Reaching for your deeper potential with the Postural Integration® Process
Postural Integration® (PI) is a method of deep holistic bodywork that I, Dirk Marivoet, use very often and really love, because it’s such powerful work. PI integrates the physical, emotional and mental (cognitive) aspects of a client. The work was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Jack W. Painter (a former professor at the University of Miami). In addition to using conscious touch, he revolutionised personal growth by integrating a variety of other techniques into his approach. These are mainly derived from Gestalt, bioenergetics, Reichian therapy, psychodrama, the five element theory and acupressure, connective tissue massage (loosely based on the Rolfing model), yoga and Zazen. Today, his methodology has become part of my own method: Core Strokes ™ . I included the embodied spiritual insights from Core Energetics as well as deeper integration of the ego, ‘pilot’ and will dimensions of PBSP, and added new insights into the treatment of trauma through ethical touch.
Postural integration in its original conception, uses breath, awareness through movement and tissue manipulation, among other things, to explore and liberate postural patterns which at the same time involve transformation of negative emotional and psychological patterns or behaviors. Postural Integration® as a holistic synthesis emphasizes the importance of integration and balance in people’s lives. It also recognizes that people cannot be separated from their environment, nor that they can be divided into parts that each receive separate attention. In this approach, we also don’t try to diagnose or pathologize anything; the desired outcome is the client’s own sense of positive change, greater self-integrity, and greater ability to feel and express oneself.
Insights from Traumawork
The traumas of life, both physical, psychological and emotional, causes the myofascia (connective tissue) as well as the muscles to contract or become ‘frozen’ in an attempt to protect the person from further hurt. This “armoring” is steered by the autonomic nervous system, the subconscious part of the brain. The brain and especially the tissues of the body remember those traumas long after the person may have consciously forgotten about them. In this, the body and mind are intrinsically one. Dr. Painter understood, long before much was known about fascia that it is essential to work deeply on the layers of fascia (he distinguished superficial, intermediate and deep layers) as well as 4 diaphragms of body balance. While simultaneously working with emotions and thoughts for trauma resolution, lasting change in the personality can occur. Jack developed a series of 12 “paradigm” sessions in 5 stages, in which the person, step-by-step is helped to become fully embodied. PI also aims to realign and fine tune a person’s posture (which cannot be fully successful without transforming the correlated emotional and mental patterns. All together the protective signs can be observed in the body language as well as in the person’s unconscious behaviors (like the way of talking, moving and thinking). See below for a short description of the 12 steps of the process. First a few words on “Fascia”, this very interesting tissue.
Fascia is the most abundant tissue in the body. It is a complex network of protein collagenous fibres, elastic fibres and fibroblasts and is the main structural organ of the body. It binds muscles together, differentiates organs from each other and keeps them in place, keeps the skeleton upright, has an intimate connection with the metabolic interchange of cells and forms a fundamental part of the water metabolism and the mechanism through which the body guides and distributes fluids.
Per Painter’s construct of the body, the fascia is not merely a series of coverings of muscles and organs, but rather a single structure that extends from the head to the toes. In the healthy body, the fascia is relaxed and moves without restriction; in the face of poor posture, trauma, repetitive use injuries and/or emotional stress, the fascia becomes indurated.
Still very little is known about the fascia from a scientific understanding, as it was considered of little importance by the medical profession early on. Only in recent years has its function been reconsidered and the role it plays in the body and how it affects our health. It is now gained much recognition by the medical and therapeutic professions and vast amounts research is being done conducted by leading scientists around the world.
What we know is that there are different types of fascia that have different textures and compositions. Fascia is sometimes more soft and elastic and sometimes more dense and leathery and sometimes even hard. Each muscle is surrounded and penetrated with fascia similar to the segments of a citrus fruit, and the fascia gives each muscle its structural integrity and range of movement. Fascia binds each muscle to the skeleton (where we find the periosteum) by means of tendons (here the collagen fibers are arranged more in parallel for the purpose of gaining strength that is bigger than steel cables).
Fascia forms an intricate web coextensive with the body, central to body and central to its well being and performance. Each cell has structural fascia in it (the cytoskeleton, reaching all the way to the DNA).
Most blood vessels and nerves run through the fascia, so if there is a contraction or other defensive or protective reaction (armoring), it will have an impact on the blood vessels and limit blood supply and thus oxygen and nutrients, also restricting the removal of waste products. As a result, the cells are thus more likely to be more malnourished and prone to mutation.
The skeleton is literally floating in connective tissue, and the bones serve as digits to which bands of the fascia connect to in a type of tensegrity system. (Tensegrity is a word invented by Buckminster Fuller and is a contraction of “Tension” and “Integrity”). If you could imagine a sail boat and imagine that the mast is the skeleton, the fascia would be the ropes that hold that mast in place.
Postural integration® techniques attempt to smoothen and redistribute the disorganized fascia and return the body to a state of harmony, resilience and balanced tensegrity.
In the course of a twelve-session series modeled loosely on Rolfing Structural Integration, the Postural Integration® process integrates Gestalt with bodywork, as well as breath work, fine energy work and elements from the Chinese Five Phases system. The initial seven paradigm-sessions address specific body areas and focus on releasing defensive armoring habits, characterized as “letting go of the old self”. During sessions, a spontaneous emotional expression is encouraged in interaction with the practitioner. Tools for this are expression, drama, attention to body language and self-awareness. In order to connect to the deeper “truths” of yourself, to live a loving, joyful and fulfilling life, we must recognize how the body organizes its defenses, how it shapes character patterns, restricts breath, tightens muscles, connects habitual movement, emotions and thoughts. To cope with the shocks, traumatic experiences, and constant demands of our lives, we use characteristic attitudes and habits to “hold together”, “hold back”, “hold in”, “keep strong”, ”etc. As we work with the breath and touch the innermost layers of our tissue, Postural Integration® and Core Strokes help clients understand where and how their persistent character armor defends the core and how to transform these survival patterns or let go. This process follows progressions and steps. Below is a general description of the Postural Integration® process in paradigm sessions.
The Postural Integration® Process
PHASE 1 – PARADIGM SESSION 1 “A NEW BEGINNING” – “OPENING UP – UPPER BODY”.
The focus In Postural Integration® is always and very much on the body as the ground of our being. In a first phase, at the body level, we want to open the superficial layers of connective tissue (fascia) that envelopes the muscles of the upper and lower half of the body. The “opening up” process is also a conscious and aware opening up to the emotional realm and the patterns of thought. Deep release of long held memories is facilitated in a warm, empathic and supportive therapeutic alliance. The focus is also on problems in the relationship with yourself and your relatives. This session can touch upon your bonding relationships, e.g. the relationship to your mother, etc. and deepen your awareness and understanding about your patterns of bonding. Work with fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder joints can reveal hidden and previously unconscious personal stories and histories around this part of your body, that with the help of psychotherapeutic methods are worked through.
PHASE 1 – PARADIGM SESSION 2 “A NEW BEGINNING” – “OPENING UP – LOWER BODY”.
Paradigm Session 2 is a continuation of Paradigm Session 1. This time we complete the work of “Opening” the Bodymind at the level of the superficial layer of fascia by working especially on the legs and thighs.
Gestalt work, Reichian breathwork and interventions to release the segmental bands of armour, work with acupressure points within a warm, empathic and supportive therapeutic relationship are furthered to assist the client to “ground” him or herself. This session brings awareness to the feet, and allows one to explore the literal relationship to the ground, the earth (your sense of stability, solidity, responsibility, trust, security, flexibility,… ). The work during this paradigm session (Usually more then one session are dedicated to this theme) can give you support in finding a new stance in your profession, or a new orientation towards your family: e.g. the roles you took on you as a mother/father, brother/sister, man/woman, etc. This session can also highlight historical problems with feet, ankles, knee and hip joints and help you deal with those.
PHASE 2 – PARADIGM SESSION 3″ CLAIMING YOUR SPACE – “LENGTHENING OF THE BODY” – “POSITIONING THE SHOULDERS”.
We are entering the second phase of the PI process. In essence, this phase of the growth work is about taking up your personal space as it was always meant to be. Release tensions in the sides of the body, the quadratus lumborum and release of pent up tensions and emotions in the shoulders help the individual to allow him or herself to be more present in space in relationship to significant others. Reaching out, allowing the longing of the heart, claiming the possibility to connect deeply with others are facets of work in this phase. Here you find a session that encourages you in finding better emotional boundaries and an improved capacity to feel your strength in your sides and how to communicate it in relationship to others. Many times you will get in touch with how you relate to your father and/or authorities. This focus can help you relax the pain you accumulate in your back or forms of headache; neck and shoulder problems may find relief; eye-sight improve. Work with the gallbladder meridian and the liver, can reveal issues around misuse or dependency of drugs and alcohol. Issues of relational co-dependency can also move to the foreground
PHASE 3 – PARADIGM SESSION 4 “DEEP WORK” – RECLAIMING YOUR PELVIC POWER – “REORGANIZING THE PELVIC AREA”
When we had enough work in Phases I and II (“Opening Up”, “Lengthening” and “Taking Up right Space”, we are slowly but surely ready for the “Deep Work”. As a client you need to be “well engaged” now to “finish off” the transformative work. Working in the deep realms (also anatomically) of your being, is a significant enterprise. The work now is with the holding in the Pelvis and the core myofascial lines of tension in the core of the body
Paradigm Session 4 is concerned with release of the tensions on the inside of the legs. This is also the lower end of the pelvic structure. The adductors on the inside of the legs attach on the Sitzbones. Tension that has emotional and psychological connections with inhibitions in the field of sexuality, the problem of being able to allow oneself to be without fear in the “seat” of life. The ability to deeply trust oneself, the other and life and to relate in a sexually alive way are important focusses in this phase. This session usually deals with inhibitions in the area of sexuality, emotional trauma related to shame and abuse, but also with more “anal” traits such as avarice, cleanliness and stubbornness. And we have also seen how, for example, problems related to the birth process or abortions should be treated. Unintegrated sexual experiences of adolescence, your relationship towards your own sex-gender to the other gender, can be expressed and become conscious. Physical fitness problems or psychological problems around the knees, the inside of the legs, the pelvis can be addressed and worked through in a way that you will find more flexibility and elegance in your way of being, even when times are hard.
PHASE 3 – PARADIGM SESSION 5 “DEEP WORK” – RECLAIMING YOUR PELVIC POWER- “REORGANIZING THE PELVIC AREA”
At the level of the Body, Paradigm Session 5 is work with the “upper side” of the pelvis. The Iliopsoas muscles, the belly and the whole pelvic visceral content are now addressed
Deep seated trust, the feeling home and safe within oneself are the issues here. The belly, together with our heart is our very human core with possibilities of gentle strength, warmth, sexual groundedness. This work helps you reclaim the forces of your belly as well as the elegance and the grace of your hip movements, whether it be in the masculine or in the feminine expression. This session focusses you on any psychosomatic problem that is tied in with the intestines: “hypochondric” as it was called earlier means: hypo/under the chondrus: the sternum. Work with psychoperistaltic self-regulation, can help problems of digestion. Deep release can help problems with the urogenital system, such as bladder inflammation, prostate problems, etc. Overall a better relationship with the deep inner feelings of the belly can be developed and new tonicity of spirit can be found.
PHASE 3 – PARADIGM SESSION 6 “DEEP WORK” – RECLAIMING YOUR PELVIC POWER “REORGANIZING THE PELVIC AREA
In Paradigm Session 6 we are still in the “Deep Work”. Work in Paradigm Sessions 4, 5 and 6 are all needed to rebalance the pelvis and the core lines. In Session 6 – at the body level – we are dealing with the “rear” side (the buttocks), the outside and backside of the legs and the whole back
Tremendous holding and deep forces can be found here. Anger and aggression can be learned to be managed and expressed in contained and safe ways, helping the person to claim power and to “BE” in control. All the protective power in the back can be brought forward and a solid stance in life that is also sexually alive can be taken. In this session, many problems and memories relating to sport injuries, that involve your legs, such as football, jogging and athletics can be dealt with. Problems with the regulation of your emotions, issues around violence in former times, early childhood toilet training, difficulties with the pelvic floor, childbirth, even “essential hypertension,” etc. can effectively be worked through in this paradigm session. Often this session brings huge release that people want it again and again, in order to find relaxation in the back-side problems and to find new relaxed and integrated ways of being embodied in life.
PHASE 4 – PARADIGM SESSION 7 REORGANIZING HEAD AND NECK.
Paradigm Session 7 is a separate Phase and at the body-level, involves work with the Neck and the Head. Work with these parts of the body can be done in bits in other sessions as well. When we really focus on the Head and neck however, we are dealing with the “life-force” in a special way.
The head is where we have our eyes, mouth, nose and ears. Our senses are strong up there. They allow us to orient ourselves, to take in to expel. What comes in and what comes out can be too much or too little. It can be overwhelming and out of control, or we can become over controlled and closed off sensitively.
Work with the head in PI helps you release the deep held emotions, to transform “the mask”, and to claim “your true face”. Work in the mouth and the nose, as well as work with the eyes are part of the process. Ways to bring our literally heavy head in a better balanced postion at the top of our body is also part of our care. You may want to confront painful problems related to the neck, the jaw or difficulties with your teeth – even when they relate to dentistry problems from long ago. You can learn to express through your eyes, and maybe find new ways of regulating your fear, or bring more compassion in your eye contact with others. All issues related to eyesight can be dealt with during this session; implicit, non-conscious memories from the perinatal period: e.g. developmental themes that arise as a consequence of having spent time in an incubator, early operations or moments of isolation during illness and disease.
PHASE 5 – PARADIGM SESSION 8 – INTEGRATION – UNITING ALL DIMENSIONS OF SELF
Again we enter in a new Phase now. This is called “The Integration Phase”, where we develop the major Gestalts of Bodymind: Top-Bottom, Center-Periphery, Right-Left, Front-Back, Interior-Exterior
After we released all those held and mostly unconscious tensions in our body, after we have worked extensively with the breath and found our “free breath”, “our excited and orgastic breaths”, after we have been dealing with our inner processes in a gestalt manner, finding out that in our human form there is always some duality, some opposite sides that can be brought in dialogue with each other in order to create collaboration, unification and synthesis.
Then it will be possible, and the time will come that we can bring upper and lower parts of the body, left and right sides, back and front sides, inside and outsides into a deeper dialogue and connection-integration
“Bodyfoci or Paradigm sessions 8 and 9” are concerned with the bringing together of our upper and lower halves.
PHASE 5 – PARADIGM SESSION 9 – INTEGRATION – UNITING ALL DIMENSIONS OF SELF
Paradigm session 9 is the continuation of Paradigm Session 8.
We learn to see, feel and move the body as a whole, as a synthesis of qualities from upper and lower body. With special “strokes”, we unify our bodymind consciousness up and down. “I can be grounded below and free and mobile below” is one example of a possible dynamic. “I can be strong and present above and playful and careless below” or “I can be playful and all over the place alle over” are only few of the possibilities one can come to accept in ones self. While some may have experienced deep fears during the release sessions, now most of you will start to have a deeper sense of connectedness, connection of the different parts of the body, a sense of re-rooting in the richness of the bodies senses, a way to find more joy in movements and a more compassionate contact with someone close to you.10
PHASE 5 – PARADIGM SESSION 10 – INTEGRATION – UNITING ALL DIMENSIONS OF SELF
Paradigm Session 10 is about integrating left and right sides, or in other words our integration in the vertical plane.
Left and right sides are only one other example of living in a dual reality. Lines of tension have crossed the midline, we can become increasingly aware of the left right relationship and with the help of specialized guidance of the practitioner you can now harmonize this plane of your existence. Also “inside” and “outside” are dualities that can become more balanced. Greater “Balanced Evenness” throughout the body can be found.
PHASE 5 – PARADIGM SESSION 11 – FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE INTEGRATION
The work is not finished. In the next sessions you can explore and increasingly claim your new found possibilities and sense of wholeness.
Maybe you started feeling “you are a tiger (or a tigress)”. You can allow yourself to be a tiger! To really embody all the great qualities of the tiger you are. “Acting into” the possibility, feeling and moving your “tiger muscles”. Tat tvam asi: “You are it”. It is evident that spiritual sides of your self are more and more in play.
PHASE 5 – PARADIGM SESSION 12 – VORTEX – INTEGRATION
Paradigm Session 12 helps you to bring you “Core qualities” in contact and relationship with the outside world, that has not necessarily changed.
Paradigm Session 12 is about being your whole “integer” self and taking courage to connect from a place of compassion-love to persons, groups or people or situations that have not necessarily changed, or even resist to do. This could include a new integration in your family, a better relation to your inner authority and less an outer authority or to a new vision of what is the true sense of your life under a transpersonal perspective.
Dirk Marivoet, MSc has worked closely with Jack Painter for over 25 years and is a certified Postural Integration trainer. He has further developed Postural Integration into Core Strokes ™. Dirk studied body-oriented psychotherapy alongside other forms of body-oriented therapy at an academic level for many years as a staff member and scientist at the KULeuven. This unique work can now be learned in various locations around the world.
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