I hear from many clients something that goes like this:
Therapist: "So, I'm curious to know what you noticed after our last session?"
Client: "Well, for several days afterward my body felt really great. I felt more open, more relaxed, and with better range of motion. But then after a few more days it seemed to go away."
I've thought a lot about this and how we can have a powerful experience with bodywork and then gradually it seems to dissipate. I think there could be many reasons. But the issue I want to address is one that suggests that the benefits of bodywork are short-lived.
Think of it like this:
You get in your car and you get on the highway. During what part of your trip does your body register movement or change in velocity? When you accelerate, right? But once you're on the highway you no longer notice that you are speedily traveling down the highway.
Bodywork, especially modalities specifically addressing the fascial system, is very much like that. After you receive Structural Integration you get up off the table and suddenly feel your feet, your back, or your hips in a fresh new way. It often feels like you are feeling them for the first time. So what happens in a few days when you no longer notice this? The reason, I think, is due to the changes and once-new sensation falling into the background of everyday life where things like the hum of the fridge, dust bunnies under the bed, or a dripping faucet go unnoticed. Like many things, unless they are novel, or we become deliberately aware of them, they pass unnoticed. So it doesn't mean that the fridge isn't working, or that our spines literally become longer, it's that our brain is extremely adept at tuning out familiar sensations in order to allow for new ones.
When we apply this concept to bodywork we know with certainty that something has changed from before we got on the table. But to say those changes are no longer there because you don't notice them is false. As is usual with Rolfing or Structural Integration, clients can choose to have pictures taken of themselves before beginning the 10 sessions (see my article about the 10 sessions), after 5 sessions, after 10 sessions, and 6 months after the last session. What is remarkable is not only the profound changes from session 1 through 10, but that the body becomes progressively more aligned in gravity after 6 months without further bodywork. This indicates what bodyworkers everywhere and what recipients of this work can attest to: the work is progressive.
So rest assured, even though you experience that deep state of relaxation (sometimes referred to as massage-brain), and a general sense of well-being and health per usual after receiving a session, when that experience starts to fade, know that more profound changes are taking place as you go about your week. It's in the research, it's in the science, and it's in the countless stories of people who have had this experience. Old holding patterns are breaking, and new neural connections are being made, allowing your form to function in a more effortless and joyful way. A session of bodywork or massage doesn't last for just a few days, it lasts a lifetime.
In this article on Myofascial Yoga, Christine Wushke, a myofascial release practitioner, talks about fascia (my favorite medium) and how to give ourselves fascia-centered therapy at home, No longer do you need to wait for your next session of bodywork for relief. Christine describes how to modify yoga poses by holding them longer. This is the essence of myofascial release and the reason why the benefits of stretching can be short-lived. Well, no longer. By simply easing into a stretch and then holding from anywhere from two to five minutes, until a release is felt - the benefits of stretching have increased exponentially. The fascia elongates, allowing the ground substance of your body to melt and become more fluid, allowing it to deliver food and nutrients, improving nerve, muscle, and lymphatic function.. So read her article and enjoy applying her handy exercises and let me know what you think.
Dr. Rolf, when she began teaching her students her brand of manual therapy, later known as “Rolfing” (please note, I am not a Rolfer, I am certified in Structural Integration, which was the name Dr. Rolf originally gave to her work – the differences between these terms are mostly political), was asked to give a protocol, or a specific recipe to follow when performing the work. She was somewhat reluctant to do this, at first, because she felt that each session with each individual must be catered to that individuals needs and personal story, and to not adhere to a rigid sequence of steps. And while that is still true with this work, she also recognized that there were some guiding principles that should be followed to allow the greatest efficacy for the client when doing the work. Since Ida Rolf passed, her students have gone on to create many different modalities based on her work, but the spirit of her work - is the common thread among them all.
Structural Integration starts from the premise that function follows structure. If a body's structure is efficiently aligned in gravity, then the functioning of that body will be smoother, more free, and joyous. What inevitably happens over the course of our life is that we experience injuries, and traumas. We develop holding patterns in our bodies which lead to chronic shortening of myofascial tissue, which can then lead to chronic pain or an experience of tightness and restriction in a person's body. This is felt as a stiffness, a soreness, or a persistent and nagging discomfort in the body. And, being people, we mimic the people around us. Which means that we may mime and adopt inefficient patterns of movement, standing, bending, sitting, or walking. This will eventually lead to a kind of energy leak, due to our bodies not being efficiently integrated in gravity, and will be experienced as pain, or fatigue. The goal of this work is to bring a body back in line with gravity and the movements that we perform. Posture is improved, gait changes, pain diminishes significantly, and efficiency is restored.
So what happens in the ten sessions?
Here's a simplified breakdown:
1. The first three sessions are what is known as the "sleeve" sessions. Meaning, we are opening and freeing any constrictions in the outer layer of the myofascial (muscle) tissues which may have been compensating for a weaker core to pave the way for later work when we address the deeper tissues directly.In the first session we are lengthening your front line, encouraging it to stretch in order to allow the structure to be vertical and erect. This is crucial since most of us are constantly hunched forward, as if collapsing against the force of gravity. This first session ensures the front of the body is open enough to accommodate later changes in the structure which will encourage length and upward elongation of your structure. We also being working with the breath – giving your body more space to allow for easier, less effort-ful breathing.
2. Here we are establishing a solid foundation, which of course is in your feet! This session is the favorite of many, as we are bringing awareness and space into your soles, which are constantly engaged in the task of holding us up. We examine your weight displacement across both feet, and ease the muscular soft tissue of your arches and ankles into a more efficient pattern. Afterward, you will feel more solid and grounded.
3. In this last sleeve session we will be lengthening the sides of your body. Your breath will feel more expanded and liberated as we work with the muscle tissue that expands and contracts your rib cage. We will also begin to work with the superficial tissues that makeup the shoulder girdle.
4. With session four we start working with the core, deeper muscles of the body. In this session we work with the inner muscles of the thigh, freeing the pelvis and allowing for greater freedom of movement. You may find movement, especially walking, much easier and natural afterward, especially if this has been an issue for you in the past. We also contact the deep, core muscle, the psoas, in a way that is gentle but effective. This will begin to really expand and lengthen your structure. As we continue to work with this important muscle you will feel taller.
5. Here we work with the deeper muscles of the front line, integrating and building on the work from the previous sessions. This will continue to give a feeling of freedom in the pelvis as more of the muscle attachments are cleared.
6. In this last core session, we will be working with the muscular tissue of the back of your leg, leading up to the attachments of the pelvis. We will also be working the deep gluteal where tension habitual is stored. Afterward your hips and posterior will feel loose and free, as if you have put down a great weight that you did not even realize you had been carrying.
7. This is what is known as the bridge session, where we work to bring your head back over your body. The head, which weighs anywhere from 10 to 11 pounds on average, can do a lot to change the entire structure of the body, depending on where it is habitually placed. For many people that is forward, ahead of the body, which puts strain on the entire posterior chain of muscles which can lead to back and shoulder pain. Your neck will feel longer after this one.
8. The next three sessions are the integration sessions, which takes stock of all the work that has been done in the previous sessions and addresses any lingering holding or congestion in the tissues. The first integration session works with the upper half of the body.
9. The next integration sessions addresses the lower half of the body
10. This session addresses your entire body, aiming to integrate the entire structure.
So those are the sessions in a nut-shell. Along the way we will be doing a brief body reading in which I will invite you to feel into your body and notice how you see it being held in a mirror. Together we will be noting things which will increase your body awareness. This will be partly how we determine the way to proceed and also to measure any changes that have occurred along the way. Many clients find it useful to have pictures taken of oneself to compare how the body's form changes as the work progresses. How the changes are felt is sometimes subtle and more difficult to put your finger on, but seeing a picture can point out some very dramatic changes!
Again, many people want to know – is the work painful? In the beginning, as this work was first being developed and taught, it could be very uncomfortable, and it eventually gained the reputation of being painful. Since then, more gentle, coaxing, and still more effective approaches have been adopted. When Ida Rolf herself did this manual therapy, patients reported it sometimes being intense, but never painful, and typically very relaxing. This was not always the case with her first students. Since then the work has gained the reputation of being “deep and delicious”, like a good stretch. It is unfortunate that deep work in manual therapy has been associated with pain. This is only so in the hands of unskilled or impatient therapists. My method is to gently coax the tissue toward release of tension and adhesions, never to force.
I hope you will consider this powerful work and come to experience yourself in a new, more comfortable way inside your own body.
Planet earth is full of stressful situations. It could be anything from a constant low-level stress felt at the office, or an acutely traumatic event such as a car crash or taking a fall. In the body, stress manifests as chronic pain, tension, or inflammation. After an injury we tend to habitually compensate for the injured area in order to recuperate but over time that compensation leads to problems in other areas that may have nothing to do with the original area affected. After a traumatic event the body tenses up in order to protect itself. However, unless the trauma is properly treated or processed, unnecessary muscle tension accumulates in the body which leads to low-level inflammation which leads to chronic pain and soreness. If this is you, you are not alone. The good news is that this is all preventable, and reversible through this comprehensive modality.
Structural Integration looks at the whole being. It follows the premise that "function follows form." So, to address the functioning of the body, we must re-align the form in gravity. To do so we look at how the body holds itself in gravity and how the seemingly disparate parts interact with each other. When we understand that we can begin to bring these relationships back into balance until the body no longer struggles against gravity and can be at ease. This means your pain diminishes, you move better, and you feel a greater sense of freedom and joy.
If you are not familiar with Structural Integration, you may be familiar with Deep Tissue Massage. Although the aim of both Structural Integration and Deep Tissue are to target the deeper muscle and fascial components of the body, and can feel similar, the intent is different. Deep Tissue Massage is specific at targeting deep muscles, but the intent is many times vague and occasionally invasive or painful. Whereas with Structural Integration, the intent is to stretch, elongate, and release muscle and fascia by gripping the tissue and allowing it to respond. Many people who have come to me asking for "Deep Tissue Massage" then experience Structural Integration and are instantly amazed and delighted. This is work that is deep, but never hard. This is similar to the sensation of a good stretch - enjoyable and delicious if you respect the "edge."
Bodywork is a safe and effective alternative to the typical symptom management strategy of conventional medicine which brings about no long-lasting or permanent change in the being. The effects of Structural Integration can not only be felt immediately, but they are long-lasting and progressive, which means the therapy continues to work long after you leave the table, up to six months or a year, and after that point the changes are permanent. This type of therapy is successful in treating all kinds of conditions like:
Jaw pain (TMJ)
This work can help with all of these conditions and others but it's much more than that - it's about putting you more in touch with your body and showing you how you can inhabit it more fully.
During the course of this work, I will ask you if you would like to explore ways in which you can take the work home with you and allow it to sink more deeply and rapidly with exercises and awareness practices. This will give you a doorway into your body's innate and natural capacity to heal and bring about homeostasis as a way toward growth and transformation.
You may want to experience a complete freeing up of your fascial system. This may lead you to do the entire 10 session series. This is the most profound way to experience this work, and will likely change your orientation toward yourself and your world as you begin to feel yourself gaining a deep understanding in all corners of your body. Afterward you will find it easy to move with grace, ease, and freedom like never before. I speak from having this experience myself.
Allow me to thank you for considering receiving a structural approach to freeing your body, and thereby your whole being! This work has released me, personally, from stress, chronic aches and pains, constricted holding patterns and attitudes, and has made my body a comfortable place to call home. I now hold myself more gracefully and feel that movement is a joy. After doing this work for so long, I have seen so many people's faces of amazement after getting up off the table and feeling their bodies in new and dramatic ways. Change is possible! Bodywork is a profound tool of healing and it continues to inspire and motivate the minds of some of the most brilliant researchers in the field.
Read this article about the 10 sessions of Structural Integration