Structural Integration

What If…? Part 2

This post is a continuation from What If Working Your Butt Off is Making it Bigger?

But before I get going I want to be clear that I do not have any illusions as to knowing anything. To borrow from the old adage: “The more I learn the less I know.”

Since high school I’ve carried with me this Shakespearean quote: “Any fool in error can find a passage of scripture to back him. I don’t know for sure, but I think it has been loosely adapted over the years from “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” from The Merchant of Venice. Disregard any biblical reference, just consider the ease with which one can support an argument regardless of right or wrong. It’s easy to ride on the shoulders of giants, whereas it takes much effort to come to one’s own conclusions. And yet how rigid we can become with some of those conclusions, much like how Earl F. Landgrebe famously said: “Don’t confuse me with the facts”, I’ve got my mind made up.

In the previous post I touched upon:

  • How complex our body is
  • What a healthy muscle is
  • The relationship between muscle and fascia
  • What fascia is
  • How dysfunctional movement patterning can negatively affect our skeletal structure
  • A personal example of how repetitive overuse muscular patterning caused my legs to bow

Wabi Sabi

We tend to take offense at the idea that our body might be dysfunctional; as if we were perfect, or rather, that in our state of imperfection we are perfect. From a confidence perspective I understand this…I have kids, I want them to know that they are great no matter what – their imperfections are accepted and they can do anything! What I am talking about here is factual based on anatomy and has NOTHING to do with how great each and everyone of us is. It is this Wabi-sabi which is what makes us who we are. This commentary is not an attempt to change that. Quite simply, I have a fascination with the mechanics of movement and when our structure is not in balance, it is often pain and dysfunction which is the end result. I think we can all agree that living with acute or chronic pain should be avoided – I hope to explain how we can help ourselves eliminate current pain and discomfort, avoid future pain and have a long life of functional movement. Does this make sense so far? No hurt feelings?

Ida Rolf

The more fascia is being understood, the more it is being talked about and studied in traditional massage therapy circles. Ida P. Rolf was one of the pioneers who studied the relationship fascia has on our body’s structural alignment, she called her work ‘Structural Integration.’ Over the years, however, students, practitioners and patients began referring to the work as ‘Rolfing’and by 1979 it became a registered trademark of the Rolf Institute. Many off-shoots from Rolfing exist today and as a result more and more research is being done. We benefit from this.

Similar techniques have names such as: KMI (Kinesis Myofascial Integration) which was developed by Thomas Myers and Wharton Performance Musculoskeletal Therapy,which is the work of Jim and Phil Wharton, their technique is called AIS (Active Isolated Stretching). There is also ART (Active Release Technique). There are so many others of equal merit, but just not enough time for me to reference them all, please feel free to add any in the comment section.

“Anatomy studies a projection of the static body, but function in the living requires more than static recognition.”- Ida P. Rolf

Structural Integration

The reason I have made reference to these techniques is that I want you to understand that this is a legitimate field of work. Oftentimes – for those outside of this circle – the idea of correcting one’s skeletal alignment or lessening chronic pain seems impossible without pain medication or surgery, which embody their own set of complications.

I’d like to finish with an explanation of why doing endless squats or leg lifts can be counter-productive should a persons muscles and fascia not be gliding properly. How the tissue can sometimes be so stuck that other muscle groups end up carrying the load, unbeknownst to the exerciser!  For example, when I would do squats or lunges: because my femurs were stuck in external rotation, my gluteus medius, TFL and hamstrings were taking on most of the workload (not to mention which stabilizing groups were not doing their job). My gluteus maximus was not firing as it should which was taking me more in the direction of the flat buttock syndrome, that is common among ageing women. As a result I noticed that my pelvis had expanded and the head of my femur was not articulating properly in its socket. I’d have clicking in my hip, an over tight ITB which affected my knee mechanics which affected how my lower leg and feet responded to movement. Which affected how my pelvis was balanced, which then affected my lower back on one side and so on…it has quite the domino effect. (Have your eyes started glazing yet?)

Since doing my 4 Minute Mornings (Week 3 – DAY 7) for the last 10 months straight, I have noticed a marked improvement in my pelvis, leg alignment and hip function. The short duration of the slow to moderately paced repetitive movement of bending down and reaching up has been physical therapy for these areas. It is very important to state that it is the short duration that makes the difference. My adductors and smaller supportive/ stabilizing internal pelvic muscles are being retrained when I do the bend down and reach up. I am engaging them to stabilize my femur in a parallel alignment. These weaker muscles can barely last for the four rounds. If I were to carry on longer than 4 minutes (thinking more is better) then I would do myself further disservice – these muscles can only take so much retraining at a time. These muscles need to rest but must be consistently retrained and challenged; hence, daily body maintenance.

I do the bend down and reach up movement with my feet together. I can’t say legs together, yet, because to actually make the sides of my knees connect takes tremendous effort. So rather than force what is not natural, I work with it in increments. I face the mirror and observe my alignment as I go. Every few months I have an A-Ha! moment whereby I notice an improvement, like my legs are actually looking straighter now, and it is becoming easier to keep my legs connected during the exercise, my pelvis is narrowing, my overdeveloped muscles are less developed and I notice a better more balanced muscular aesthetic as well as function. It’s very exciting! The less is more principle really works. Whoever coined that phrase forgot to mention that it’s in being consistent with less, which does the trick.

Also, for years my right leg has seemed just a fraction shorter than my left, (years ago my Pilates teacher pointed it out to me – I’m sure I took offense!). I notice it when I’m in Downward Dog, for example. As I’ve been working on my bend down and reach up exercise, while observing in the mirror I would notice (with irritation) how my right knee would absolutely not line up with the left -during the bend. Just the other morning when I engaged my adductors I made the connection…by reconnecting with my adductors and focusing on the deep muscles of the hip joint my knees levelled out for the first time and I could feel less pull on the usual overcompensating worker muscles. Understand that this was only possible because of the the last ten months of strict daily stretching and rolling out (generally ten minutes before bed) an RMT visit on average once per month and 20-30minutes of Yoga 1-3 times per week. The stretching homework sets the stage for me to be able to engage these underused muscles. Believe me, I’ve been trying to work these muscles for years, and thought I was…now I know the difference.

Now, when I walk, run or swim I can feel how my legs are aligning more fluidly. I can feel the fascia around my right hip and lower back releasing daily, as a result I can feel the domino effect of change affecting the lower leg compartment which is opening up my ankle joints. These changes to patterning don’t always feel wonderful, there can be a kind of dull ache as I work through tissue, but it is no where near the kind of discomfort that comes with pain and injury. There is still a lot of work to do, but to call it work is misleading, this is daily body maintenance.

 

What helps to keep my body functioning is a combination of:

  • Visiting my RMT every three to four weeks
  • Doing my homework stretches which include rolling out my muscles and fascia with my Travel Roller
  • Keep my workouts short but intense
  • Analyze my movement patterns
  • Continue to read my anatomy books

How can you help yourself?

  • Become more familiar with your anatomy.
  • Find an RMT, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Rolfer, Pilates teacher…anyone who you click with and can establish a working/ collaborative relationship -they are your body mechanic. You can work with many different practitioners, they won’t mind, the more experience you gain the easier you make their job and the better your results.
  • Learn which stretches are beneficial for your body, be it a combination of AIS, Yoga or other
  • Make sure that the stretches you are doing are NOT causing more of an imbalance
  • Start rolling out your body, visit: Travel Roller and view their Instructional Videos or Yamuna Body Rolling

Useful reference books:

“One of the biggest misnomers is that tight muscles are ‘strong’ and loose muscles are ‘weak.’

In actuality, the strongest muscle is one that is the perfect length.” – Katy Bowman

Check back for What If…? Part 3. I will explain some upper body mechanics…how too many downward dogs or push ups can give you a headache among other things.