An Introduction to Structural Integration
By Paul Wirth
As Mother Nature dumps snow on Utah this winter, carloads of people are driving up the canyons, hiking the backcountry and riding lifts to enjoy epic powder and stunning terrain while coming as close to flying as they can while still (mostly) touching the ground.
Skiing and snowboarding revives feelings of effortless joy that we all remember, if not from last week or last winter, then from our childhood. For some, it shows up as a simple turn in fresh powder. For others, it’s in taking flight off a 60-foot drop. For any snow lover, there are days when skiing or riding feels effortless and easy. Other days—where you’re at your edge or far beyond it—your body is under strain and pain and injury run the show.
To reduce or eliminate those days, you can organize your body to deal with both the results and causes of injury. Refine the structural relationships in your body, bring what’s out of order into order and you set the body up for more balance, power and ease. This can be achieved through structural integration, also known as Rolfing. Rolfing was born out of the work of biochemist and bodywork pioneer, Dr. Ida Rolf, more than 50 years ago when she began to see the body as a system organized and shaped at every level by its resilient, adaptable layers of connective tissue, or fascia.
Dr. Rolf saw that the body can be adapted to handling the forces that run through it in a balanced and efficient way. Over the course of decades, she developed a way to work hands-on with people, a method she initially called Structural Integration (SI), which was eventually taught at the Institute she founded under the trademark Rolfing®.
Skiers and snowboards can benefit from Rolfing in the following ways:
- Release of chronic tension and scar tissue along with increased range of motion, leading to movement that’s more free from compensation and less dictated by old injuries.
- Relief of chronically-stressed areas as force transfers through the centers of joints and limbs on its way to the boots, boards and skis.
- Connection and support through the core structures of the body. A clearer feeling of being grounded and stable on skis or boards with power being directed cleanly and evenly through the legs, resulting in confident and agile turns.
- Improvements in the sense of balance.
- Length and openness in movement, a sense of ease and flow in challenging terrain.
A Rolfing session starts with a short assessment—movement and perhaps a walk around the room—to see patterns that are showing up in the client’s structure and how they might have changed since last time. After that, the rest of the session takes place on the table as we work hands-on with the relevant restrictions. The hour typically winds up with another short assessment as well as some movement cues and suggestions to help you feel what’s changed in your body.
The goal is to create change that’s able to stabilize in the body—change that lasts indefinitely. Because structural work develops over time in a person’s body, Rolfing tends to be most effective in a limited series of sessions, each one building on the progress of the next. Single sessions can be very effective, but building sessions together in series tends to help the work take shape stronger and last longer.
New clients often come in with the impression that SI is always “deep” and “painful.” There’s a history to that—to the idea that deep work equals firm pressure equals pain—but it’s not that simple. The contact in Rolfing tends to be slow and deliberate. It can range from very light to quite firm depending on the layers and areas we’re dealing with at any particular time. And in my training and experience, this work is much more effective when I keep my client feeling comfortable.
To sum it up, Dr. Rolf’s vision was this, in part: Your body is a complex and intelligent living structure capable of superb, inherent balance and powerful, efficient movement. The work of Rolfing and SI helps you take full advantage of that capacity by building order in your body and relieving the obstacles to it. An ordered body means more days making tracks in Utah’s fresh powder and less time recovering from fatigue and injury. For more information on Rolfing, visit: mosaicsi.com.
Paul Wirth has been practicing Rolfing® Structural Integration since 2003 and is the owner of Mosaic Structural Integration in Salt Lake City and Park City. mosaicsi.com