BY JUDY STEVENS
The connective tissue fascia, described by Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.(1896-1979), as the organ of posture, is a matrix of very strong, tough, highlyadaptive fibrous tissue that keeps our bones from falling into a heap. It isthe prima materia, the basic stuff of the body. Fascia envelops each muscleand each muscle fiber. Toward the end of each muscle, fascia thickens intostrap-like tendons or ligaments working to bind muscle to muscle, muscle tobone.
Dr. Rolf, the originator of Structural Integration, also known as the Rolf Method and Rolfing, made a fundamental discovery about the body: “Thesame network of connective tissue, fascia, which contains and links the musclesystem when it is healthy, can reshape it when pulled out of proper order.”
Fascia supports and holds muscle and bone in place, but it has one troublesomeproperty: it can support whatever patterns of movement and posture thebody adopts. Strained or off-balanced movement constantly overloads themyofascial system, causing the body to fight with gravity. The connectivetissues compensate by shortening, giving up elasticity, and actually changingshape.
Adaptation to gravity can manifest as flat feet, an askew pelvis, swayback,rounded shoulders, and adhesions, which can cause conditions such as sciatica,TMJ, and carpal tunnel syndrome. These conditions force fascia to shoreup your structure by thickening, shrinking, twisting, and sticking toitself and other structures—especially bones and organs. The unpleasantimage of fascia shriveling like a wool sweater in a hot dryer comes tomind.
A shortened condition of fascia worsens with the effects of gravity andtime, pulling the body further out of alignment, restricting movement,and causing recurring aches and pains.
Fortunately, returning muscles and bones to their proper alignments andinducing proper movement restores the health of fascia. In a series often sessions, Structural Integration lengthens, re-hydrates, and re-energizesfascia with firm pressure from the practitioner’s hands.
During Structural Integration, the awareness shifts from fixed landmarks—likea frozen shoulder—to relational webs. We experience our fascia asif strands of spherical webs were connecting to parts of our body thatwe previously thought unrelated to our “sore spot.” We nowfocus on the source of the problem—shortened fascia—ratherthan the symptom.
Dr. Rolf’s theories about human structure revolutionized thinkingabout the body. Instead of muscles, she emphasized their covering, muchas if one emphasized the white pith that separates orange sections andconnects it to the rind. She described the body as having a “core” anda “sleeve.” Think of a tree with a core. In each year of growth,a new layer of tissue wraps itself around the core.
Human bodies are a lot like trees. We are made of layers of fascia, wrappingaround our center. The outermost layer of connective tissue is like treebark. Most of us live and work in this tough outer layer, protecting oursoft inner selves. Dr. Rolf described the core and sleeve as having afunctional aspect, using the words “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.” Ingeneral, tissue closer to the bone is intrinsic; nearer to surface isextrinsic.
Bones are self-positioning levers that articulate in accordance to thepattern of soft tissue that surrounds them. As the myofascial system becomesfreer and balanced, the network of soft tissues becomes both stable andspacious. The skeletal system can then literally float inside its connectivetissue webbing.
In movement, intrinsic muscles initiate a movement, and extrinsic musclestake it further. According to Dr. Rolf, there needs to be balance betweenintrinsic and extrinsic function to achieve what she called “balancedmovement.” She often said, “If you can see the muscle that’sdoing the movement, it’s not a balanced movement.”
Dr. Rolf extolled the dancing of Fred Astaire as a model of balanced—intrinsicallyand extrinsically—powerful movement. She said that his knees hada life of their own, and asked her students to watch his effortless movementsas an example of natural intrinsic capability.
According to Dr. Rolf, intrinsic movement initiates from the core ofthe body with minimum expenditure of energy. She often said, “Strengththat has effort in it is not what you need. You need the strength thatis the result of ease. To me, strength is balance.”
Structural Integration balances the core-to-sleeve relationship, releasescongested muscles, increases flexibility, reduces strain, awakens balancedmovement, and most importantly, connects us to our core.
Judy Stevens is an Advanced Structural Integrator. She can be reachedat (641) 472-3496 in Fairfield, IA.