In our series on massage modalities, we’ve covered Thai massage, trigger point therapy, and Tui Na. Today we’re looking at a different form of massage: Structural Bodywork. At its crux, structural bodywork explores and offsets imbalances within the body.

The mother of structural bodywork is Ida Rolf. Ida Rolf was a biochemist, yoga teacher, manual therapist, and sensorimotor educator who had a holistic vision of health. Her focus as a healer was to improve overall biochemical functioning, rather than treating certain systems. Rolf’s creation, Structural Integration, improves health by improving the human body’s structure in relation to gravity.
Within this school, fascia tissue is a major focus. This tissue wraps around all the muscles, bones, joints, and organs in your body, holding them in place and providing structure. Fascia also communicates neural signals, transmits force and provides stability across muscle groups. You can imagine fascia as a 3D spider web within the body.

This way of thinking stands in contrast to the more traditional understanding of the body, which structural specialist Thomas Meyers calls “the isolated muscle theory.” Open up an anatomy textbook, and chances are it will outline muscles according to distil and proximal insertion points, with the implication that each muscle is working on its own, doing little more than connecting these two points. Structural integration theories, including Rolfing and structural massage, instead posit that muscles and connective tissues work in harmony to connect continuous tissue pathways across the body, and that injuries and restrictions in one section of this pathway will have and effect along the entire pathway. Therefore, by focusing on lines of associated connective tissue and muscle—“Anatomy Trains,” in Meyers’ thinking—therapists can uncover and equalize postural imbalances.

Many therapists appreciate the holistic approach of structural bodywork. The mind/body connection is central to this massage modality, as our emotional experiences can cause habitual physical responses, leading to adhesions, restrictions in movement, and eventually compromised connective tissue meridians. Those nasty knots you feel in your back during rush-hour traffic or after a long day at the desk are “stuck points” in the muscle and connective tissue. Over time, those knots will throw off your posture and somewhere the body’s structural tissues will need to compensate.

Benefits of Structural Bodywork

Pain Relief. By analyzing and adjusting imbalanced connective tissue, therapists can alleviate the pain of over- or under-worked muscle groups.

Increased Range of Motion. After a structural bodywork session, clients often feel freer in their bodies and smoother in their movements.

Emotional Release. Stress and trauma are deposited in the body—like the saying goes, “The issues are in the tissues.” By releasing stuck patterning in the body, structural bodywork can also allow clients to let go of the emotional experiences that caused anatomical restriction in the first place.

Want to learn more about structural bodywork? Sing up for a massage therapy training. As one of the leading massage therapy schools in Oregon, we regularly host classes on Thomas Meyer’s Anatomy Trains and other structural bodywork approaches. To find a course that fits your schedule, check out the upcoming continuing education courses at our Oregon school of massage.