The Integration faze in the Structural Integration – the last three sessions
To understand correct functionality, according to Dr. Rolf, one needs first to understand the structure and then to understand how a few major subjects combine together.
The correct structure
Here we are talking physics – physical efficiency: in order for a structure to stand stable in the gravitational field with the minimum expenditure of energy, it needs to lean on the supporting element (the ground or an intermediate factor) through its own central axis and to be built as symmetrically as possible around that central axis.
In such a case, there are no pulling powers forcing the structure to fall down; therefore, there is no need for effort to keep it standing stable. In this situation, there are no specific points of overload or pressure along the structure threatening its uniformity or requiring energy to resist this kind of pressure.
The Rolfing logo shows the difference between an organized structure having no specific points of pressure and requiring minimum energy to keep stable, as opposed to a structure with deviations from the symmetric line causing local pressure points and putting its uniformity at risk: a structure requiring a great deal of energy to keep itself stable on the ground.
In the picture we can see the same idea showing how when all the segments are set exactly one on top of the other, center above center – the structure stands stable with no expenditure of energy. Opposite that we see a structure where the center of each segment points in a different direction so that there is no support along the central axis and the whole structure is going to collapse if no effort is made to hold it up (in our body it is the effort of the muscles).
Movement along bisecting planes
This subject now belongs to movement, as it is not enough for us to organize a structure standing or sitting, we need to understand what is happening while in movement.
The simplest rule about movement is one that relates to movement in the three joints of the leg: the hip joint, the knee and the ankle.
Physical efficiency exists when the movement is happening along the bisecting plane of the leg – that is, right in the middle between the right side and the left side of the leg.
That means, for instance, bending the knees forward while standing straight – the knees will move right above the middle of the foot (above the second toe) which means that the movement of the knee joint and the ankle joint are on the bisecting plane of the leg.
Had the knee fallen inside while bending forward (a very common movement) it would not be on the bisecting plane and in that direction would not get the same kind of easy support as it would when moving right above the foot.
In order for the body to stand stable anyway, it will use a lot of effort to support that knee using muscle energy.
The spring factor
This principle relates to the correct function of the foot, which is the starting point in the chain of correct movement.
When the foot is functioning correctly (on the bisecting plane), the feet should be parallel when walking forward. The movement of the lower leg and the knee forward on the bisecting plane operates the spring function in the ankle. Muscles starting from the lower leg and passing through the ankle to connect with the toes are stretched during the movement of the ankle and work as a spring to shoot the lower leg forward.
This spring function pushes the floor backwards without any effort of the foot and at the same time, sets in motion a chain of correct tension through the entire structure!
The chain of tension starts with the stretch and release of the arches of the foot, with special significance to the function of the inner arch of the foot. The weight of the structure is supported by the inner arch, the support is sent straight up to the sitting bones and the pelvic floor, where it meets the pelvic floor tension. This tension is transmitted to the lower back arch (mainly through the psoas muscle) in a way that lessens the lower back arch, makes the spine longer and builds correct tension along the whole spine.
In this function of transmission of support and tension, the psoas muscle plays an important role. The role of the psoas is to allow the lengthening of the lower back vertebras while bringing the knee forward right at the beginning of the movement!
The problem with the correct functioning of the psoas is that we cannot teach this muscle directly how to operate, we do not have direct control over it. The way we influence the psoas to function correctly is by learning the correct use of the feet as described above.
The psoas muscle is the only one connecting the leg (from its upper inner side) to the spine through the pelvis. When the psoas contracts it can bring the knee toward the chest, but it can also bring the vertebras toward the leg (arching the lower back). In the correct functioning of the psoas, it does not increase the lower back arch but the opposite – it makes it a softer arch with more length. So in fact, the lower back vertebras stay back and are not pushed forward! The shortening of the psoas only brings the knee forward but never brings the vertebras forward in walking.
When there is a normal walk, there is a spring-function in the foot and the ankle, because of the muscles passing from the lower leg through the ankle to the beginning of the toes. So, when walking, this spring function pushes the floor backwards which, in reality, pushes the body forward. There is also a swing factor in the hip, as there is a point in the walking process where the whole leg falls forward just because it is hanging in the hip joint and like a pendulum, from being back, it will swing forward because of its own weight. Added to this is the correct functioning of the psoas – keeping the lower back vertebras back is the most important role because with regular walking, the spring-function of the ankle and the swing of the thigh are enough to bring the knee forward without any effort.
The effect of the instep on the neck arch
Elongation of the lower back arch (the correct function of the psoas) affects the whole spine – it makes the whole spine longer so that the neck arch will lessen and it becomes longer.
Where the lower back arch collapses (deepening of the arch) this leads the chest to collapse and the neck arch deepens.
Contrary to this, correctly elongating the lower back arch builds up the correct tension along the whole spine and in fact starting from the hips coming out of the pelvis to meet the floor and to push it down a little.
Pushing down the floor
This act of coming out of the pelvis as opposed to contracting inside into the joints is a major step in building correct tension through the whole body.
Without even being aware of it we always push the ground down, otherwise we would fall down to the ground. However, there are two very different ways of doing this. The recommended way is to simply send our legs out of the pelvis to meet the ground, an act we can feel in the meeting point between the feet and the ground as pressure.
The outcome of me pushing the ground down is me being pushed up, so in order to straighten up I need to push the ground down!
But the more common phenomenon is that straightening up will be done by contracting muscles, like the muscles around the knee, the ankle, the pelvis and along the vertebras (the erector spinae).
Most people when standing up from sitting position will contract all these muscles and especially along the spine, while it is possible and much more efficient to do this transition by sending the heel down without any use of the back muscles in the standing up process.
By contracting the muscles unnecessarily, we harden the joints so that our body becomes stiff. This stiff body leans on the ground like a block of wood – it falls on the ground and because the ground does not fall back, it makes our body stand up; the minute we release the contraction of the muscles, the body will collapse down until it is stopped by the ground in a laying down position.
This term combines the terms, Tensegrity with the term Bio. Tensegrity relates to the tension of a system, where elasticity and hard parts are connected in such way that no hard part touches any other, and the whole structure is composed of the same tension throughout the entire structure. The word Bio relates to organic living creature and especially us, human beings.
Artists have shown long ago how very high structures are able to stand up high in the sky just by the tension of cables or in smaller structures of rubber bands.
If we look again at the previous paragraph, we will realize that what is most common with us is that we usually do not have uniform tension through our whole system. The opposite is the common reality, and one can say that the way we over-contract one area and do not use another enough, is what defines our personal walking and standing patterns.
One person will contract his pelvic area more, and even there, it could be happening in many different ways: like too much rear side contraction (buttocks and obturators), or too much front side contraction (Iliopsoas and belly muscles). Another could be over-contracting the knee area, the ankle area or any of the upper parts like the chest, the area of the shoulders and neck and so on. In each area there could be an over-contraction which is the direct outcome of the missing necessary function of sending the legs out of the pelvis to meet and push the ground in the right amount.
Biotensegrity expresses the situation where tension is spread evenly throughout the entire structure, and therefore the relation to the ground under the pressure of gravity is of the entire structure with no specific overloaded spots. This even distribution of tension leads to even distribution of weight and pressure, so there is never a single spot under pressure, it is always distributed and supported by the entire structure. This is a very different way of handling gravity. In this kind of system – a system that uses biotensegrity, there is a springy kind of tension, which consumes non-wasted energy. It works like a soft spring that does not break, instead it is tensed when loaded and always returns back to normal tension after unloading. You can see a demonstration of the different styles of over-contracting in specific areas as opposed to the even tension distribution in the biotensegrity model here.
There are wonderful models that demonstrate this in a mechanical structure, but the critical point in understanding Biotensegrity is that this kind of structure never leans through the hard parts but always through the elasticity of the entire system.
It is exactly here that we have something to learn: in regular walking we lean on the ground once through this column and then through the other one, but this type of leaning is just like walking on sticks. This kind of walking lacks vitality, lacks springiness, and transmits the pressure to specific points, instead of spreading it throughout the entire structure!
The beauty of Structural Integration is that it does not start with explanations like this. Instead, it builds up this kind of reality through its structured process.
This system gives the teaching, step by step, making it possible to open up the fascia's adhesions and shortenings, and it does this according to the steps described in the article Rolf’s Structural Integration - The Physical Aspect.