Structural Integration - Deep Tissue Bodywork, Posture and Movement Education

"When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneosly, the body heals itself."
Ida Rolf, Ph.D.

Four Principles of Structural Bodywork

November 9, 2009 : Articles

Four Principles of Structural Bodywork

Structural bodywork has its own specific set of distinguishing images which sets it apart from other kinds of physical therapy. These images were Ida Rolf’s initial discovery. They deal with: a. the human skeleton, b. concepts of geometry, beginning with the most basic fact of gravity, pressing us against the earth, and the nature of three dimensional space resulting from that orientation of gravity; c. concepts of movement – how the skeleton is designed to move in space; and d. ideas of how the body is shaped to support habitual movement. These images can be introduced in terms of four principles which seem to form the basis of Ida Rolf’s method.

1. The Primacy of Gravity

It is part of the elegance of Ida Rolf’s vision that gravity is placed at the center of the system. Other methods focus on energy or the release of emotions, et cetera, but these are difficult to see, and there is considerable room for subjectivity in making inferences about them. But Ida treated the body first of all as a physical object in a gravitational field, and let the emotional releases take place as a secondary result.

Every physical creature is subject to the effects of gravity throughout life. It is the one unrelenting stimulus to which we must relate. The skeleton has evolved primarily in response to the various demands placed upon it by different systems of dealing with gravity (that is, a quadrupedal skeleton differs from a biped’s in ways which are predictable on the basis of their different relations to the ground). Gravity determines what is physically efficient or inefficient. When the human body is inefficiently organized, effort is required to resist the effects of gravity. Eventually gravity wins, and the tragically bent bodies of some elderly people are the results. When the structure is efficiently organized, the flow of gravity can be a source of energy.

2. Geometry: The Relation of the Skeleton to Space

The skeleton is a structural framework enabling the body to move in space. In each creature, the skeleton is precisely designed to permit geometrically accurate movement. There are differences, especially deriving from whether the creature is a quadruped walking on land, a monkey swinging in the branches of trees, or a human walking upright. But in each case, the skeleton is quite precisely arranged to support movement which is adapted to geometric space.

This means that, if we can understand the geometric concepts underlying the structure of the skeleton, we can analyze distortions in the people we work with and thus understand what must be reorganized. For example, in looking at someone’s legs, we refer to the bisecting planes of the legs. If the hinges of hip, knee and ankle are lined up on a single plane, then it has tremendous internal security and balance.

When the leg is not balanced across this bisecting plane, when the hinges are not working on a single plane, then the feeling of security and balance is lost. It becomes appropriate to speak of “random” or “chaotic” or “disorganized” physical structure. As will be seen in the chapter on psychology, disorganization on the physical plane shows up as insecurity and confusion on the psychological level. It is no abstract matter.

Throughout this book we will be referring to a small number of geometric concepts:

l. The Vertical Polarity

2. The Horizontal Polarity

3. The Bisecting Planes of the Legs (and other sagittal planes)

4. The Side Planes (and other coronal planes)

5. Transverse Planes at:

a. The Pelvis

b. The Diaphragm

c. The Shoulder Girdle

d. Various other places as needed

3. The Role of Fascia in Shaping the Body

Most anatomy books do not emphasize fascia. Muscles and bones seem much easier to recognize. They are the evident figure, while the fascia are in the background. However, the connective tissue system, including the fascia is the all-pervasive prima materia of the body. Each muscle and each muscle fiber is enveloped in fascia. In response to habitual movement, fascia alter in length and flexibility to support that movement. If the movement deviates from the optimal geometry of the skeleton in space, then the fascial system slowly binds the skeleton to a shape which supports that movement. Thus function alters structure. The energy of movement becomes reflected in form, which parallels Einstein’s formulation: e=mc2.

4. The Use of Movement to Reorganize the Body.

Since disorganized movement creates deviated structure, then the reverse should also be true. If the body is induced to move in a way which is geometrically correct, then the fascial tissues will alter to support this better movement. Thus the skeletal structure can be altered to approach the optimal organization for which it was created. Ida Rolf said (approximately) “Hold structures where they are supposed to be and induce movement.” This is the basic principle of change.

These are the four principles which define structural body work. In subsequent chapters we will be studying geometric concepts of movement, fascia, and an approach to touch.

Excerpt from “The Structural Metaphor”, by Edward W. Maupin, Ph.D.