Soft tissue manipulation for chronic low back pain: Evaluating the promise of Structural Integration

Dr. Eric Jacobson – Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School (click on this link to play the video)

Eric Jacobson is on the faculty of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jacobson received his PhD in medical anthropology from Harvard University, and was trained in Structural Integration by its founder, Ida Rolf. He combines quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate a wide range of alternative and complementary therapies. Dr. Jacobson has conducted field research on psychiatric aspects of classical Tibetan medicine, and clinical studies of placebo response in the context of acupuncture and mind-body interventions. He is currently a recipient of a K01 career development award granted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health.

UTCC commentary and observation on Structural Integration or Rolfing–Seeing Rolfing Through the Lens of Tai Chi

Dr. Rolf vividly described what structural integration can help do by showing the before and after picture (revealed in the above video). In the before picture, a person is divided in different segments and each segment is pulled to different directions resulting in problems developing in places where body is not aligned as we fight gravity throughout our life. Although there is some exaggeration if the depiction is applied to a young person, the picture is not far stretched when applied to a person whose body starts to deteriorate. By comparison, the after picture shows much improved alignment of someone after the structural integration session. The body weight falls much to the center and the person looks like a much younger person. While Rolfing tries to accomplish this goal of body integration through external intervention, Tai Chi tries to achieve the same goal through internal adjustment and self-discipline. In that sense, we can view Tai Chi and Rolfing (or massage in general) as Yin and Yang sides of the same thing. 

While Rolfing tries to improve the body alignment, Tai Chi aims at achieving perfect alignment of the internal body structure and placement of the organs. Please compare the Zhan Zhuang posture below with the posture in the after picture and you can appreciate the subtle differences in body alignment. Although the difference is subtle to the untrained eyes, the impact and consequences are significant like day and night.

Body Alignment

Another issue raised by Dr. Jacobson in the video is whether the impact of Rolfing is temporal or permanent. As we all know that a consequence is usually the result of internal causes and external causes. In the case of a human body, the external causes can be gravity and Rolfing intervention, which tries to offset the impact of gravity. While gravity works on us 24 hours a day, Rolfing is generally applied on a periodic basis. While a good session of Rolfing can last for weeks or months, it is generally not matched up by forces that works on us nonstop. On the other hand, our own habit of posturing ourselves (referring to the status of mind) and conducting Tai Chi mind-and-body exercises can be said to be the internal causes. Our old habit sneaks upon us every moment of our life and we can use Tai Chi exercise to change the mind and our memory of incorrectly doing things throughout the day and help us fight off gravity 24/7.  Maintaining our perfect health is like maintaining a perfect lawn. There are certain weed preventers that can work on the lawn for a long period of time. However, weeds will eventually grow back. There is nothing like continuous application of sun and water and natural fertilizer. We can all use a Rolfing session to help us with our structural integration. However, nothing is permanent. Adopting Tai Chi exercise is like adopting a force that is like the sun and water to a healthy patch of lawn.

Finally, Tai Chi also addresses the integration of mind and body, and not just the physical integration of the body, a subject saved for another day . . .

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