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Structural integration is a bodywork technique which involves working with the fascia to improve posture and general health. This technique was developed by Ida Rolf in the mid-20th century, and it is used in a number of schools of bodywork today. The idea behind structural integration is that as the tissues of the body contract and the body ages, posture declines, becoming uneven and droopy; by realigning the body, the practitioner hopes to address health problems which can range from muscle pain to depression.
The focus of structural integration is the fascia, the complex web of connective tissue which runs throughout the body from head to toe. The fascia connects muscles, organs, blood vessels, and other structures in the body. If the fascia becomes tense due to physical strain or trauma, it tightens and shortens, causing pain and a corresponding decline in posture.
In a structural integration session, the practitioner assesses the health of the client, asking the client to stand, walk, and strike a variety of poses. As the client moves, the practitioner looks at how the body moves, identifying spots which require attention. Then, the patient is asked to lie down, and the practitioner feels for areas of tension in the fascia and releases them. The process also involves gentle stretching, with the goal of releasing and lengthening the fascia so that the client's good posture will be restored.
Ida Rolf developed Rolfing, a bodywork technique which involves structural integration as a cornerstone. According to Rolfers, clients usually need a one hour session ever week for 10 weeks in order to see results; other bodyworkers may have differing opinions. The Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method also use structural integration.
As a general rule, clients can expect a first-time structural integration session to start with a brief questionnaire and an interview, which the practitioner will use to gather information which can be used in future sessions. Then, the client will be asked to strip down to underwear or a bathing suit so that the practitioner can clearly see the body as the client is asked to move around the room.
During the bodywork session, the client may experience a range of sensations. Some clients feel almost nothing, especially in later sessions, where the therapist is fine-tuning his or her work. Others feel warmth or momentary pain at the sites of fascial release. Clients should always communicate clearly if they experience pain, because muscle pain can increase tension, pulling the fascia tight again and defeating the point of structural integration.
People who want to explore this bodywork modality can find practitioners by consulting professional associations of practitioners. You can also ask for a recommendation from a medical practitioner, or search on your own in your favorite search engine for “structural integration” and your area. Always ask to see a practitioner's credentials, and ask about where he or she trained; it's also a good idea to find out what your practitioner's approach to health and medical treatment is like, to see if you will work well together.