What is Soma Structural Integration?

Simply put, Soma Structural Integration (SI) is a form of bodywork that creates change. SI works by way of the fascial (connective tissue) network to release chronic, stored structural aberrations, and effectively realign the entire body.

Soma SI is centered around a set of 11 individual sessions, each building upon the last. With this progressive approach, the body is introduced to change gradually and actually learns a new way of being in gravity. Because the changes are learned and integrated, they are lasting, and the body continues to evolve long after completion of the Series Work.

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What benefits can I expect to see from this work?

Soma is a holistic style of bodywork, meaning that the whole body is taken into consideration, and we seek to address the root cause of pain. People who have received the Soma work often report improvements in their posture, balance, flexibility, energy levels, general health and athleticism. Just as often, they notice improvement in their own self-awareness, self-confidence and overall well-being. Soma has been effective at treating a wide-ranging list of ailments, including injuries, chronic pain, carpal tunnel, and even depression.

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Is Soma the same as Rolfing™️?

No, but Soma is is a direct descendant of Rolfing. A super-condensed history: Dr. Ida P. Rolf was the founder of the work known as Structural Integration, and her followers quickly began referring to the work as "Rolfing." Dr. Bill Williams was the first Rolfer to branch off from Ida's school, and he developed Soma as a distinct form of Structural Integration back in 1977.

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What is Somassage?

Somassage® is a standalone session developed by and taught at the Soma Institute, completely independent of the Series Work. It feels somewhat more like "regular" massage than the Series Work, but follows the Series Work principles throughout. New clients may choose to "dip their toe" into the world of Soma by way of a Somassage, and Series veterans often use it as a tune-up, to help their bodies remember what it learned. Please click here for more information on this holistic full-body treatment.

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How is Soma different from "regular" massage?

Check out this article on this topic - Massage and Structural Integration.

The primary difference is in the intent of the work. Massage works to soften muscles and release tension in the body, which most definitely helps to relax both body and mind and ease pain of all varieties. But, these benefits often do not last, and the massage must be repeated at regular intervals to maintain the results. Soma has a very specific intention to change the structure of the body through the fascial network, and do so in a way that entrains the neurological system to recognize and integrate these changes. So when Soma eases a pain, it is often not related to any specific work done on the site of the pain, but the release of a structural aberration in a completely different location.

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Carli Herrs
How will I feel after a soma session?

Like any form of bodywork, different bodies respond in different ways. But generally speaking, when you stand up after a session, I'm not looking for you to feel all gooey and relaxed like after a great massage. In fact I'd much rather you stand up and feel odd, like you have to catch your balance in an unfamiliar way - that's a great sign that we've shifted something in your body! This is why I often have clients stand up halfway through a session, so their neuromuscular system can sense how the side we worked on feels compared to the unworked side. Clients often report feeling energized, light, springy, and taller. Again, everyone's experience is unique, especially during the Series where each session is completely different.

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Carli Herrs
Do I have to complete the entire series?

No. If you are thinking about it, I encourage you to come in for Session 1 or a Somassage® to experience the work, and then you can decide if you want to continue. There is no commitment involved until you get to Session 4, where we begin to make changes in your core. At this point I would ask you to be sure you are willing to continue through at least Session 7, as this set of sessions are deeply inter-related and must be completed in fairly close succession (ideally no more than 2 weeks in between sessions).

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Carli Herrs
What happens after I complete the series work?

In a very real way, Soma teaches your body new ideas, a new way to exist in gravity. Because of this, the body continues to integrate changes based on this new knowledge for a long time after the series work is completed. I strongly recommend you refrain from any kind of bodywork for a month or two after completing the series, to avoid interrupting this process, and maintain some awareness of changes that we created in your posture and gait to encourage your body to keep these new patterns. After that, clients often choose to receive Somassage® sessions periodically, sort of like a tune-up or a way to remind the body of what was learned in the series.

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Carli Herrs
Does it hurt?

Soma is very deep work, and I won't hedge, it can be intense! But it should always feel like the work is productive and needed for your structure to release and change. I am also finding that the neurovascular release work and other approaches I am studying can often achieve deep release with significantly less force; for example, if I can get a “problem area” to let go by gently addressing artery tension to the region, I will most certainly do that before diving into the tissue directly. I work within each individual's parameters, and the client always has authority over how much discomfort they will experience. You can say "stop" at any time and the pressure will be withdrawn immediately, any pain along with it. This isn’t a “no pain no gain” situation at all, we’re working together to make things happen, and if we can get it done without discomfort we darn well will :)

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What will my sessions be like?

Upon arrival, we will handle any paperwork duties (that's mostly the first session) and payment. I will step out of the room while you disrobe down to your underwear (and tube top for women). When you are ready, I'll ask you to stand while I do a brief body reading; this is also your time to check into your body and sense how everything is feeling. I may also ask you to walk a little and observe your gait, depending on what we're working on. Then, we'll get you on the table and get started. I will often ask you to stand up and sense your body halfway through the session, to help you become aware of changes that are happening. Creating awareness of changes helps them last!

When the session is complete, I may teach you some movements/exercises that go along with the session. We may do this right next to the table, or I may ask you to get dressed so we can move out into the studio, depending on how much room is needed. Either way, I'll have stepped out of the room while you dress.

Clients who go through the series work may also choose to see the changes we produce together using photographs. I'll take some snapshots of your body (front, side & back) before Session 1, and then another set after Session 10, so you can see for yourself how your body has changed.

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Carli Herrs
Before and After Photos? Really?

There is an old SI tradition of ending your series by viewing snapshots of your body from before session 1 and after session 10. And yes, the photos are taken while you’re in your undies.

Obviously, this weird for many people. A decent-sized percentage of my SI colleagues have dropped this from their practices altogether, for varied and good reasons. Having your photographs taken like this is uncomfortable at best, privacy concerns come up, few of us enjoy seeing ourselves in such photos, and last but not least the changes can look subtle and maybe even disappointing to the untrained eye.

The argument for taking them is that it’s another way for you to see how your structure has changed, which means it’s another chance for your system to recognize and embody those changes more deeply. And there are many of us that actually find it fun to see what happened. I have in fact had clients ask for copies of their photos to keep for themselves, or show to their spouses or friends. And while I have unfortunately experienced a few kinda downer series endings due to non-spectacular results, which honestly did make me consider dropping it, I’ve just had too many clients have an extremely positive experience with the pictures to stop offering the option!

The photos are 100% for you, not me, so whether we take them is entirely your choice. I use BodyAlignPro for photo storage, a secure and HIPAA-compliant app that was developed by one of my fellow SI practitioners. At the end of your series we view the photos with no expectation or judgement, in the “let’s see what we see” spirit.

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What's with the un-numbered Arm Session?

The Arm Session is unique to the Soma style of Structural Integration. It was carefully developed by Karen Bolesky, the director of the Soma Institute, over a span of many years. Karen found that the arm work in the classic sessions (originally very brief or even non-existant) was becoming more and more critical for her clients, likely coinciding with the increasing ubiquity of computers in our lives! After breaking it into a standalone session in her own practice and observing the effect in her clients, she eventually added it to the official Soma Institute curriculum.

Because it is an add-on, it is considered optional. However, the way the arms hang can affect the shoulder girdle and even the neck, so clients who have issues in these regions would be best served by including it.

As for the number: After months of experimentation, the session was proved most effective when placed between sessions 9 & 10. Renaming existing sessions would be confusing and break with a strong tradition, hence it is simply called the Arm Session. I have had several clients choose to refer to it as Session 9.5, which works just fine too :-)

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Carli Herrs