Distinctions in Structural Integration

Pages: 5-12
Year: 2007
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration ÔÇô Vol. 35 ÔÇô N┬║ 3

Volume: 35

What follows is a statement of my own opinions. I do not claim to know everything on the subject, or to know all the history. I am not a researcher. I look for things that distinguish; that are clear; that are dependable; and that seem true to the best of my knowing, so far, about this work. I also strive to translate that into laymen’s terms in order to talk to the public, but this material is written for us – Structural Integration practitioners. My hope is that it can help us continue to define and clarify the dimensions and properties of what this work is.

Many of us, upon finishing our training, find it difficult to communicate clearly what distinguishes this work. What makes it Structural Integration? What makes it distinct from massage, deep-tissue massage, and myofascial release? How do we define it? What’s different among the schools that are teaching it? What do we need to know to describe this work to others?

It’s not as if we can come up with just one answer and be done with it. There are many answers to the questions because those answers depend on who is asking the questions and their existing level of understanding: A potential client who’s never heard of Structural Integration; a potential client who has known of Structural Integration for years and now wants to do it; the client who is in process with this work; the insurance industry; professionals of the medical community; national, state, local, and legal authorities; people we meet at dinner parties who ask, “What do you do? … What is that?”; those of us who trained in the same school; all of us who trained in different schools; others trained in other (not-structural-integration) forms of bodywork; and publishers through whom we can advertise or to whom we can submit articles. Every one of these conversations is different because the best start of each is based on what the inquirer knows already, needs to know, or needs to clarify, in order to gain a better understanding.

My opinion is that if I have Structural Integration clearly in my own mind, I can tailor the answers for any situation and anyone who might inquire. If people tell me what they know so far about Structural Integration, I can elaborate and clarify from there. If I don’t have it clearly distinguished in my own thinking, and if I don’t have ways to explain this stuff in plain simple (non-jargon) language, I can’t possibly expect that anyone else will understand or distinguish it. No one else will ever understand this work as well as we do. It is our job to define it, clarify it, educate about it, and elaborate on it.


As a client once said, “I know in your mind there is a clear difference between this work and massage, but to me it is all just massage.” This is the way most legal and governmental groups think, too. It seems, according to law and government, if you put your hands on another person’s body and look like you’re kneading the flesh, it is massage.

This has a certain logic from the perspective of government and law. With millions of people to whom the laws apply, one way to manage things is to maintain the broadest categories possible. Generalized categories mean fewer categories to oversee and govern. As few as twenty-five years ago, in nearly all of the United States, there was no legal distinction between a massage therapist, a manicurist, and a prostitute. I think government and legal authorities will eventually come to distinguish massage from Structural Integration. Before we can expect them to understand the differences, however, we need to get clear on them ourselves. The authorities will take their cues from us, and it is a mistake to turn that around and say that since massage is how they define us, then this must be what we are.

Describing or allowing others to describe Rolfing┬« as a kind of “massage” or form of “bodywork” – or as a “technique” or a “modality” – supports the positions of those who would ignore the distinctive quality of our work and training. If structural integration is no more than a “modality”, then there is no reason schools of “massage and bodywork” shouldn’t teach this “modality” – and no reason massage therapists then would not suppose themselves qualified to perform it. In the regulatory context, our job is to define this work clearly; to correct improper definitions and classifications by others; and to create opportunities to have our work distinguished for what it is. Rolfing has already been distinguished from massage in Texas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Illinois, among other places. We can and should make it happen everywhere, but we must watch our language.

However, right now, your clients might get medical insurance coverage if you call your work massage. You can choose this route, and there are some good reasons to do so. It may or may not bring you more business, it can reimburse the costs to clients, and it provides many people who need our work with the opportunity to get it. Some practitioners include medical insurance billing in their Structural Integration practice; I don’t. I have made a personal decision that saying my work is massage is potentially fraudulent, and any hint of medical or insurance fraud is something from which I will stay very far away. The broad category of massage in the insurance industry could be thought of as a loophole (or an asset) in the system. Any Structural Integration practitioner, willing to defend this position if legally challenged, is free to use it. This is a business decision each practitioner makes individually.


We know Structural Integration is different from massage. We feel it in our bodies, see it in the mirror, and sense it in our state of being. So do our clients. The question is: How to communicate that? What makes this work what it is?

Years ago, with a glitch in my pelvis and no Structural Integrator within arms distance, I asked a massage therapist friend of mine to lean on me. I lay prone, told her exactly where to put her elbow, and told her to progressively lean in with her weight. About five seconds into her leaning, she jumped back from the table (taking her elbow with her) and exclaimed, “It moved!” I said, “Of course it did. With the right input, my body knows how to reorganize itself into a more aligned and functional place.”

One difference, in very plain and simple language, is that the practice and scope of massage is to relax muscles, improve range of motion (ROM) and improve circulation. Massage asks what is present in the body to relax. Structural Integration asks what is present in the body to change how it is organized and how it functions.


Certain words are, and always have been, an integral part of this work. They are essential underpinnings in the scope and practice of Structural Integration: Structure; System; Change; Process; Organize; Align; Integrate; Interrelate; Support; Balance; Gravity; and The Line.

Structure is something composed of organized and interrelated elements.1

System is a group or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unified whole. My dictionary specifically states in definition 5 (b) that a system is: ” the body considered as a functioning unit.”2

Change is a difference, a deviation, a variation 3

Process is a systematic series of actions directed to some end, and, a specific, continuous action or series of changes (which includes a course or lapse of time).4

Organize is to form, as or into, a whole; and, to arrange in a systematic manner.5

Align is to arrange or bring into line.6

Integrate is to incorporate [parts] into a whole.7

Interrelate is to bring or enter into reciprocal relation.8

Support is to hold up or bear, to provide with the means of sustaining life.9 Dr. Rolf on the subject of support: “In a human body, support is not something solid. Support is relationship.”10

Balance is a state of stability and a state of harmony.11

Gravity is the force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward the center of the earth .12

In my opinion, these words and their definitions automatically remove our work from the scope and practice of massage.


According to my dictionary, the answer is “yes”, because one definition for system is the body considered as a functioning unit. Now, let’s break that down and be clear.

Massage is changing the system in so far as relaxing some parts, improving ROM, and, thereby, improving circulation within it. Massage is oriented around anatomy and techniques. There is nothing in the scope, practice, teaching, or learning, of massage that involves changing how that system is organized. There is nothing in massage about aligning that system into a more organized array of parts and sections such that those parts become a more unified, interrelated, and integrated whole.


None of the dictionary definitions for “line” serve us. The closest is: an indication of demarcation. If we go to plumb for plumb 1 line, we get closer to what line means to our ‘ work. A plumb is a small mass of lead suspended by a line, used … to ascertain a vertical line; or, exactly straight down, esp. as achieved with the aid of a plumb.13 This associates the arbitrary word line with gravity, which is t right up our alley.

Dr. Rolf on the subject of line: “Lines in a body are not mystical structures; they 1 are where forces balance.”14 “A Rolfer TM establishes a vertical line in the body. …In order to get any sort of relationship in a body, you have to have something to T which it can relate. “15 To Dr. Rolf, The Line was innate and inherent to everyone. Freeing the structure of random patterns gave the structure access to the properties of The Line, relationship, and organization; which, in turn, gave people more effective I and efficient structure, function, being, t consciousness, balance, support, and unification /integration.


The fact that we work with fascia, in the fascial web, needs to be a part of what defines this work.

I tell my clients that the easiest way to understand fascia is to substitute the word packaging. We are packages inside packages – inside yet other packages. Nearly everything in the body that can be distinguished as a bit, a piece, a part, or a section, has its own fascial packaging, from the full body stocking (fascia profundus) all the way down to the fascial package of each microscopic muscle fiber. Not only muscles, but everything has its own package, and packages weave and blend with each other. Fascia is what connects everything to everything. It is what unifies and interrelates all components of the system.

I don’t know if fascia is the “organ of support” as Dr. Rolf claimed. I don’t know to what degree fascia determines shape, form, and function. However, I believe fascia is the primary determiner of these.

Working with fascia is not the be-all and end-all of Structural Integration, so saying we work with fascia is not sufficient to define this work. These days, many approaches work with fascia, and fascia can be addressed from many anatomical or technique-based contexts. While we are trained to work with fascia, doing so is not the end of the story for us but merely the means to an end. Fascia is the physical element that allows us to enter the world of structural relationships – to shift from anatomy to structure and to understand and engage structural relationships and properties. Fascia becomes the medium through which we transition to this world. For these reasons, fascia needs to be distinguished specifically in our definition.


In my mind, the difference between anatomy and structure is as dramatic and monumental as the difference between seeing something two-dimensionally and seeing it three-dimensionally. When parts and pieces are incorporated into a cohesive system, the system exhibits qualities and capabilities that cannot be predicted by knowing the qualities and capabilities of the parts. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Dr. Rolf said, “… most technical reading will get you to think in the wrong patterns. You are looking for a new pattern in thinking and you will get it primarily from

Underneath, inside, around, and amid all that anatomy are the dynamics of structure, relationship, and organization. Call it The Line, call it The Core, call it Gravity; call it the “major body axis and the main axis of molecular orientation for the entire organism … head …tail …front …back”;17 call it our best attempt to describe something which we know is there, but for which we don’t vet have the words or scientific evidence. A structure exhibits qualities and properties that are produced only by the structure and can’t be produced, singularly, by any element within it. Even the part known as fascia – the part that relates everything to everything – does not encompass, in and of itself, all the properties and capabilities of the coherent aggregate of body and being.

Anatomy tells us the whats – the parts and pieces. Anatomy tells us how parts and pieces are organized in terms of location, size, and task. In essence, anatomy tells us physiological organization. Fascial anatomy tells us how those parts are packaged (and affected by their packaging), how they associate with neighboring parts, and how they relate to everything and associate throughout to produce the whole.

When one shifts from anatomy to structure, one shifts to a different world. That shift is as distinct and different as seeing something in 2-D versus seeing it 3-D. The world of structure is a world of dynamic patterns. It is the dynamics and complexity of relationship and whether those relationships are integrated and functioning or random and coping. The realm of structure requires a different way of thinking, a different way of seeing, a different way of sensing, a different way of understanding, and a different mode of interaction than those that engage from an anatomical or technique-based context.

Fascia is the pathway into the world of the body/being’s cohesive, structural system and, therefore, into the properties and capabilities that arise in the world of structure. This is why fascia belongs as a part of what defines this work. If one is working with fascia, but not working in the structural realm, then working with fascia is a technique, and one would do best to call it “myofascial release massage”.

Structure tells us how the parts organize themselves and relate to each other (or disorganize and dissociate from each other when compromised). Structure tells us how the parts affect and influence each other; how parts and structure can be affected by thought, feeling and experience; and how the structure and its properties relate (or don’t) to its environment. Structure puts us in the world of coexisting relationships. Working with a thing itself is dynamically different from working with its patterns and relationships within itself and to everything around it.

Dr. Rolf said, “The next time you use the word ‘structure,’ see whether you aren’t talking about relationship. See whether you can ever use the word ‘structure’ and be talking about something other than relationship. Every time you use the word structure with respect to a living body, you are talking about relationship between parts as they fit together to make the aggregate that we call the man.”18


When I became a Certified Rolfer TM”, I occasionally heard other practitioners say, “It is Structural Integration (a) because it is ten sessions, or (b) because we use our elbows, or (c) because it is deeper, or (d) because of the positions we put our clients in during the work, or (e) because we work with fascia, or (f) because our work relates the physical body to gravity, or (g) because we’re following The Recipe.” These definitions don’t work.

I believe The Recipe was Dr. Rolf’s way of organizing what she knew, and teaching us how to do her work. As a tool, The Recipe allows us to: contact structure; recognize patterns and dynamics within the total human structure; and evoke change in the structural system to produce a higher level of functioning. The Recipe: keeps us on track with structural properties and effects, not anatomical symptoms; develops our skills to feel the world of patterns, organization, disorganization, and integration; guides us to intervene in those specific ways that bring about a higher level of structural relationship, function, and integration; and helps us stay on track when we’re lost or stumped.

Doing The Recipe is not the goal of Structural Integration. Working the fascia of the hamstrings and iliotibial band is not a partial goal of session one. The goal is to rebalance and realign structure, to give adaptability so it can reorganize and reintegrate itself, and to establish the lines of balance to which it needs to relate in order to find a higher level of function.

To reiterate what I believe have been our past poor attempts to define Structural Integration:

– Ten sessions, elbows, going deeper, and positioning our clients in session are just mechanics;

– Fascia is only a medium;

– Gravity, while highly relevant, is only a frame of reference; and

– The Recipe is only one map that makes it more likely that we and our clients will arrive at the intended goal.

While all of these elements are invaluable in Structural Integration, none of them define Structural Integration.

One might say that Structural Integration is a way of perceiving more of the whole; or that it is a model or a map; or even that it is a goal or a result. While all of these are true, the kicker that renders even these definitions insufficient is: Structural Integration in a living system is its state of being, embodying qualities of being.

When I think of the Principles (as described by Certified Advanced RolferTM Jeff Maitland, Ph.D.) or the Rolf Institute’ of Structural Integration’s Order of Event-19 as conceptual statements (which they are), they are models. When I think of these as qualities that exist in the structural system of a living, evolving human being, they become elements of the thing itself, the properties and qualities of the cohesive system itself.


To do Structural Integration, one has to understand the field in which structure exists and in which Structural Integration is accomplished. One has to learn how to contact that field in order to facilitate the changes that produce greater organization and function.

Students of Structural Integration must learn how to feel the body and being as a system, how to feel the dynamic relationships amid the anatomy, how to distinguish and differentiate layers of the structural system / being, and how to refine what they touch and how they touch in order to evoke systemic change. Students learn what structure feels like when it is contacted, what it feels like when it is changing and relating to what is around it, and what it feels like when it is integrating with itself and gravity. They learn to see and feel more refined and higher functioning levels of balance, support, and integrated relationship.

We manage our thinking, evaluating, and work in order to see and engage the structure/body/being as a whole field of interrelated relationships. We have been given models that can assist us to remain in this field. Those models are based on geometry, tensegrity, gravity, two-directional span or palintonicity, “everything is connected to everything”, “fascia is the organ of support”, “bones are spacers”, “where you think it is it ain’t”, Normal Structure and Function, Tonic Function, multidirectional balance, the cylinder model, the internal/ external model, and many other ideas. Using these models keeps our awareness, thinking, evaluations, seeing, being, intent, and hands in the world of structure. They keep us from getting charmed or distracted by anatomy (parts) so we will remain in the world of relationship.

It is our knowledge of structure, as well as our skills in engaging structural dynamics, that make our fix-it work, myofascial release, and (for those who do it) massage more potent and profound than the usual fix-it work, myofascial release, and massage. By contrast, the modalities of fix-it work, myofascial release, and massage do not ensure higher levels of Structural Integration.

Certified Advanced Rolfer Jeffrey Maitland developed a useful way to clarify our thinking about what’s what. He lists many modes of therapy in a hierarchy of paradigms.20 First paradigm modalities – such as hot/cold packs, biofeedback, EStimulation, and entry-level massage – promote relaxation. Second paradigm modalities – including myofascial release, osseous release, exercise, splints and orthotics, and somato-emotional release – are corrective. Third paradigm practices are integrative, holistic, and systemic. Third paradigm practices include Structural Integration, homeopathy, acupuncture, cranial osteopathy, and somatic manual therapy.

Any third-paradigm practice can include elements and effects of the first and second; and second paradigm work can include elements and effects of the first. However, the inverses of these statements are not true. Structural Integration practitioners can do relaxation work and corrective work (first and second paradigm), but for this work to be Structural Integration, the decisions to do it are made in service to the structural system – its relationships, properties and capabilities – and what it needs as it progresses toward higher levels of organization, structure, and function. If my hands-on work in the flesh is not working the world of structure, patterns, and relationships, my work is deep-tissue massage.

To work in structure is to work in the properties, patterns, and relationships that are of structure, not of anatomy. This is a true but tricky statement. Structure contains anatomy, and each portion of anatomy contains its own inherent structure. How we work and what we engage when we are connecting into the tissues is key. It is through the tissues that we connect to structure and relationships.

Every aspect of being is in the structure. The whole being – the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and historical – is in the current physical organization of the person at this moment. This is why our contact has the potential to affect every aspect of being -physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and historical.


In my opinion, structure is a higher level of order and a higher level of governing properties than those that can be found in the knowledge base of anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. As Structural Integration practitioners, there are many times when we will go to our knowledge of anatomy, physiology, or kinesiology in order to differentiate or to release or to restore function of some element. For this reason, a solid knowledge base in these subjects can be a valuable addition to our skill set. However, once a change is accomplished in these realms, that change needs to be brought back into the context of the dynamic structural system. Sometimes the body/being will find this context on its own to integrate and embody the change. Many times the body/being doesn’t, and we need to facilitate it.

In my thinking, anatomy ends with the skin. By that I mean that the skin encases all that can be found in an anatomy textbook. Many Structural Integration practitioners know that structure does not end at the skin. Structure and its governing properties expand beyond the skin: into our field of being; out through our hands, feet and top of head; through our proprioceptive and perceptual fields; and into our relationship with gravity.

It can be extremely reassuring to discuss our work solely in the context of anatomy. We know others can hear, trust, and understand that our words come from accepted knowledge. However, to do our work only in an anatomy context is to miss valuable and relevant aspects of a person’s structure, perception, and experience. One can miss opportunities for the client to find higher levels of organization, relationships, patterns, and function that exist in our field of being. Although an outside observer might not perceive our contact into the client’s field of being, to the client it is very real. The client experiences it and change happens. When the client incorporates the new experience within himself and his being, more aspects of the physical tissues can find the means to organize and integrate.


In saving “Properties of Structure,” it is certainly correct to think of these as goals or results of Structural Integration. I think there is a point at which it is more accurate to call them properties or qualities. That point is at the moment of embodiment. At the moment when the goal or result is achieved, qualities/properties arise in the coherent structural being and become functional components of the structure/being itself.

Some properties of structure are expressed in Maitland’s Rolling”: Principles Taxonomies Techniques; in the Rolf Institute’s Order of Events (19); and in Dr. Rolf’s writings, lectures and videos. Others are discovered through experience, or learned from those who have been doing this work for twenty to thirty years with a healthy curiosity for why this work works.

Dr. Rolf stated that lines in the body are not mystical structures, but are places where forces balance. She talked about how use of our anatomy in a balanced way yields a force of balance and strength. I believe this force is a property of structure. When I am coaching my clients to find this property (which is usually during the integration sessions of The Recipe), I tell them they can’t use their muscles to move. I tell them to imagine a center that runs through the length of some part of their body; to imagine that center as an energy beam; to forget muscles and imagine that that center energy beam brings about all movement. Then I ask them to let this energy beam bring about the movement. At first, I will tell them to imagine this center beam of energy in the anatomical middle of whatever part of the body we’re addressing. The client begins to feel how effortless it is to move from center compared to moving from muscles; and to realize that movements contain the experience of lengthening and organizing.

With further experience and coaching, clients sense that the depth at which they can experience this force is not limited to the actual anatomical middle, but is in fact deeper. Given that the outward experience of who we are does not stop at the skin surface, it only makes sense to me that actual anatomy does not limit the deep center of who we are either. I realize that for many this doesn’t make logical sense: it can’t be found in any anatomy book; and it defies the convention. Still, every structure knows this deep center force of balance and strength, and people can be coached to find it.

For some clients, it takes substantial or very creative coaching. Others get it immediately. What I know is that their bodies know what we’re looking for. Their bodies know because it is an inherent property of structure. Accessing this property activates many of the structure’s own self-organizing mechanisms.

Many Structural Integration practitioners recognize The Line as the vertical line that Dr. Rolf’s work establishes in the body, and I absolutely agree that The Line is a property of structure; that the structure knows it, wants to organize around it, and will move more efficiently and effectively when it is available. There are also Structural Integration and Structurally Integrative Movement practitioners who recognize many lines in the body in addition to the vertical. For me, these forces of balance and strength are all the lines.

Some properties of structure that I have come to know and hold dear are:

(a) When anatomy is used in a balanced way, a force of balance and strength is produced deep to the middle of all that anatomy.

(b) Anatomy will organize itself around that force as if it were a tether and a source of optimum wisdom.

(c) Given access to this force, anatomy will use it to maintain organization and function.

(d) This force cannot be found in any anatomy book, but every physical structure knows it, no matter how random or disorganized the structure might be.

(e) Given access to and the use of this force, anatomy and the body will use it to align top-to-bottom, front-to-back, side-to-side, and core-to-sleeve.

(f) Tissues lengthen with movement.

(g) Movements are experienced as more effortless.

(h) Bodies are paradoxical: seemingly opposite qualities want to coexist in full expression simultaneously. For example, every bit, piece, and part wants to function independently of the system while, at the same time, wants to function in complete dependence, relationship, and communication with the system. In this example, I say “wants to function” because imbalances or lack of support, organization or integration may be prohibiting the structure from accessing and expressing this quality in whole or in part.

(i) Anatomy lives in the world of doing; structure lives in the world of being; and one can’t get to the world of being by doing. Being just is. The properties and qualities of being are of the structure and are within every person because being just is. One can engage these qualities and properties when working at the structural/ relationship level. Releasing less functional patterns and disorganization from the structure allows the structure greater access to its own innate sense of being, wisdom, organization, and integration. Releasing less functional patterns allows more integrated qualities of being to arise.

(j) When I am present, aware, and attending to the client’s body, being, field, and all that the client is, the client’s body, tissues, and being begin to change, relate, and integrate – seemingly all on their own.

(k) Any single aspect of a person’s mental-spiritual-emotional-and-historical-organization-of-being can sometimes have a hold on structure in ways that no amount of fascial manipulation and education can change. This is because the source of it is not physical. Its roots come from one of the other realms. Unless that root is found and addressed, the tissues can’t let go. What allows that hold to start changing is the client’s reconnection with the specific aspect that is driving the hold. When one reconnects to one’s own truth about that aspect, an integration happens and the tissues let go. In my experience, about eighty-five percent of the time, that truth is not what the thinking mind thought it was, and yet at some level, the client knows (or has subtly felt) exactly what it is. Dr. Rolf said, “…we have found that the word ‘integration’ refers to the psyche as well as the body…”21

(l) When I am in the moment, present and available, listening to the body/being/system / structure, I don’t need to know what to do or figure out what the answers are. The body /being/ system/ structure tells me, guides me. It knows.

(m) When a critical mass of random, dysfunctional and unintegrated patterns are released from the structure/being, the structure/being can continue to become more structurally integrated on its own.


There are four models of medicine on the planet currently: Chinese Medicine (including but not limited to balance, energy, the meridian system, acupuncture, the use of herbs, and acupressure massage); Ayurvedic Medicine (including but not limited to balance, energy, the chakra system, the use of herbs); Scientific Medicine (including but not limited to anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, the use of chemical pills and serums, the scientific method which assumes an uninvolved external observer, analytic thinking, the mechanists and the vitalists); and Shamanic Medicine (a term I use for all native, religious, and indigenous people’s methods and approaches to healing).

When we wonder into which of these four models our work fits, one might assume that our work originates from Scientific Medicine because Dr. Rolf had a Ph.D. in biochemistry and was committed to scientific writing and research. This assumption, however, would be faulty because Dr. Rolf subscribed to and investigated many other phenomenological modes of thought and healing. In fact, aspects of all four models relate to our work, in part because our work is done in the whole field of the being. The Recipe, amazingly, follows much of the meridian system. All core work, from pelvic floor all the way up into letting the head arise from the body, puts us squarely in the chakra system; and all of us have experienced the mystical – seemingly magical – shifts in consciousness, well-being, and alignment that occur when clients are contacted at a deep level of being.

While science and medicine continue to advance our understanding of the human, and guide us on many conditions we find in our clients, it is imperative that we let this model support us but not define us. Why? Because Scientific Medicine generally identifies elements and breaks them down into their component pieces and particles. We, however, are always working with relationship – identifying an element and relating it to the larger and larger contexts / fields in which it exists.

Trying to force-fit our practice into a scientific or medical model is inappropriate because doing so negates far too much of what our work is and what it achieves. At the same time, recognizing that our practice can both support and be supported by science and medicine has value.

Our current thought processes are biased toward thinking of parts. This is not just body parts. Nearly everything in our lives is divided and segmented: the world, countries, regions, political parties, positions on a team, departments in an organization, a day/month/year, thoughts/ feelings, and problems – breaking them down into their components to find solutions. General thought – in Scientific Medicine, in exercise, in fitness, of the physical body, of bodywork, of ergonomics, and even in our keen capacity to fix things – does not lend itself to a line of thinking that makes Structural Integration readily understood. People can think whole-and-connected when we direct their attention, but it is not their habit. It is not natural for them even to imagine that our work exists, much less to understand the perspectives and possibilities available to them through our work with structure, relationship, and organizing the body and being as a whole system.

Beyond that, we face another immense challenge. Very few people have had the experience of what it is like to feel more integrated in their body and being. I’d say most have no idea something like this is even possible. Nearly everyone thinks that what they have felt in their body throughout their lifetime is normal. Nearly everyone thinks what they experience in their body is the same that everyone else experiences. Many think what you get is what you get and you need to accept it. Some who are in pain have been told there is nothing more to be done and they should do a pain management class to learn how to live with it.

While many wish that their physical experience could be different, it occurs to very few that a really dramatic difference is possible. It occurs to even fewer that this discipline called Structural Integration was designed specifically to give them these options.

When clients experience themselves as more structurally integrated, I often ask them how I could have described this to them earlier. They always say some version of, “I have no idea.” You can’t verbally transmit the experience of Structural Integration; a person has to experience it. It seems Dr. Rolf’s statement, “You are looking for a new pattern in thinking and you will get it primarily from experience”22 relates to everyone – not just us practitioners.


To take any product or service to market, one needs something that is notably different and notably beneficial compared to what is already available. We have that, and we have challenges. We need to get ultra-clear among ourselves about what this work is. We need to translate our understanding into one consistent message in laymen’s terms that the public can relate to. We need to explain this work and say the same thing over and over and over – consistently, so people can learn and understand.

What members of the public want to know is what Structural Integration can and will do for them. The most common experiences are that clients feel more flexible, more at ease, more centered, more unified rather than a collection of parts, less stressed, younger, lighter, freer, looser, taller, straighter, more grounded, more supported, and more balanced. The list of what the public wants to know goes on and on. Clients can say: they feel clearer in their minds and thinking; they have let go of old emotional issues; they carry their whole body differently; they stand, walk, and move more fluidly; they breath more fully; they don’t get tired as often or as easily and recuperate more quickly from extended activity; and they just plain feel better inside their skin. And many items could be added to this list.


The beauty of the name Dr. Rolf chose for her work is that the name describes the work perfectly: Structural Integration. Our challenge is to help the public understand what this means and what it can do for them.

Structural Integration:

? is structural integration (do not let people call it massage or bodywork).

? is a process (do not let people call it a technique or modality).

. works with structure.

? works with anatomy in the context of structure / relationship.

.facilitates change.

? asks the structure to change how it is organized.

? asks the structure (and every piece within it) to change how it relates to itself and the fields around it.

? helps the structure find new relationship possibilities.

? gives the structure access to The Line and its own inherent, innate forces of balance and strength

? involves three primary elements in each session: the physical manipulation of the connective tissue (fascia); education; and the client’s active awareness and participation.

? works with being and body as a unified, interrelated, and dynamic structural system.

? is a process, and because it is a process, it includes all of who a person is – from the moment he first walks through your office door to the moment he is complete for now and walks out.

Unless we attend to what we ourselves say and how others describe our work, our work will continue to be misrepresented, misinterpreted or unknown, and the general public will continue to be unaware of what this work can truly do for them.


For decades, Structurally Integrative Movement work has been the less known, the less acknowledged, the less understood, the less studied, and the less practiced. In my opinion, Structurally Integrative Movement is the quintessence of our work, the highest degree of excellence that Structural Integration can achieve.

The field of Structurally Integrative Movement is limitless; and its theories, models, diversity, and applications offer a panorama of possibilities, insights, and interventions. Yet, with all this, there is no recipe to follow, no exercise regimen, no series or protocol to apply, and no step-by-step instructions. There is nothing to tell you in advance what you’re going to be doing in any given session with any given client. The possibilities of intervention, and what one can bring to awareness and integrate, are as huge as the field of being itself.

Structurally Integrative Movement work is done in the moment. It demands that the practitioner be present in the moment, be processing on all cylinders, be one with the client’s experience, be open and available, be listening, trust what comes, and be spontaneous and creative. These demands are so because Structurally Integrative Movement work is done in the relationship of structure and perception/consciousness (including what is beneath conscious awareness). As Certified Advanced Rolfer Hubert Godard says when he teaches his classes, “All movement – all movement – is based on perception.”

The relationship of structure and consciousness is the world of being. Since structure lives in the world of being, the skills of Structurally Integrative Movement are the zenith of what we as practitioners, and Structural Integration itself, can potentially offer the total human being.

“Ideally, we ought to be one with the system so that the observer and observed become mutually transparent or coherent. For in such a pure, coherent state … uncertainty and ignorance are both at a minimum…. Awareness of self is heightened precisely because self and other are simultaneously accessed.. ..This manner of knowing – with one’s entire being, rather than just the isolated intellect – is foreign to the scientific tradition of the West [and] is the only authentic way of knowing.”23


Deep-tissue massage is massage. It originated from Structural Integration. During the 1960s and 1970s, when Dr. Rolf gave lectures and demonstrations, massage practitioners in the audience would watch what she was doing and take home some of the techniques they’d seen, adapting them to their massage practices. Over the years, this collection of techniques coalesced into what we now know as deep-tissue massage.

What the massage practitioners couldn’t take with them was Dr. Rolf’s knowledge, presence, and experience in working with structure at the structural system level. This includes what Dr. Rolf really had her hands on, how she was engaging the structure, and what she was actually doing to evoke change in that structural system so the system could reorganize itself into greater structure and function.

Deep-tissue massage is a collection of techniques that work more deeply (than traditional massage) in the body to get muscles to relax and to improve range of motion and circulation. Deep-tissue massage is very good for working local anatomy that is chronically tight. It might by chance improve body alignment and balance, but this is not within the scope or purpose of the work.

Deep-tissue massage doesn’t include knowledge or understanding of structural dynamics; of how to engage a body as a whole system; or of how the structure needs to release in order to reorganize, rebalance, and realign itself so that chronic tightness doesn’t continue to accumulate in the system. These aspects are not included because they are not necessary in order to accomplish deep-tissue massage.

By contrast, in Structural Integration, the organization of the total human being as a structural system and the dynamics of how it balances and imbalances itself within itself and with its environment are primary in our decisions and application of what to do, how to do, when to do, and when it is done such that the structure can continue to improve on its own.


Myofascial release is a form of massage or, if you like, soft-tissue manipulation. I don’t believe myofascial release would exist if Dr. Rolf (and a few others) hadn’t recognized fascia and developed ways of working with it. In this way, I believe the root of myofascial release is Structural Integration work – even though it was developed by John Barnes, a physical therapist, who also studied soft-tissue manipulation and Craniosacral therapy. Myofascial release, just like Structural Integration, works with the myofascial system.

Myofascial release was designed to provide relief for chronic pain and dysfunction associated with muscle tightness. By definition, it is technique-driven and symptom-oriented. Examples of myofascial release techniques are: cross-fiber, lengthening strokes, hold and stretch, long sustained pressure, unwinding, holding for thirty seconds, etc. But students of myofascial release – just like students of deep-tissue massage – don’t learn the principles, properties, and dynamics of structure, and how to engage those so the body/being can change how it is structurally organized.

Structural Integration includes myofascial release work and myofascial techniques. Decisions and applications, however, of what to do, how to do, when to do, and when you’re done, are driven by the goal of balancing and aligning the structure into an effective, efficient, functioning whole.


There are twenty-some schools of Structural Integration in operation, and you can look through their websites to become more familiar with each. When it comes to talking with the public about them, I look for ways to speak of the Structural Integration schools (a) in their best light, and (b) to make clearly understandable distinctions that are true. I focus on this because clients, massage therapists, and others want accurate information, and want clear, specific, and simple answers to their questions.

While I am familiar with more than just these three schools, most often I get questions about The Guild for Structural Integration (GSI), Hellerwork┬ę International, and The Rolf Institute┬░ of Structural Integration (RISI). The following highlights some distinctions I mention when I’m asked. I start with what is common among the three.

Each school was founded by either Dr. Rolf herself or her handpicked prot├ęg├ęs. Each teaches Structural Integration. Each teaches Dr. Rolf’s traditional Recipe. Two of the three own registered service marks, which means that only practitioners certified by their schools and in good standing possess the legal rights to use the service marks. Rolfing” and Hellerwork┬░ are brand names of Structural Integration – just like Coke┬« is a brand name of cola and Kleenex┬« is a brand name of facial tissue. The Rolf Institute┬« of Structural Integration is the only organization with the legal right to call its work Rolfing┬« Structural Integration and to provide its certified practitioners with the legal rights to use the term and the “little boy” logo. Similarly, Hellerwork┬« International, is the only organization to own and provide rights to the use of its registered service mark, Hellerwork┬«.

Now for some differences:

The short version of differences among these three is: instruction at the RISI is more progressive or evolutionary; at GSI it has remained more traditional; and the Hellerwork® process uses an interactive dialogue around emotion, structure, and being, as well as including an eleventh session.

Sometimes people ask for more details about what this means.

I think of the RISI as evolutionary or progressive because it has given much thought over the past twenty years to: (1) why this stuff works; (2) identifying principles which underlie how it works; (3) challenging assumptions; (4) studying other disciplines such as osteopathy, spinal mechanics, craniosacral therapy, and visceral manipulation; and (5) developing auxiliary Structural Integration interventions.

Regarding GSI, its mission statement says: “(1) Structural Integration is a method and a philosophy of personal growth and integrity; (2) The vertical line is our fundamental concept. The physical and psychological embodiment of the vertical line is a way of BEING in the physical world. It forms a basis for personal growth and integrity; [and] (3) The teaching of Structural Integration is transmitted through a form called the ‘Recipe.’ The ‘Recipe’ is the tradition, the foundation, the essence of Dr. Ida Rolf’s teaching.”24

Regarding the interactive dialogue in Hellerwork┬«: each session includes a theme, which guides a dialogue between practitioner and client. For example, in session two with lower legs and feet: “The theme of this section is ‘Standing on Your Own Two Feet.’ In this section we consider issues of security, self-support, and sufficiency…”” Regarding the eleventh session: “The eleventh section is different from any other section in the Hellerwork┬░ series. The purposes of this section are completion, self-expression, and empowerment.”26

This information is not the be-all and end-all of these three schools, but it can answer some basic questions we are asked by clients, massage therapists, and other professionals. Referring inquirers to websites is also an excellent approach; yet I find that many just want a ten- to twenty-word answer to their immediate questions. As for the schools, our differences make us unique and valuable. The common elements support us to fulfill Dr. Rolf’s mission and legacy.


Structural Integration in a living system is its state of being, embodying qualities of being. When a client enters our practice, the client’s state of being is the client’s structural integration. All aspects of who-one-is have been negotiated to the best of the person’s ability. What we see is the best solution that this system/being has found so far. Our goal is not to relax, soften, or just lengthen things within this state (as in massage) or to make a client just feel better (as in the misguided healer). Our goal, our practice, our job, and our responsibility is to apply our disciplined knowledge of structure and how it balances and organizes itself in order to help the whole being find an even more effective and efficient state of balance, alignment, organization, integration, and function. We facilitate each client’s discovery of his current optimal state of being, his optimal Structural Integration.


1. The Random House Dictionary, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1978, p. 879.

2. Ibid. at 898.

3. Ibid. at 152.

4. Ibid. at 712-713.

5. Ibid. at 633.

6. Ibid. at 22.

7. Ibid. at 470.

8. Ibid. at 474.

9. Ibid. at 890.

10. Feitis, Rosemary (ed.), Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing® and Physical Reality, Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration, Boulder, CO, 1978, p. 181.

11. The Random House Dictionary, p. 65.

12. Ibid. at 394.

13. Ibid. at 522-523 and 687.

14. Feitis, p. 104.

15. Ibid. at 109.

16. Ibid. at 205.

17. Ho, Mae-Wan, The Rainbow and The Worm: The Physics of Organisms, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., River Edge, NJ, 1998, p. 178.

18. Feitis, p. 33.

19. “Orders of Events for Structural Integration”, based on the work of Certified Advanced Rolfers, Jan Sultan, Jeffrey Maitland, Michael Salveson, and others include: Motility precedes mobility; Mobility precedes position; Differentiation precedes integration; Front back order precedes left-right order; Appendicular organization precedes axial organization; and more.

20. Maitland, Ph.D., J., class notes from his handout “Rolfing=: Principles Taxonomies Techniques”.

21. Rolf, Ida P., Center for Healing Arts Lecture, July 19, 1975.

22. Feitis, p. 205.

23. Ho, pp. 230-231

24. The Guild Online, Boulder, CO: Guild For Structural Integration, Inc., Fall 2005, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. inside cover.

25. Heller, J., and Hanson J., The Client’s Handbook, Joseph Heller and Hellerwork┬« Inc., Mt. Shasta, CA, 1993, p. 12.

26. Ibid. at 30.

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