Rolf’s Structural Integration - The physical aspect

Stages of structural integration treatment process

Rolf’s structural integration is essentially an educational method for correct movement (as regards physical efficiency) that is enabling by removing restrictions on movement that derive from adhesions and shortenings taking place in the connective tissue.

When the body is not ideally organized physically, more and more adhesions are created over a lifetime distorting the structure even more and increasing pressure at key points – pressure that brings with it pain.

When we want to help a person find the correct way to get along in the physical world in which gravity is the main force, we must help him gradually reach the capability of more correct movement – movement that takes into account gravity, on the one hand, and the client’s own structure on the other hand.


Starting the work

According to Dr. Rolf’s understanding, starting the work must be on the most external plane of physical existence – the outer layer of connective tissue.

Creating greater space in this layer by opening up adhesions will for example allow for freer movement of the ribs and result in lighter or deeper breathing, as necessary, and freedom in the joints, such as the hip joint and ankle joint – a freedom that allows for better movement on efficient planes of movement.


Efficient planes of movement

Efficient planes of movement physically are the planes that bisect the body because they always allow for support below and above. Thus, movement of the ankle joint, the knee and the hip joint along the plane bisecting the leg (the plane dividing it into left and right) will be able to provide support both to the knee and the pelvis, whereas when the foot turns outward despite the knee pointing forward this will create a state of lack of support in the knee, leading to a holding of the muscle (generally at first in the back) and later problems in the lower back and the knee.

The enabling that The Structural Integration creates, allows for more correct movement with respect to physical efficiency, and at the same time, the client already learns what correct movement is from this aspect.


The first three sessions

In the first three sessions of the Structural Integration series, we pass over the entire external envelope of the body and open up adhesions to allow the bones more freedom – and less need for effort in performance of movement.


The first session
We begin by releasing the thorax for freer movement of the ribs, release of the hip joints and the external layer of the back of the thigh (the hamstrings).


The second session
We continue in the second meeting by releasing the foot and ankle, the front side of the calf and the knee, and release of the outermost layer of the back (Erector Spinae the entire length and preliminary touch of the adjacent muscles).


The third session
In the third session the external layer is completed with a clarification of the division into the front and back sides of the body, and at the same time releasing the connection between the pelvis and the ribs (the Quadrates Lumborum) and the external layer of the connections between the shoulder blade to the head and to the spinal column.

At this stage the entire outer layer is released to some extent and pressure is significantly alleviated. Through movements the client carried out during the session and with the help of the short exercises he performs at home, the client also begins to internalize the idea of gentle and light movement as a function of extension of the antagonistic muscles (when the flexors are contracted the extensors extend, and vice versa).

Some clients will already feel a significant alleviation of pain, although even with these clients the release is not complete because a new basis of support has yet to be built, alternative support for the overuse that has been made in the outer layer. This means that without continuing the process the pains will almost certainly return sooner or later.


The four sessions of the second stage

From the fourth session to the seventh session we move on to the deeper layer of the structure – the layer closer to the bones and closer to the center plane of the body (the center between the front and the back of the body and the center between right and left). At this stage, alongside opening up the adhesions that generally creates more length in the muscles and more space – allowing the bones more space to move, we stimulate the inner side of our structure to bear weight and to work.


The fourth session
This process begins from the inner side of the legs – this work allows the client to feel the inner arch of the foot when standing and when walking. That means the inner arch, passes support above to the entire body. This process starts organizing the movement of the three joints of the leg when walking (along the line bisecting the leg and parallel to the other leg) which also enables the element of springiness of the foot and ankle to start finding expression.


The fifth session
In the fifth session, the internal line of support continues to the front of the spine – the place connecting to the Iliopsoas. To make the meaning of the internal plane even clearer, the meeting with it (with the Psoas area) is carried out after a deeper meeting with the frontal side of the body – returning again to the thorax, but in the deeper layer of the connective tissue – the layer that is directly attached to the ribs. The front is also met on the front side of the thigh with an invitation to softer activity of the quadriceps – which enables the Iliopsoas to start working more correctly.

This is a highly significant stage of the process – correct working of the Iliopsoas means activating the core in contrast to activating its external parts. Not everybody is immediately willing to make the switch so that at this stage this is an initial invitation that will intensify later on.


The sixth session
In the sixth session, this process is intensified by increasing the freedom of the backside of the structure compared to the middle plane, with a continued invitation to the Iliopsoas to correct functioning. One of the measures of success of the process here is free movement of the pelvis upon inhalation in the direction of the roll of the pelvis (the tail turns slightly between the legs while the lower back [the waist] rolls back). – When lying on the stomach this means the waist is in the direction of the ceiling and the tail in the direction of the table. A further measure of progress in the process at this stage is the freedom of the spine to roll smoothly and harmoniously along its entire length when bending forward on the chair.


The seventh session
Dr. Rolf used to say that everything that took place to this point was designed to allow for “putting the head in place” – a step that should take place in the seventh session, thereby concluding the second stage of the entire process. Putting the head in place – includes a significant release of the neck and of the entire skull to enable the head to move to its correct position above the entire structure (not too far forward and down in the front and not too down from the back).

When the head is correctly organized it is held up easily with the chin parallel to the floor, and likewise the angle of the eyes, and obviously the crown of the head points up to the ceiling. The movement of turning the head takes place on the central plane like tightening a screw (or like the movement of a ballet dancer) and the ears remain parallel to the ground (and not diagonal).

This session to a great extent concludes the structural work created gradually from outside to inside and from bottom to top.


The final stage of integration

The third stage deals more with the client’s use of the new spaces of movement he obtained and building the correct connections along the structural system – and in one word, functionality.

For the most part the three final sessions divide into the bottom half, the top half and the center plane.

Details of what is correct functionality may be found in the next article. 

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