called collagen. It is an endless network of hollow fibers; inside the fibers is a material known as ground substance which nourishes and lubricates the web. Depending on the amount of ground substance present, the fascia is described as “sol”, meaning hard and tough or “gel”, meaning soft and malleable. The SI practitioners job is to bring a state of gel to areas which are sol. This can be thought of as a process of reeducation with information being presented in the form of directionally applied pressure. Using finger tips, knuckles, the heel of the hand and the dreaded elbow, the practitioner works along the orientation of the fibers,encouraging the flow of ground substance, thereby coaxing length and a uniformly soft, silky texture to the tissue. As the tissue softens chronic tension held in it releases allowing the body to return to a previously known state of balance and ease. The process can happen quickly or over a period of several sessions as the tissue becomes progressively softer. By working around an area rather than directly on it space is created giving shortened and hardened tissue the opportunity to regain length. Range of motion can increase with the change in form so as to enhance function.
A Rolf ten series is a voyage of discovery and transformation for the client, facilitated by the practitioner. When the work is practiced with sensitivity and patience, a positive outcome will be the result for both parties.
3. PUT IT WHERE IT BELONGS AND GET IT TO MOVE
“Movement is something we ARE, not something we do,” says Continuum Movement founder the late Emilie Conrad. As we breathe and our blood circulates our bodies are in constant motion; indeed, lack of movement is a prime indicator of death. Movement happens when a signal from the central nervous system stimulates a muscle to contract causing the body part to which the muscle is attached to move in a controlled manner. Controlled movement results from the dynamic tension existing in our myofascial/muscle system.
Generally speaking two kinds of muscles create movement : flexors and extensors. They work in pairs, each contributing to the full range of motion with flexors flexing and extensors extending. When we reach to pick up a spoon we are extending, flexion brings the spoon to our mouth. Pairs of specialized muscles exist throughout the body enabling us to do all the things which make our lives meaningful.
Usually these functions carry on without the need for us to pay a lot of attention to the mechanics of movement so we can concentrate on the activity we are engaged in. Life is not always kind to our bodies. Injury or misuse can change the balanced tension between muscles to a state of chronic tension.The connective tissue then changes form by shortening to compensate for the imbalance. Neural signals to the affected area adapt to the reduced range of motion so it becomes the sometimes painful norm. When we get tired of the pain and inconvenience it causes we can turn to a bodyworker to help us restore the form and regain function.
If the bodyworker you choose practices Structural Integration you will be asked to make small movements or breathe into the area where the practitioner is working. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is to keep the client engaged in their transformational process, the other is neural muscular reeducation. The practitioner is obeying the edict of Ida Rolfs third aphorism.
“Put it where it belongs and get it to move” is a summation of both the methodology and goal of Structural Integration work.
As the connective tissue in and around a muscle body is lengthened and opened, the muscle is allowed to regain normal orientation to its neighbours. Having it move while in place serves notice to the nervous system of the change so it will remember how to move that muscle in the future. As this process progresses through the body during the ten series the bodys movement memory takes a course of education which ensures that the changes made will stay as the body moves.