Growing Out of Growing Pains: A Personal Account of Growth from Structural Integration
My relationship with my legs was rocky from the start. I remember as a child waking up in the middle of the night crying because my legs ached so badly. I would run into my mom’s room, crawl into her bed, and she would rub my legs until the pain went away and I fell back asleep. Even as an adult, I have experienced the familiar sensations of childhood growing pains. Sometimes the aching would be triggered by working out, but most of the time it would develop for no apparent reason. I would take a couple of ibuprofen and wouldn’t think much of it. That was my normal.
I first started receiving massage therapy when I was in school training to become a massage therapist. Back then, I would usually tell the therapist I didn’t need any work on my legs because it was my neck that was bothering me. If I did get my legs massaged, I didn’t want deep tissue because it hurt and I didn’t seem to get much benefit from it. I looked at it as time that was being taken away from the “important places.” Throughout my career, I found that that’s how most people felt about their legs.
Since then, I have moved on from traditional massage therapy. I now practice structural integration (SI). Through my training and personal experience, I’ve learned how legs are critically important for opening the whole body, including the important places. In fact, legs are even more important to opening areas like the back, shoulders, and neck than working on those places directly (the reason neck massage never relieved the tension for very long). I’ll get back to that, but for now, I’ll share with you how structural integration has transformed my understanding of legs and has led to my personal development through leg work.
She’s got legs, she doesn’t know how to use them
As Ida Rolf, the genius behind SI said, “All personal growth is stuck in the legs.” I can attest to that.
At first, I couldn’t feel much of anything in my legs during SI sessions. It was as if I subconsciously divorced my legs from the rest of my body so I didn’t have to feel them. I didn’t want to feel them and I didn’t even know it. The only thing I could register when they were worked on was pain. It wasn’t the type of pain that I experienced with deep tissue massage, which was physical. It was deeper than that, an emotional pain. People have many explanations for what causes pain, or no explanation at all. I think it’s mostly one’s attempt at avoiding change, because meaningful change is really, really hard to go through. It can bring up emotions that you’d rather leave buried. That’s what was happening in my legs, unbeknownst to me. This feeling was in stark contrast to other parts of my body where I could literally feel fascia unwinding and opening huge sections of my body. In the beginning, when I received leg work, it took several minutes of my practitioner actively engaging me to tune into what I was feeling before my brain would actually register the profound changes they were evoking. If I was this out of touch with my legs, there was no way I had ever had the ability to move through them in an integrative way.
I have had several instances where I have sprained my ankles and twisted my knees. I also broke my foot once. It may not initially seem related, but these are all injuries that point to a person who doesn’t have a conscious and connected relationship with their legs. The injuries I have had and my inability to really feel my legs are experiences that belong to someone who does not truly live in their body. How can anyone feel confident, sturdy and grounded as a human being if they quite literally have no relationship to the exact thing that connects them to the Earth? Many people, if not most, have the same experience of being disconnected from their legs as I did. The thing is, you don’t even realize that this is the case, or the impact it has on you, until someone actually touches your legs in a way that creates connection and openness through your body. This certainly didn’t happen for me (or anyone I know) through massage. And frankly, the only thing that I know of that can create that kind of change is structural integration.
She’s got legs right up to her neck
Anyone getting my song references to legs yet?
Looking back at my journal from the first 10 Series I received, I wrote how I felt work on my shins, ankles and feet, was pulling out of scar tissue throughout my pelvis, caused by endometriosis as well as surgery. I felt how unwinding of twisted fascia (and bone) within my legs lead to my spine lengthening and my shoulders feeling connected all the way down to my feet. Much stored physical and emotional trauma was held in my legs and the lengthening and organization of them allowed that trauma to be released from my body. I stopped having regular headaches and neck pain (again, that never happened with regular massages). But the most profound change that I experienced from all that leg work wasn’t physical. It was bigger than that. It was the beginning of a living evolution. I started off ungrounded and self-conscious, immature in many ways, and began changing into a woman who is strong, confident, and self-assured. This evolution isn’t a function of age. It is a function of true change. The kind of change that is painful and hard but also the most liberating kind of all.
People don’t realize that their legs have this ability to help them change because they have never been touched in a way where they could feel how profound the change could be. Once you feel it, and it may take time, you just know that this is the touch that your body needs.
Over time, throughout SI sessions my ability to feel what is changing from my legs (and elsewhere throughout my body) has vastly improved. I am more integrated, more grounded, and more self-aware because of the SI process.
At this point, I have received a good amount of SI series work, and with each series, I continue to grow in my ability to feel and understand what “it’s all connected” actually means. I continue to grow and evolve personally. The process has helped me to recognize my strength and courage as well as to let go of emotional baggage that doesn’t serve me. The same legs that I used to hate have been the key to this evolution.
How you can 'get a leg up'
I have been practicing structural integration for several years now and I have felt and facilitated leg work that is able to change the entire structure of the body. In fact, in our paradigm of SI, legs are so important that every other session in the 10 Series is dedicated to opening and lengthening them. In turn, other parts of the body where people tend to have more awareness of discomfort, like the back, neck, and shoulders, have been helped much more effectively than local massage on those places. This is because as the legs become straighter and more open and as the bones and fascia of the feet, ankles, and legs are unwound, they are able to actually lengthen out of everything above them, including the low back, spine, shoulders, and neck.
Change is a process. If it’s meaningful, it’s hard and it requires time, effort, and desire. Structural integration has been instrumental in my evolutionary process as a person, especially in the case of my legs. I think it can be that way for everyone, if you let it. Many times, we don’t even realize that that is precisely the change that our backs, necks, and shoulders have been telling us we need.
FYI – the song reference answers :)
ZZ Top - Legs (2008 Remaster)
Rod Stewart - Hot Legs
John Mellencamp - Get A Leg Up