The Top Five Differences: Structural Integration vs. Massage
Many people seem to be curious and confused about how SI differs from Massage. I’ve previously written a blog post titled “What is Structural Integration?” that takes a deep dive into the particulars of what makes SI, SI. Today, however, I want to take a minute to discuss the Top 5 differences between SI and two massage modalities people commonly falsely believe are extremely similar to Structural Integration: Sports Massage and Deep Tissue.
1. A Focus on a Philosophy vs Techniques
When learning Structural Integration, you’ll notice a distinct lack of instruction on specific techniques to work the tissue. This is replaced by instruction on a philosophy that’s the foundation upon which all of SI is built. For example, when a person completes their training at the Morales Method® Academy of Structural Integration, they have gained the understanding of a unique philosophy and set principles that they apply to their work and which I personally apply to all kinds of situations in my daily life.
While there can be some theory behind Deep Tissue Massage (especially the way we teach it at the Morales Method®), it’s not taught and focused on in the same way as it is in SI. When attending a Deep Tissue class, as opposed to an SI class, one expects to leave with a toolbox full of new and specific techniques that can be cherry-picked as needed in the future.
2. Structural Integration Encompasses Massage
Because SI is based on a philosophy, it has the ability to encompass other modalities. To me, it's sort of like SI is the car and massage is the tires. Within an SI session, multiple different modalities that are considered “massage” can be utilized, just the way many different brands and styles of tires can be utilized on a car. I think this is why people often confuse SI with sports massage. However, the important difference is that in SI the philosophy and principles are always at play. What makes sports massage sports massage has more to do with keeping athletes’ functionality and training schedules in mind (please forgive me for boiling it down so simply for the sake of space).
It’s important to note that just because you’re doing a technique you saw or experienced from an SI practitioner, it does not mean you’re doing SI. There was a lot of thought and strategy based on SI philosophy behind whatever technique that was being utilized at that moment by that SI practitioner you encountered. The specifics of how that particular strategy was created from the SI philosophy are unseen and unknown unless is it communicated or confirmed by the practitioner who was doing the work.
3. Therapeutic vs Relaxing work
Structural Integration is a highly specialized form of bodywork that’s purely therapeutic. One main intention of SI is to promote functional movement. This intention makes the work inherently therapeutic. Even if a client shows up for a session without any particular intentions or pains, the SI philosophy and principles will guide me to create a unique plan for the session that is tailored to help them move with more ease. As an SI practitioner, there would have to be a very specific set of circumstances around Adaptive Capacity (a principle of MMASI addressing the ability for the client to integrate the work) for me to ever focus a session purely on relaxation. In all honesty, I would only be doing that because my client didn't have enough adaptive capacity for a session. This would mean something extreme had to happen to my client before coming into the session and they would most likely cancel.
Now, this is not to say that relaxation is not a side effect people experience from receiving SI. It definitely can be, but SI can also be a lot of work for the client and it has an ability to really overwork and fry someone if you aren’t careful as a practitioner.
4. SI views the body as a whole in a way that Sports and Deep Tissue Massage do not
I’m often told by practitioners that they believe they understand SI because they have worked with something like the ideas of Upper Crossed Syndrome with their clients. The problem with this is that Dr. Janda’s approach is based on a very “if/then” kind of theory that suggests the issue is related to a very small portion of the body. In fact, I actually wrote an article on how a MMASI practitioner might approach UCS here! In SI, viewing the body as more than just a sum of its parts is not just something we pull out of our back pockets when the situation seems fitting, it’s a constant in our work.
Because of this whole-body focus, the connections we see in SI are unique and sometimes so seemingly small, but incredibly profound. I’m reminded of a model in one of my MMASI Level 3 courses I taught in person a few years ago. We were working on their neck and I noticed a shift to their left around C5/C6. As they were walking during the assessment, I noticed a connection between the medial arch and the big toe of their right foot and that area of the neck. I had them stop walking and stand in front of me. As I asked them to engage their medial arch and big toe on the right foot, the lateral shift in the neck went away. It was like pressing a button. They engaged, it disappeared. They relaxed, it returned. What I did with that information in the session is a different story (you can see MMASI in action here). But seeing a connection like that is a huge part of the art of Structural Integration that does not exist in the same way in a Deep Tissue or Sports Massage session.
5. Structural Integration defines series work in a unique way
A distinct feature of SI programs is how we work the body in a series of sessions. This practice originated from Ida Rolf’s Rolfing 10-Series and has a lot of history behind it (check out “Rolfing” and “Rolfing and Physical Reality” to learn more). In MMASI, we have a 10-Session Series where the practitioner works the entire body of the client from head to toe over the course of 10 sessions that outline 10 specifically designated territories for each session.
When we talk about working in a series in Structural Integration, we don’t just mean that we are working on the same issue in different ways for multiple sessions. In SI, a series is more like a story, you know generally where it’s going to end before you begin. There’s a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The 10-Series provides a structure or a framework for the practitioner to work within that is based on the philosophy and principles of SI. This in no way means that the same thing happens for each client in each series. I’m always amazed at how each 10-series is different even when I am doing it a second or third time with the same client!
When training for SI, a significant portion of the training is dedicated to understanding and practicing the recipe of the series of your particular SI program. When training for sports massage, deep tissue, or really almost any other modality, series work is not one of the primary focuses of instruction in the same way as it is in Structural Integration. It's a unique practice within SI, so unique that it requires more than just a single course to master it.
That was a super long one folks, but there is a lot to be said about the uniqueness of Structural Integration. It’s a hard modality to truly describe in any short space because it is so different and sometimes a little ethereal and conceptual in comparison to other modalities. I highly recommend that you check out our SI Theory & Gait Assessment Course or our MMASI 10-Series Level 1 Course. It’s a great start for those wanting to know more!
As always, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the MMASI program, Structural Integration, etc., or any comments about the post!
*This post contains Amazon Affliate Links*