Why Structural Integration (SI) and Pilates make a great marriage


In 1995 I went through my 1st SI 10 series. It changed my life. The most joyful outcome was that I became a dancer. The most fascinating outcome was that I became a Somanaut ( think astronaut but in the intimate inner space of the human body and its movements). I love that term, coined by Gil Hedley https://www.gilhedley.com. If James Lipton ever interviewed me, my answer to “What career, other than the one you’ve chosen…?” would without hesitation be “Astrophysicist” ( In some alternate universe where I can do that kind of math). The awe I feel for the cosmos, that grandiosity that literally sometimes brings me to my knees I also feel when looking into that inner landscape which resides within each of our bodies and is expressed through our movement. I find it to be endlessly fascinating, and that has only grown over the last 28 years.

For the first 2 to 3 years after that first series, it was not uncommon to find me standing in line at the Olympia Food Co-op palpating ( curiously touching with an eye to understanding and visualizing the anatomy) my chest and arms. I’d shift my weight from left to right sensing how gravity was impacting my hip, knee, calf bones, tarsals, and metatarsals ( fancy names for foot bones). I was never bored! At “Town Tubs and Massage” where I worked I’d extend my arms above me on the wall and lean my chest through the frame of my humeri ( upper arm bones) to stretch like a cat.

I’m still “that guy” on the airplane who gets up several times on a long flight to walk “laps” up and down the aisle. I stand near the bathroom stretching my hip flexors and upper back or dropping my hips as I flex one foot and stand on the ball of the other then alternate back and forth. I have a whole seated routine that I do if the seatbelt sign is on. I’ll always choose a window seat if it’s open so “Sorry-not sorry” seat-row mates. It’s not good to sit for that long, especially in those scrunchy airplane seats. So excuse me for disturbing your 4th viewing of “Crazy Rich Asians” or whatever the latest Marvel explosion fest is but y’all could benefit from some movement too!

About a decade after that first SI series, I got turned on to Pilates and it was another “come to Jesus” experience. My instructor was as fascinated by all these subtle shifting movements and awarenesses as I was! Not only did I meet a kindred spirit that day but there were more of us. Lots more! All over the world, actually. In 2010 I started training and working as a Pilates instructor. 

A year later I attended a Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries (FAMI) https://kinectededu.com/fami/ in Manhattan. My Pilates teacher, who was now a friend, and I rented an Airbnb on East 96th a few blocks from Central Park. In the morning we would walk up to Mount Sinai Hospital and view and touch cadavers that had been meticulously sculpted to illustrate the anatomy we had just heard a lecture about. The speakers were world-renowned surgeons and anatomists like Dr. Jeffery T. Laitman Ph.D. https://profiles.mountsinai.org/jeffrey-t-laitman and Dr. Joy S. Reidenburg https://profiles.mountsinai.org/joy-s-reidenberg- who you may have seen on the Discovery talking about similarities between whales, humans, and other species.

 After class, we ventured around the city. We meandered around Central Park as the fireflies emerged at dusk. Like children under the spell of the pied piper, we were lured to a lovely nook by an Irish band playing a jig on fiddles and guitar. We encountered a few West African drummers busking on the Mall. I danced into their circle once I heard them play a break from a familiar rhythm. My friend had lived in New York for a few years as a young dancer, so we wandered around the city admiring the architecture and seeing her old apartment buildings. We went down to the village to meet up with some of her dance friends and shopped at boutiques in Chelsea. I still sometimes daydream about another chance encounter with one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen who was kind enough to take a break from his daily run around the Jackie O Reservoir to give me directions in his lovely voice which was tinted by a Turkish accent.

Ok, at this point I was hooked. This was part of my JOB! And it was even a tax write-off!!! In the decade-plus since that first continuing education trip I’ve had dozens of others that have taken me to North Beach and the Presidio in San Francisco, the rolling hills of Marin and Sonoma Counties, the beautiful landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, and to the spot dearest to my heart- the midcoast of Maine.

My love for work in this field has taken me far and wide on adventures across this beautiful country but the BEST thing about it is that the real adventure is a journey that you can have anywhere. It’s such a thrill for me to move my body, to touch other people’s bodies, and to watch them move. It’s an honor to work with a client who comes in with pain perhaps even with a surgery date scheduled and after 3 months of weekly hands-on SI sessions that pain has diminished and all but disappeared. That surgery is no longer needed. I have been moved to tears by watching women who come into my Pilates studio saying things like“ I don’t like the way my body looks.” “I don’t feel comfortable in my skin. “ My sex life is flat” “ I love to dance at home but I’m too embarrassed to go to a class” “ I remember how much I used to love doing yoga but I’m scared of getting hurt now” etc. After some months of Pilates private sessions, they feel confident going to those classes, they feel yummy and juicy with their romantic partners again, they feel confident and in love with their bodies and they FIND the time to prioritize movement because it FEELS SO GOOD!!!

I enjoy working with my SI clients as much as my Pilates students BUT the most satisfying experience comes from working with clients who do both. Some things just need the assistance of having hands-on work regardless of how much you work on them through your movement practice. I’ve seen “near miracles” ( surgeries avoided, incredible improvement with gait, fibroids shrunk and all kinds of emotional and movement patterns changed for the better). However, the progress is exponential when clients combine the 2 modalities. 

I’m so excited about my current professional situation. I teach 4 Pilates group classes a week just down the street from my office where I see SI clients. I also teach a few Pilates private sessions. Nicky Maloney is the owner of Heart and Soul Pilates https://heartandsoulpilates.com, the studio where I teach group classes. She is a fellow Somanaut, a great Pilates teacher, and a friend. She sends her students to me for SI work and I send my clients to the studio. Her life was also transformed by SI. We share the excitement of seeing our folks actualize their health goals. 

Properly executed Pilates requires developing a deeper and deeper awareness of subtle changes in the body. SI helps people to feel themselves, their bodies, and often their emotions more fully. They both allow folks to learn to trust their experience, befriend their bodies, and be curious about their movement possibilities. 

Some massage therapists and Pilates instructors have practices where they work with the same clients for years. They provide the service of helping people feel better and maintain their wellness. I have a couple handfuls of clients that come back for “tune-ups” after going through a series. Generally, these sessions are only needed a few times a year because we changed a lot of things that weren’t working. By introducing Pilates, my clients can maintain wellness while making progress toward goals of increased range of motion, keeping up with little grandkids, feeling confident rock hopping at the Yuba River, and such. 

It’s so satisfying to see clients come to my group classes. I witness the continued strides they are making. I see them setting new goals. I feel like the proud Mom who helps kids struggle through grammar school, continue on to high school and college, and then go off to create the life they’ve yearned for and earned through concerted effort.

I’m writing this on the Eve of Thanksgiving and reflecting on how grateful I feel for the honor of being able to work with people in this fascinating, intimate, and rewarding endeavor.