What is it?
Structural Integration (SI) is a form of bodywork designed to improve your body’s relationship to gravity, whether in static posture or dynamic movement.
To give you a better idea of what SI is and how it works, let’s look at how SI differs from traditional massage therapy:
What's the plan?
Structural Integration is done in a series of sessions.
This series has a definite beginning, middle, and end, which is unlike most manual therapies where you could continue indefinitely.
Really think of this work like a project you and I will be taking on together for a set amount of time.
Each session builds on the previous, and we’ll start by working to free the more superficial layers of the body, which act much like a stocking or leotard.
Then, we’ll progress to the deeper core structures of the body.
The last few sessions are designed to bring the core and the sleeve together—in other words, to integrate them.
We start the series with a thorough intake to make sure I have a detailed understanding of your health history and what you hope to get from our work together.
Each session begins with visual assessment or “bodyreading” time.
Together, we’ll begin to put together the pieces of your unique body puzzle, exploring your strengths and resources (which we all too often overlook), as well as patterns that may be limiting your ability to move and feel the way you’d like.
Rather than laser focusing on areas of pain or other symptoms, we’ll look at how those more “talkative areas” fit into a larger picture, so we can address the underlying patterns giving rise to pain and other concerns, instead of just slapping a bandaid on the issue.
Another really good reason to not work only the painful areas?
We often feel pain in areas of instability; by repeatedly working on those tissues (a common strategy in a lot of massage therapy), we can actually increase instability and exacerbate pain in the long term.
As a certified Anatomy Trains Structural Integrator, I offer what is known as a twelve series. Let’s take a closer look…
Why a Twelve Series?
The Twelve Series is based on the concept of “myofascial meridians.”
My teacher, Tom Myers, has outlined distinct pathways in the body, composed of muscles and fascia (connective tissue). He calls these pathways “Anatomy Trains.”
These pathways are capable of transmitting and distributing strain, tension, stability, and other forces across areas of the body that might otherwise appear to be unrelated.
By bodyreading how these pathways are distributing forces and holding tension in your body, we can decipher your postural and movement patterns.
And by talking to these pathways through hands-on therapy and movement, we can shift your postural and movement patterns.
The Twelve Series offers us twelve opportunities, twelve keys, to unlock the patterns in your myofascial meridians, leaving you with a felt sense of greater ease and support in gravity.
The series begins with your front body, starting from the tops of your feet, and moving all the way up to the neck, taking a little detour to end at the base of your skull.
We’ll be working to open the breath (something we’ll continue in subsequent sessions from different vantage points) and give you a sense of lift up the front.
Many of us spend a lot of time in front of screens, driving in cars, or otherwise hunched forward and collapsing inward, restricting our breath (which impacts every aspect of our physiology), and creating all manner of aches and pains.
In this session, our curiosity will be focused on where, in the front body, could you use a little more length, a little more opening, a little more space?
After finding lift up the front, in session two, we’ll work to create a sense of grounding down the back of the body, a feeling of “standing on your own two feet.”
This session focuses from the soles of your feet, up and around the ankles, and continues all the way up the back body, curling up and around the head to the eyebrow ridge.
If you’ve ever done a forward fold with straight knees and felt a tightness or tugging, not only in your legs, but possibly in your neck or even in your forehead, you’ve experienced the line of force transmission we’ll be working with in session two.
In this session, our curiosity will be trained on where, in the back body, could you use a little more length, or perhaps a little more support? And how are the many curves of the back body, such as the spinal curves and the curve behind your knees, balancing each other?
Now that we’ve created a sense of lift up the front and grounding down the back, it’s time to “unlace” the sides of the body, giving you a more three-dimensional sense of yourself.
A teacher once described the front body as representing the future, the back body the past, and the sides the present. So here, we’re looking to free the present from the attachments of the past and the pull of the future so we can simply be where we are.
The side body plays a huge role in stabilization. With every step we take, our sides are tasked with keeping us from dissipating too much energy swaying side-to-side, enabling us to move forward (literally and figuratively) with less effort.
In this session, our curiosity follows holding patterns in the side body that are preventing you from “spreading your wings,” breathing more fully, and being able to reach out expansively from your center to engage with the world (again, take that as literally or metaphorically as you like).
In this session, we explore patterns of rotation, following a line of force transmission (two of them, in fact–one on each side of your body) that winds like a double helix around your torso and spiraled jump ropes around your lower limbs.
These spiral lines, when shortened, pull us into rotational patterns, creating, for example, tension in the hips, a shoulder that always feels off, or “cranky” knees.
In these first four sessions, we address the more superficial sleeve of the body, and quite often, after releasing the sleeve rotations in session four, we are then able to see the deeper, core rotations for which the sleeve was compensating.
Here, we work to unwind areas that have you rotationally “twisted in knots,” preparing the body for the forthcoming core sessions.
While we often think of the core as being restricted to the abdominal area, there are deeper, core structures from the inner arch of the foot, all the way to the head, and in this session, we’ll be focusing on the core territory from feet to pelvis.
By opening these deep structures, we can build stronger support through the feet and legs, which, in turn, provides more support for the organs of the pelvis and lower abdominals.
A deeper sense of grounding often gives us a felt permission to surrender, to exhale and let go of the ways in which we hold ourselves up and hold ourselves in, which require vigilance and constant effort.
In this session, we’ll look at where, along the inseam of the leg from arch to pelvis, your body might be pulled up and in and where it may be collapsing and in need of support.
In this session, we pick up the stitch of session five, continuing our work in the core structure, moving from the pelvis to the base of the neck. Poised at the midpoint of this territory is the diaphragm. As we open and balance the tissues above and below, we allow the diaphragm to move more freely, opening the breath on a deeper level.
We can think of the bowl of the pelvis and the domed bowl of the diaphragm in relationship to one another. Are the pelvic and respiratory diaphragms oriented in such a way that this relationship is easy and fluid, or is one or both “bowls” tipped, causing tension and constriction?
This relationship of the pelvis to the rib cage also impacts the lumbar spine, so our work here will help to balance and provide proper support to the lower back.
In this session, our curiosity will be focused on where, in the torso, is there a need for more expansion and more support.
In sessions five and six, our emphasis was on the front body, and in session seven, we return to the back body, working to bring greater alignment to important bony landmarks, from heel to head.
When the alternating curves of the back body are balanced, we are able to tap into more fluid, wave-like movement and forces are transmitted from the ground and up through our body to the head in a more resilient way.
With enhanced alignment of the back body, we begin to relax into this support in a way that is simultaneously grounded and lifted. This can give us a greater sense of self-trust, as well as heightened awareness of what is behind us–physically and symbolically.
In this session, we’ll explore the balance of the back body, looking at where we can create more support and more fluid ease.
The first seven sessions focus on differentiating structures in the body, allowing them to function without tugging on their neighbors in such a way that stability or mobility is compromised. Session eight is the transition point between differentiation and the integration sessions to follow.
Our focus here is helping the head find a sense of buoyancy, of being supported easily on the rest of the body without undue strain and tension in the jaw, neck, and shoulders.
In addition to working externally on the head and neck, in this session we include intra-oral and intra-nasal work. This helps balance the jaw, release the facial bones and muscles, and bring more length and support to the cervical cylinder.
This session was once described to me as “taking off the mask.” It invites us to sink deeper into our felt experience, behind the polished persona, with gentleness and curiosity.
Our attention, then, in session eight is on freeing the neck, opening the jaw and the face, and helping the head “float” from a place of balance and ease.
The first of the integration sessions, session nine focuses on balancing the lower body around your newfound connection to the core.
Walking, and the three-dimensional movement of the pelvis during the gait cycle, will be our primary focus. What work needs to be done to help the pelvis find balanced movement in all three planes: forward and backward rocking, side-to-side sway, and rotation?
We’ll check in on the feet, ankles, and lower limbs once more, looking for any areas in need of a bit more support, additional balance across the joints, or more organized movement.
In this session, our curiosity will be focused on ways to help you embody, to fully inhabit, your lower body, giving you a strong sense of support from the ground up.
Our integration sessions continue, here, with the upper body. Is the breath moving out from the center, the core, and expanding three-dimensionally?
Revisiting the territory of session six, in which we worked the core structures of the torso, we’ll be checking in on the balance of the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms.
What final work will help bring these two structures into optimal relationship, one in which the breath is free and full, the lumbar spine is supported, and fluid movement is initiated from the core?
Our curiosity in this session will be trained on the breath, exploring any areas that still seem a bit stuck, helping them to find full excursion with each inhale.
Our next integration session focuses on the shoulders and arms, helping them find a place of lift and buoyancy between the rib cage and neck, neither held down on the ribs nor hung up on the neck.
The arms represent our ability to reach out and engage with the world, and when we can initiate movement from a differentiated, integrated core, we remain centered, even as we move. In contrast, when the core and the sleeve are glommed together, each movement yanks us away from centeredness.
Session eleven works to balance the positioning of the shoulder girdle and arms, allowing us to create momentum and movement while maintaining stability.
Our curiosity here will be focused on creating optimal relationships between the rib cage and the neck together with the shoulders and arms.
In this final session, we plant the seeds for your continuing journey with one last balancing, working out from the spine to the extremities.
We’ll organize the tissues around the major joints and give a final touch-in to any of the major patterns that we have been focusing on during the series.
As it was described by one of my teachers, this session “re-drapes the soft tissue in an ordered fashion over an expansive skeleton.”
We’ll spend a little more time during and at the end of this session preparing you for your next steps–whether that be utilizing your newfound movement and postural options in, say, yoga or sport, during your daily activities, and so forth.
Ready to improve your posture + mobility?
The Twelve Series is best done when you and I can commit to this transformational project for a set amount of time.
Remember, unlike other treatments, the series has a definite beginning, middle, and end.
The finite time span creates an alchemical container, a condensation of energy and effort in which change can potentiate, rather than allowing it to dissipate over an indefinite length of time.
Ideally, sessions are scheduled either once per week or twice a month.
If need be, once a month is fine, but spacing your sessions any more than one month apart makes it difficult to maintain the momentum from session to session.
That said, I do understand that life sometimes has other plans. If, mid-series, you find yourself unable to schedule for more than a month, we can insert an additional session as a catch-up appointment before proceeding with the rest of the series. I don’t recommend doing this more than once.
Like learning a new language, your body-mind needs consistency in the input it receives during each session to reap the full benefits.
Optional, but very helpful: Please wear a top with minimal straps or vertical bands obscuring the spine. While we can navigate around these, less straps will make our work easier.
Gravity, we think, is a drag upon our aspirations; it pulls us down, holds us back, makes life a weight and a burden. Yet this gravitational draw that holds us to the ground was once thought of as Eros–as Desire!–the lovelorn yearning of our body for the larger Body of the Earth, and of the earth for us.
The old affinity between gravity and desire remains evident, perhaps, when we say we have fallen in love…Like the felt magnetism between two lovers, or between a parent and child, the powerful attraction between the body and the earth offers sustenance and physical replenishment…something rises up into us from the solid earth whenever we’re in contact with it.
David Abram, Becoming Animal