What is Structural Integration?
Structural Integration is a systematic form of manual therapy and “movement re-education” that aims to increase body awareness, improve posture, reduce pain and make your movements more effortless and graceful.
Structural Integrators (the people who perform the manual therapy) work primarily with fascia, which is the biological fabric that permeates the human body. Fascia forms a whole-body continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support. It surrounds and separates every muscle, coats every bone, covers each organ and envelops every nerve. Needless to say, it’s pretty important!
Fascia is designed to absorb loads and to link our muscles together so that these loads can be absorbed through the whole myo-fascial chain. The fascial network acts an important tension system, rebounding energy from your foot to your spine with each step. When fascia is hydrated, unrestricted and well organized, it makes our movements more efficient.
Yoga and Structural Integration both promote heightened awareness by working towards a more balanced and functional body in order to maximize human potential so naturally, we can see how they fit together.
4 Ways SI Can Help Your Yoga Practice
1. Deeper & Fuller Breath
Every yogi knows how important the breath is. Changing your breath is the best way to change overall posture, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve your yoga practice. Many people don’t have a full, natural breath that allows the rib cage to expand 360 degrees. This causes them to over use accessory muscles and inhibits them from taking full advantage of the diaphragm.
During a series of SI, much work is done to “open the breath”. Scrubbing bound fascia off the ribs, unsticking the liver/stomach from diaphragm and reminding neck and shoulder muscles that they aren’t breathing muscles are a few things I think about when I’m working with a client.
Yogis often notice a fuller, more natural breath just after one session.
2. A Better Bodymap
Proprioception is the ability to sense where your body is in space. Interoception is the ability to feel what’s going inside your body. On a basic level, interoception is knowing when you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired. People that lack this skill have a hard time self-regulating. On a more refined level interoception lets you know how your parts relate to each other.
During an SI session, the client is moving to the cues I give while I work to open and integrate soft tissues. This helps them to understand how their body works on a deeper level. Generally when practicing, you want to spread the sensation and work evenly throughout the body. Having a firm grasp on which glute fires better and what hamstring is tighter can help you to become more balanced.
When I ask a majority of my clients to point to their hips they actually point to their pelvis. Technically the hip is where the femur fits into the pelvis. Knowing where this is super important for yoga because it’s a vital pivot point for almost every posture. This is a fairly deep joint and has about 20 muscles all influencing its position. This area gets super compressed and congested due to modern life and the fascia is often so bound that it is a dead zone in body awareness.
During an SI series there is a lot of work done to balance the hips. Clients gain awareness on where the joint actually is and also how the range of motion is different on each side. This awareness helps the client refine their practice to better suit their needs.
3. Less compensations and a more graceful practice
In many yoga postures, people tend to compensate in order to achieve the full posture. Don’t have enough hip extension for a back bend? We’ll just borrow a bit from the low back. Not enough external rotation for lotus posture? Then just borrow a bit from your knee. Using your joints like this may help you get into the posture but in the long term, your setting yourself up for an overuse injury.
Structural integration frees up individual muscles so they can do their job. Once the body is properly aligned and individual muscles are freed up, the yoga practitioner will notice greater ease and less strain in their practice.
4. Natural alignment/Yogi alignment
There are 2 kinds of alignment: The alignment you are born with and the alignment that’s imposed on us by culture, family, and movement teachers. Some of the patterns you inherited or learned from parents might not be ideal, and some of the cues you get in yoga class might not serve you in a positive way.
For example, let’s say you’ve been walking with feet turned out vs forward for the last 30 years. It’s going to take time and patience to make a substantial change in this pattern. Or maybe you have a torsion in your pelvis which is very common. This would make it very hard to square your hips in warrior one, and if you crank on it you’re likely to damage the lower back or knee.
The good news is, that you are your own best teacher! One beautiful thing about the SI process is how collaborative it is. I use my eyes to visually assess, but that’s never the whole story. The work on the table is not passive. I am cueing the client in different ways and they are reporting back what they feel throughout the session.
Throughout the process the client is learning about their body and patterns of movement. Often times forgotten injuries and traumas are remembered. All of this helps the client to better understand their body, and gives them tools to create a lifelong sustainable yoga practice!