Spotlight: Garrell Herndon

Garrell Herndonby Colleen M. Quinn

Your mother may have been on to something when she kept telling you to sit up or stand up straight. We all know that good posture is important, but how far do the effects of bad posture reach? Any student or practitioner of structural integration will tell you, very far. Both chronic tension problems in muscles and joints, as well as other, seemingly unrelated symptoms, can truly be affected by posture and how the body holds itself, inside and out.

For many people, structural integration has provided a refreshing solution to an array of ailments. This form of bodywork improves posture by working with the body's fascia, the body's connective tissue, and thus improving the way the body looks and feels. As a structural integration practitioner, Garrell Herndon will tell you the same as your mother, only with a twist: he'll show you how to do it.

Garrell was introduced to structural integration through his personal experiences in yoga, which he has taught since 1993. After having practiced yoga for a few years, Garrell wanted to go deeper into the practice, and so studied to become a yoga teacher in the Inyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. "I trained as a teacher to learn more, but everything felt stiff, like there was no change," he says of his earlier days in yoga. The solution came when a friend recommended he try structural integration, which is also known simply as Rolfing.

He tried it once a month for ten months and was hooked immediately. "It's definitely helped in my study of yoga, because it's given me greater access," Garrell says. "Structural integration made it so much better. The two really complement each other." He then went on to study to become a practitioner at the Guild for Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado.

Garrell has now been a certified practitioner for four years and has since opened his own practice in San Francisco. Through this outlet, Garrell teaches yoga classes and offers his services as a structural integration practitioner. His work is "structurally-oriented," as he calls it, because both yoga and structural integration are methodically precise and focus on improving the fundamental structure of the body.

Structural integration was developed in the 1950s by a biochemist named Dr. Ida P. Rolf. She was interested in finding new answers to various health problems that medicine of the time wasn't able to resolve. Having studied biology, physics, and chemistry in addition to many kinds of holistic practices, Dr. Rolf developed over time a way to improve the body's posture by manipulating soft muscles and fascia.

She incorporated the basics of various forms of bodywork like yoga and massage, and also drew from research on gravity’s effects on the human body. This combined knowledge resulted in a practice that uses the body’s soft muscles and tissues to prompt healing and overall health. From Dr. Rolf's work grew several schools of technique. One school has assumed the term "Rolfing" for its practice, but other schools and guilds also teach and practice various kinds of this modality, which is commonly known as structural integration.

Structural integration focuses on the state of the fascia, the soft layers of tissue just below the skin. It envelopes the body’s muscles and organs holding everything in place. “The fascia is an organ of form,” says Garrell. “It dictates the shape of the human body, the muscles, the posture.” Because the fascia maintains so much of the body’s physical state, the condition of the fascia itself is crucial to the body functioning fully and efficiently. The biggest external factor that affects it is, of course, gravity itself. The force of gravity is commonly seen as forcing down on the body, which is constantly pushing back when you stand, sit, or move at all.

The difference with structural integration, Garrell says, is that gravity is considered an energy source rather than a force to struggle against. “For instance, if you look at yogis of the past who would stand on their heads,” he explains, “They’re working with gravity rather than fighting it. They’re using it to their advantage.” In the same way, structural integration aims to use gravity’s effects positively. It helps muscles become stronger, and maintain better posture and balance.

Gravity is only one of many elements that affect the fascia, however. Emotional and physical stress can take its toll, manifesting in stiffened and shortened muscles, like a stiff neck or sore shoulders. Simple but habitual actions such as sitting or walking can as well. “The chair is such a detriment in today’s society!” says Garrell. He points out that sitting for long periods of time can lead to constant bad posture and stress on muscles. “The tissue will get used to anything eventually,” he says. “We need to be movement conscious. Just moving more helps get the ‘sit’ out of your body!”

Besides the deep physical work of structural integration, it’s the consciousness that it required of one’s body that sets this practice apart from other forms of bodywork. Unlike a massage, where it “happens” to the body, a structural integration session needs a bit of participation on the part of the client. A practitioner might ask them to move a certain muscle while it’s held in position, or to move against the practitioner’s hands or elbows. “It’s the interaction between the client and the practitioner that gets results,” Garrell says.

At first, a session of structural integration might seem like a massage, but throughout the process it is anything but. The client lies on a massage table wearing their undergarments, and the practitioner begins to apply pressure to various parts of the body. It is often said that structural integration can be painful, and while a person can feel some discomfort, more modern forms of structural integration concentrate on gentler techniques. The pain that is felt is often a reaction to the release of tension in the muscles.

Throughout the course of a session, tension slowly dissolves, giving the client a relaxed but awake feeling. The methodology of structural integration incorporates ten full sessions, with each session focusing on a particular part of the body while also preparing the client for the next session.

"I ask people to try it just once, to see how you feel," Garrell says. He also says that the first three sessions in a complete treatment are a good "test drive" to see if structural integration is helpful to the client. He understands that the commitment of time and money are common obstacles in people coming to him, so he tries to make it easy for those interested to at least try it out. He also recommends trying out yoga, since it also helps open up the body and improve flexibility and overall health.

Additionally, a person has to be aware and conscious of how they move, why they do it, and consider what it does to the rest of the body. Garrell says that when he finds himself tensing his neck or shoulders unawares, he thinks “Do I really need to be doing this?” When the answer is no, Garrell says that signals the need to concentrate on overall relaxation, and that there might be a current physical or emotional reason for the tensing. Finding out the why is just as important as recognizing the physical effects in the body. “Structural integration is very solution-oriented,” Garrell says. “It’s not just about the symptoms.”

Many times, the effects of structural integration are not only deeply felt, but are also physically obvious. Because afterwards the fascia is holding the muscles and bones differently than before, a person’s stature will normally have a different overall appearance. Garrell sometimes takes “before” and “after” pictures of his clients to show the change. “You can see how the legs and arms fall differently. You can feel it, too, but you look taller, and feel more grounded,” he says.

While a person's body will look and feel better after even a few sessions, Garrell believes that equally powerful are the mental changes that result from structural integration. "It also shifts people's perspective," he says, "How they see themselves - with greater clarity." The release of tensions deep in the body can ease the tensions of the mind, and also bring to light what part emotions and mental habits play in creating physical problems. "It's about asking, what can I do to get rid of what makes me feel bad? It's the motivation to change your life," says Garrell.

It's this incentive that fuels Garrell's desire to bring this bodywork to others, in hope of changing other lives as it has changed his. "It's a motivation to stay that way," he says of the positive results, "Structural integration is a way to understand how and why this [body] works." He also says for him, it has helped him to understand other people, too. Most importantly, it's the way structural integration enhances overall well-being and can improve the quality of life. As Garrell succinctly and simply says, "For me, I just want to feel better. It's about the little things we do to feel better.

Gerrell may be contacted at:


Rolf Structural Integration
415 871-4709

About Colleen Quinn

Colleen QuinnColleen Quinn graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Mass Communication. A writer for most of her life, she has been writing for for over two years. In that time, she’s had the opportunity to meet with many practitioners and masters of the healing arts. Using her years of customer service experience and time as an intern reporter, Colleen provides a unique means of expression for each practitioner she meets. She believes that honest interest and open ears are paramount for learning and understanding the world around us. Through her writing, Colleen offers readers a valuable insight into the work of those who are doing so much to help others.