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Structural Integration: A Different Approach to Bodywork


Nearly a year ago I began a mentorship with a KMI Structural Integrator, Layna Cirelli. My reason for seeking mentorship, specifically with Layna was the desire for my clients to experience the results that I’ve seen and felt with her work. Layna’s approach to Structural Integration is different than the traditional methods of her predecessors, Ida Rolf and Tom Myers.


“Who are these people, what is Structural Integration, and how is it relevant to me?” You might be asking yourself. Keep reading, friends.



Ida Rolf: The Grandmother of Structural Integration


In the 1940s, biochemist Ida Rolf was developing a holistic manual therapy program based on the observation of the human body. Her theory and methods involved the concept that when the body is in a more balanced and organized state, it will move in its relationship to gravity more effortlessly. By manipulating the connective tissues of the body, a practitioner can bring a person into homeostasis.


Ida Rolf was a remarkable woman for her time. Even though many women in her generation didn't pursue higher academia, Ida graduated with a PhD in biochemistry in 1920 from the College of Physicians and

Surgeons at Columbia University. Later she continued her education at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in mathematics and atomic physics in Zurich. The desire to find solutions to her and her family's health problems inspired her interest in exploring manual manipulation of the body.

It wasn't until 20 years later that her knowledge and experimentation with body manipulation began evolving into her development of Structural Integration. And it wasn't until 20+ years after that that her methods and treatments started to gain traction in the 1960s in the healing arts community when she began to teach at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.


As Ida's teachings of Structural Integration continued to grow, the method that she originated is now commonly called Rolfing. Rolfing is taught and given as a "10 series" treatment. The Rolfing series is conducted systematically to bring balance and restoration to a client in their relationship to gravity: Each session aims for a client to experience more balance and optimization in their body.


Tom Myers: The Father of Fascia


Tom Myers, once called the Father of Fascia, is a student and successor of Ida Rolf. Tom developed a theory that the human body has continuous lines of fascia that travel through different aspects of the body, which he termed Anatomy Trains. He spent decades dissecting dozens of human cadavers in his career to prove his theory. Tom forged ahead in teaching the concept of Anatomy Trains and providing students with techniques to best treat these fascial lines. Tom added more sessions to Rolfing's 10 series in his treatments. He also branched into his own certification program

and adaptation for Structural Integration and called it Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI). Translation:Integrating myofascia and movement to make change in the body's structure.



Layna Cerelli: Change Your Body, Change Your Life!


My mentor Layna began training with and teaching Tom Myers' bodywork concepts in the 1990s as Tom expanded his Anatomy Trains theory and training. With a vigorous background in movement as a professional dancer, Layna's instruction wove a nuanced approach to bodywork treatment. As her work evolved, she moved away from performing a "series" to cause a change in the body and condensed her work into fewer sessions, guided by how a client's body adapted

to its new changes. With more than 30 years of experience as a bodyworker and certified KMI structural integrator, Layna continues to see clients at her home office in Cottonwood, Arizona. Looking to retire soon and return one day to her homeland in Italy, she was delighted when I reached out to her last year about being a protege and carrying her work forward.



Structural Integration is NOT massage


"It's not how deep you go; it's how you go deep."- Ida Rolf


There is no doubt that deep tissue massage has its own benefits. Often, a therapist deepens the pressure of the massage with oil or lotion to release change in the tissue.


Structural Integration uses no lubrication because it prevents the practitioner from deeply connecting to the fascia, muscles, and other soft tissue. Instead, a practitioner needs to grip, lift, and separate tissue from itself and bony structures, getting into all the nooks and crannies that are often neglected by a standard massage.


The sensation of this style of bodywork can feel unusual, relieving, and uncomfortable because some areas that have never been accessed are stuck or glued down to other soft tissue or bones around them. It is not uncommon for a practitioner to work into the septa (the subdivision of structures) of the body to create more space and promote better blood and nutrient supply to the areas treated. Creating space to move through space better is the key component to this modality. It leaves you, the client, feeling less compressed and more organized during movement and provides you with a sense of feeling lighter and more open.


Although deep tissue massage sinks into tissue with more pressure, it is relatively rudimentary in terms of making a lasting change in the human structure.


"Where you think it is, it ain't" -Ida Rolf


Say, for example, your neck hurts. This might be a symptom of another area in the body experiencing malalignment. Your neck is not an isolated structure, and it is part of your spine and skull. Generally, with massage, a therapist will focus their techniques specifically on the painful and tight area.


Structural Integration looks at the neck as a part of a bigger picture and story. For example, did you wake up that morning with a stiff and painful neck or has the neck been nagging at you for days, weeks, months, or years, now becoming a chronic condition? A Structural Integrator will visually, verbally, and physically assess the rest of the body to determine the root of the neck pain and execute a treatment based on that information. Many times when I treat the pelvis, trunk, and especially the spine, my clients' neck pain and discomfort will diminish and a fuller range of motion will return.


As you contemplate the pain in your body, I invite you to bring an awareness to the rest of your body, not only the localized area causing you discomfort.


Why better body awareness?


Knowledge is power. Having a more comprehensive knowledge of your body provides people with a stronger sense of empowerment and will encourage you to experience greater communication with your clinicians, trainers, and physicians.



Click below for a comprehensive body awareness exercise that I welcome you to experience.




The bottom line


A Structural Integration therapist can provide you with longstanding results to improve the anatomical framework that limits you. Treatment can bring the following changes in your body:


  • Diminished pain

  • Improved range of motion

  • Improved stability

  • Moving with more ease

  • Improved respiration

  • Feeling more spacious and less compressed

  • Increased blood and nutrient supply to soft tissue


Practicing a robust body awareness exercise and engaging in the four fascial health suggestions from my last post can empower you to feel better and communicate more openly with the people who facilitate the improvement of your overall health.


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