The term Structural Integration was initially synonymous with Rolfing, a form of bodywork created by the amazing Dr. Ida Rolf. The theories that led Dr. Rolf to Rolfing stem from the idea that the body functions best when the bones are in alignment, and that misalignments or imbalances in the body’s skeleton had a negative or compensatory effect on the body’s soft tissues, which include muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, etc.
Dr. Rolf’s work is highly appealing to me as a bodyworker. Through the years I have spoken with, worked on, and been worked on by a dozen or so Rolfers or Structural Integrators. Twenty years ago when I first began to develop Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique (SMRT), I am not sure that I fully understood all of the physical structures I was effecting, and my conversations with other bodyworkers did not hone that for me.
I was busy trying to figure out what I was doing and what it all meant. But after a while, and after teaching SMRT for many years, I have a handle on what it accomplishes within my clients bodies. Explaining this technique verbally, however, has always been a struggle for me. Teaching it was easy. I would do the demonstration, students would watch, look lost, then begin to trade, have an ah-hah moment, sense what was happening, and finally understand what I could not find words for.
But this past year, as I taught class after class, I found myself saying that “SMRT is like Structural Integration for Massage Therapists.” What I meant by this is that the basis of my theories for SMRT are rooted in the idea that bony misalignments create imbalances in other structures. Tension in muscle tissue is generally accompanied by a misalignment of a bone that muscle is associated with or attached to. Connective tissue that is wound, torqued, stretched, or adhered is generally accompanied by bony misalignment.
All structures within the body effect all other structures. A few years ago I was working on a Structural Integrator who said to me that structural integration had become a term or an umbrella to house a certain type of bodywork. She believed it was no longer only associated with Rolfing. Not knowing much about Dr. Rolf, I had never thought of the term structural integration as only associated with Rolfing.
While the concepts Dr. Rolf introduced to the world were amazing, every good form of bodywork will generate multiple other forms of bodywork. Sol Petersen, an advanced SI practitioner, says that recent research in the area of connective tissue has “…prompted an integration into SI of many mindful influences such as visceral and cranio-sacral techniques, positional release, Feldenkrais, …”
Because Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique is a positional release technique that believes that all structures are involved in creating compensation patterns within the human body, it feels like it fits into SI. To effectively address Dr. Rolf’s question of “What conditions must be fulfilled in order for the human body-structure to be organized and integrated in gravity so that the whole person can function in the most optimal and economical way?”, bodyworkers must understand that all tissues – bones, muscles, fascia, ligaments, tendons, lymphatic vessels, blood vessels, and nerves – are effected by and affecting any existing compensation pattern.
In SMRT we do not focus on muscle tension, we ask why is the muscle tense and work with the source of the tension. We do not focus on trigger points, but when we create balance in an area, we know that trigger points have been resolved. We do not focus on the fact that a joint is misaligned and work solely with that joint, we ask what else could influence that joint.
The goal is always to release, relax, rebalance, realign, allow energy movement through, unlock, unadhere, interrupt, etc. all structures within an area to create physical integration that allows the person to function optimally with as little physiological energy as possible.
Physical pain requires a tremendous amount of physiological energy. One of the best things my clients say to me is, “I know this sounds weird, but I don’t know if I can say it feels good, I don’t really feel it anymore.” Fantastic. When something is in balance, the nervous system has no need to continue noticing it.
Before beginning this article, I spoke to my Rolfer, Marekah. I did not want to appear disrespectful in my belief that SMRT is a form of structural integration. Marekah, who has been a Rolfer for over 30 years, and who has bought several SMRT DVD’s and asks me periodically for moves when she cannot get into various areas of my body, looked me in the eye and said, “what you are doing is structural integration. Do not doubt it, own it.”
Through the years Marekah has come to appreciate the work that I do. She believes that structural integration is a category that includes many wonderful forms of bodywork generated by the work Dr. Ida Rolf first brought to our attention. And, while she is incredibly loyal to the teachings of Dr. Rolf, she really likes to integrate SMRT into her Rolfing, says it makes her work so much easier on her body. And I know from working with her how beautifully SMRT integrates with other SI techniques.