Massage and Structural Integration


Everybody knows what massage is. We know at least roughly what to expect if someone says they offer massage therapy, or even if they offer one of the other many style and flavors of the massage world; therapeutic, deep tissue, swedish, lomi lomi, myofascial, shiatsu, relaxation, and so on. We understand that we may not know the exact details of each style, technique or practitioner. But we know to picture a massage table, a face cradle, probably dim lighting and soothing music, and a therapist performing some sort of direct hands-on contact with our bodies. We expect to relax, feel better, and have less pain afterwards.

But I’m a Structural Integrator. Hardly anybody knows what that is. And people definitely notice that Structural Integrators typically do not advertise structural integration massage. Nope – just structural integration. With the conspicuous absence of the M word, what’s a prospect to think? I use a massage table, I tend to keep the lights low, I play soothing music. I most certainly do hands-on work, and I even want my clients to feel better. So why don’t I just call it “structural integration massage,” to make it easier for everybody to understand what I do?

Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Dr. Ida P. Rolf

The reason I don’t call it “massage” is that it really is different. It isn’t a “flavor” of massage. The founder of structural integration was not a massage therapist who came up with a creative new batch of add-on techniques. In fact, the founder of structural integration was Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry. Dr. Rolf was intrigued with alternative modalities, and spent many years studying and experimenting with different systems of healing and movement combined with tissue manipulation. She eventually named her body of work “structural integration,” then dedicated the rest of her life to bringing it to as many people as possible. We can classify structural integration as bodywork, soft tissue manipulation, even manual therapy. But, despite the fact that my advertising strategy would be easier if I adopted the massage classification, it would simply be incorrect.


I am trained to look at the body, use hands-on techniques over a series of 11 sessions to progressively ease the structure into the best alignment possible, and help each client recognize and embody the changes as they occur. We may use before & after photographs, drawings, imagery, movement re-education and other exercises along the way.


So why does someone choose to try structural integration? Most often, it’s a pain issue. They might be dealing with chronic low back pain, a constant ache between the shoulder blades, a stiff neck, headaches, knee pain…obviously this could be a very long list. Sometimes it’s performance related, like restricted range of motion in a shoulder joint that’s interfering with a sport, or maybe feeling heavy and sluggish when running. Often people want to improve their posture, perhaps after being told they need to by a chiropractor, osteopath or other practitioner. Sometimes people are simply curious. That was me initially; I wasn’t in pain, and honestly felt my posture was pretty good. (And here’s a secret for you…the silhouette image to the right of this paragraph was created from my before/after photographs. Turned out my pre-series posture wasn’t all that great!)

No matter what the client’s motivation for coming in, my goal as a structural integrator is the same; to get this person’s structure organized and integrated so they stand and move in gravity as efficiently as possible. That’s it. Dr. Rolf often joked that “if your symptoms get better, that’s your tough luck!” Happily, organizing the structure does tend to address symptoms. And sometimes, changing the way someone stands in gravity brings less expected benefits. I’ve had many clients report things like feeling taller, more confident, having a quieter mind (which always brings better sleep!), and improvement of depression issues. People often feel that the work helps them process emotional issues that they never imagined might be tied into their physical being.


Structural integration is hard to explain concisely. And I’ve learned that even if you’re willing to stick with me for the long-winded version, chances you still won’t feel 100% clear. In the end, it really is something you have to feel in your body to really understand what we’re after. So I hope this has at least provided a better idea of how structural integration differs from massage, and what it has to offer. You can always give me a call for that long-winded version if you like!

Carli Herrs