• Daniel Akins

How is structural integration different from massage?

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

This is a common question, and understandably so. You see a therapy table and a clinician with hands on someone's body... same difference, right? Not quite.


Here, I explain 5 ways in which massage is different from structural integration (SI) so that you can be a more informed seeker of, and participant in, body-oriented therapies.



The table below offers a summary:


1. SI IS ABOUT HELPING YOU FIND SUSTAINABLE EASE IN YOUR BODY


There are many massage approaches out there, so I hesitate to generalize. But usually, when you go for a massage you are seeking a relaxing experience or relief in the moment.


Structural integration is more of a long game, with a greater potential payoff. With SI, you are exploring new options for ease and comfort in your body and learning how to access those states for yourself. It's common to experience relief from chronic pain and stress and a sort of energized relaxation after an SI session, but that momentary experience is not the main goal—understanding how to access those feelings for yourself is the focus of SI.


2. SI IS PROCESS-ORIENTED BODYWORK


When you go for a massage, you are usually looking to receive a service with an expectation of what you want done to you and what that will look like. There's nothing wrong with that, if a familiar experience is what you're looking for. But if you're looking for results you haven't already experienced, then why would you keep doing the same things you've been doing?


If you're considering trying structural integration, then you're probably more interested in outcomes. Since chronic issues involve many factors and develop over time, addressing chronic issues requires a systemic, process-oriented approach—and that's exactly what SI is. Each session builds progressively upon the last. Your whole body is addressed systematically over a series of sessions that is tailored to your needs and concerns.


3. SI IS ABOUT "CHECKING IN" TO YOUR BODY


It's common to "drift off" or "check out" during massage sessions. Massage clients sometimes use their time on the table to catch up on sleep. If that's the experience you want from your massage, then great! Doze away. It might be just what you need.


If you're looking for sustainable relief from chronic pain and stress, postural change, or to heal from trauma, then checking out from your body is not going to get you there. To address these concerns, you need a safe space where you can slow down, "check in" with your body, and become aware of your real-time unconscious response patterns so that you can begin to change them. This is what structural integration is all about.


4. AN SI SESSION LOOKS DIFFERENT FROM MASSAGE


You know what to expect with massage: You walk into a dimly lit room with New Age music in the background. After a brief check in, you dress down and lie on a table under sheets. The therapist proceeds to rub oil or lotion on your skin, usually with long, gliding strokes as part of a full-body routine.


As an SI practitioner, I strive to create a safe environment that supports you in the work we're doing. Indirect or natural lighting offers a pleasant atmosphere without putting you to sleep. I default to quiet so that you can focus on listening to your body, but am happy to play music if you request. I do a much more thorough intake than most massage therapists to ensure that I understand your goals and concerns and, from there, deliver a personalized treatment plan. After the initial interview, you'll usually dress down, but not as much as you would with massage. Workout wear is most common, but your comfort and dignity are most important.


Most of the hands-on work of an SI session is done on a therapy table, but might also be done seated on a bench, standing, or while demonstrating activities relevant to your life. I'll apply slow, gradual pressure with my hands and sometimes ask you to perform movements that make the techniques more effective. I'll ask you to report any feelings or sensations that you notice in your body as we work. We'll usually work part of your body before pausing to notice any changes. Without relying on routines, SI works toward helping you find a sense of whole-body ease and coherence.


5. SI IS AN ONGOING PRACTICE


Massage tends to focus on the on-the-table experience, but you can think of chronic pain, stress, posture, and normal movement as reactive patterns, or habits, of your nervous system. The first step of changing any habit is awareness. You have to slow down and notice that moment when you react... then explore new options from there. This takes awareness and practice.


SI sessions offer a supportive space where you can explore and refine this awareness, then it's up to you to practice that awareness between sessions. With curiosity and persistence, you'll eventually come to feel confident in your ability to manage your physical experience. As you gradually free yourself from restrictive pain, stress, and posture/movement patterns, you'll discover a world of possibility for your body and life.

 

The best way to get a feel if SI is right for you is to come in for an initial session. From there, we can come up with a plan to help get you where you want to go. If you have questions first, feel free to contact us by giving us a call at (702) 720-6676—we're happy to talk with you.

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