What is Structural Integration?
So, what is Structural Integration?
Ask this of any Structural Integration practitioner and you might get a brief look of horror followed by the elevator pitch that they worked so much on. They have held on to this pitch ever since their initial training, but unfortunately the pitch will most likely not answer the question. Wah wah.
It’s not their fault. The reason their answer may not work is because it’s not an easy question to answer. There are so many aspects to Structural Integration that it’s difficult to boil it down to just a few sentences.
So, here I go, about to jump into this volcano along with so many other past practitioners and attempt to answer this question. Hopefully we’ll both make it out of this in one piece: Structural Integration (SI), in its most basic form, is a specialized form of manual therapy. That’s it!
You can go to sleep now knowing we’ve solved the puzzle. But, is there more? Absolutely there is!
The History of SI
SI was developed by Ida Rolf, a long time ago, in the United States. She went from coast to coast, learning, sharing, absorbing, observing, and creating until she came up with SI. She wrote several books on the subject. One, simply called, “Rolfing” and another more esoteric one, called, “Rolfing and Physical Reality”. Both books answer and don’t answer all of your questions, by the way.
Ida initially wanted her body of work to be called Structural Integration but as we know, the free market has a mind of its own and a name based on Ida’s last name caught on. Hence, the most well-known form of Structural Integration: Rolfing®. That’s it for history. We can grab a beer together and I can spin a yarn of trademarks, in-fighting, reconciliation, and lineage but I don’t think you want that, do you? We’ll leave that for some made for Netflix documentary.
The Foundation of SI
Now, a little bit more on structure (pun intended) on what makes SI, SI. There’s quite a bit of philosophy involved in SI working. There are principles, strategies, and ways of thinking that are unique to SI. We learn this stuff in our basic training because it is the foundation of the modality. All of this knowledge guides how we SI practitioners work.
For example, when an SI practitioner lands an elbow on you, it’s not random. There’s a lot of thinking behind where they choose to work, how long they stay there, how deep they go, the direction they work, and their exit strategy.
When receiving an SI training you won’t find many programs that teach a set of specific techniques or strokes. This is the result of basing the work on a philosophy and set of principles, rather than a prescribed set of strokes. As I mentioned, the work is not random, yet it is also not pre-written. Rather, it is tailored to the unique individual sitting before you and honors that each individual is different.
Another unique feature to Structural Integration is the 10-Series. There is a lot of history to the 10-Series that Ida Rolf created and her iteration of it is often referred to as “the recipe.” Cute, right? Cool Fact: she originally created it with 7 sessions but got the advice that 10 is a more marketable number. I won’t go down the numerology rabbit hole with you, but there is some interesting magic about the number 7 that I am sure Ida had studied.
The series is not tied to being 10 sessions any longer. While the recipe holds true to 10 sessions and is still what is taught at the Rolf Institute, other SI programs have made changes to the recipe by incorporating more or less sessions, or changing the order and territory covered within each session. For example, MMASI utilizes a 10-Series, but it looks much different than the recipe. I created the MMASI 10-Series by experimenting with Ida’s 10-Series in a way that made more sense to me. That said, I cannot deny that there is a certain magic to the recipe. The first time I experienced the 10-Series I really felt all the research and work that Ida had done to create this method. There is a reason beyond marketing and branding that people still utilize Ida’s work. However, there is also a reason that there are now more than 20 different SI programs that have branched off from Rolfing® over the years. The philosophy of SI creates room for interpretation and exploration.
This formalized series work with a “recipe” is rather unique to SI and honestly, it’s one of my favorite parts of the work.
The Fascia Debate
There’s one more thing I need to bring up that is essential to describing SI and it’s pretty big. It’s called Fascia. Fascia is tough collagenous fiber that is continuous in the human body. Initially, fascia was a focal point in SI. Ida researched fascia and we were initially taught that we were permanently affecting (dare I say, manipulating) fascia with our work.
I’m here to tell you, with the utmost confidence, that this mindset is not pervasive with all modern SI practitioners. A lot of us no longer work with fascia as the foundation of our work. Some of us have branched out to find other theories and principles to be the foundations of our work. For example, my online courses and book emphasize the connection between the stages of motor development and how that helps to create movement patterns. We can use this information to analyze gait and to palpate tissue. Suffice it to say, this is just one way of seeing Structural Integration work, a way that continues to implement the philosophies and strategies of SI.
So, you can see how it could be quite the challenge to boil this wide-ranging modality down to a quick description. Even in this article, I have left so much out in describing SI, but that’s okay! It might deserve a second blog post, but at this point, I hope this information has done its job in describing SI and has possibly helped some with their elevator pitch.
If you are interested in learning more about this modality, I have a great intro to SI theory and gait analysis course available here and as always, feel free to reach out through any of my social media platforms with questions!
*This article contains affiliate commission links.*