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Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine


Structural Integration (SI) is a system of manual therapy and sensorimotor education that purports to improve human biomechanical functioning as a whole rather than to treat particular symptoms.

SI was developed and propagated by the biochemist Ida Pauline Rolf, PhD (1896–1979) outside of orthodox medical science.2 Prior to her invention of this approach, Rolf completed a doctorate in biochemistry at Columbia University and was the first woman to hold a research post at the Rockefeller Foundation (1917–1927), where she coauthored over a dozen research articles on the chemistry of lipids, mostly with her mentor Phoebus Levin.* Following her tenure there, Rolf studied mathematics, physics and homeopathy for 2 years in Switzerland, Germany, and France.

Rolf … conviction that the adequacy of the individual's adaptation to gravity—an ubiquitous, unrelenting force to which all human structures must adapt throughout their lifecycle—was a key determinant of physical and psychologic health. The explicit goal of her method was the integration of the individual's energy field with that of gravity. This was to be achieved by aligning their physical structure around the vertical vector that gravity defines. The individual's relationship with gravity would then be transformed from one of struggle and eventual collapse, to one in which the integrity of their physical structure—as well as their character—was “reinforced” by a balanced “flow” of gravitational energy. The individual who was “integrated with gravity” would manifest a higher level of “maturity.”

Central to Rolf's clinical method was the idea that the balance or imbalance in tone of fascial structures was a potent determinant of bony alignment and joint function (i.e., that the human body was in important respects a tensegrity structure). Improving “equipoise” of fascial tone throughout the body would allow its central axis to align more closely with the gravitational vertical and even to extend upward by more fully evoking the antigravity reflex. This could be achieved by increasing the pliability of selected fascias through skilled manipulation. Rolf also taught other hallmarks of biomechanical excellence to guide clinical practice. These include bilateral symmetry, anterior–posterior “horizontality” of the major body segments (Fig. 2), and “grace” in movement, most easily observed in the extent of cross-extensor activation in walking. Education and awareness exercises designed to increase the individual's ability to sense the difference between postures and movements that more versus less closely approximate these ideals were an essential supplement to the manual therapy.