Saman Maydani had been exploring holistic therapies like yoga and meditation, partly to try to ease muscle pain triggered by her job. As a filmmaker, she was either sitting at a desk all day editing film material or carrying heavy equipment.
When her husband, a web designer, agreed to help structural integration specialist Minki Kim redesign his website, Saman took advantage of the opportunity to try something new and signed up for a 10-session program with Minki.
Saman, 29 years old, had shoulder tension and sciatica and wanted to improve her posture. Her knees had been aching and cracking and she had joint pain. She didn't exercise much and wasn't motivated to start.
Structural integration is a form of bodywork that focuses on the fascia system, part of the connective tissue that surrounds the organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers and allows for flexibility and motion. Gravity, habits and emotions affect how we lean and move. Structural integration aims to restore balance and functional ease throughout the whole body.
Minki began each session with a grid to measure where Saman's body lined up and then customized the bodywork accordingly.
"He works with who you are, not against who you are," Saman said.
Early sessions focused on specific parts of the body and then later sessions integrated the whole body.
Saman said he paid close attention to her body type and how it affected her posture and movement. He observed that one of her legs was longer than the other and that she had an anterior-tilted pelvis and a curved spine.
The bodywork, which lasted about an hour per session, was intense and sometimes painful, but Saman always left the sessions feeling relieved and relaxed.
She began to better understand just how connected everything in her body was when she felt sore a few days after one session. Minki had done a lot of work on her ankles, yet her knees felt sore.
"It's all connected so you feel sore in a different place than you would think as your body readjusts itself," Saman said.
Saman said she learned a lot just by asking questions based on the charts that Minki hung on the wall. She learned, for example, that legs don't start at the hips; they start with a muscle in the ribs. She now thinks of her legs as dangling from her ribs when she walks, which has improved her movement.
Saman said Minki included light dialogue in each session so he could better understand how emotions affect her movements. He asked her how she views stress and what her idea of control is, for example. She said she always felt comfortable because he wasn't pushy and immediately sensed whether she was interested in further exploring a topic.
She discovered an emotional and physical connection when Minki worked on her pectoral muscles. She said when he focused on those muscles she felt grief and sadness, like she wanted to cry.
"I thought, 'Wow, look at that. These things are so connected. My heart literally aches.'"
Saman said Minki's work uncovered pain she unknowingly held in her neck muscle under her chin. She felt pain in her temples and Minki told her that pain was a result of her jaws locking. He also uncovered tension when he massaged the inside of her mouth, focusing on her gums, tongue and chewing muscles.
"It was funny to see where I held pain," Saman said.
At the end of each session Minki provided Saman with movement lessons such as how to get out of bed, how to stand after sitting in a chair and making sure to push off her toes when she walks.
"I was amazed at how mindful I was being with his movement lessons. Minki makes movement more effortless instead of full of energy."
Today, after completing the 10-session program, Saman said her knee pain is gone. Her knees and hips don't pop and crack anymore either, and she hasn't had any bouts of sciatica. Her joint pain has vanished and her shoulder tension has eased significantly. She also has less of a curve in her spine.
She said she also feels a desire to exercise for the first time in awhile.
A surprising benefit of the program was the positive effect it had on her self-esteem. She said she just felt better being in her own body because she felt more connected to her body.
Plus, the structural integration program provided benefits that last.
"I can have a stressful week, but I still can't undo what he's done. He created an awareness and you can't take that away."
It takes up to one year after completing the program for the body to fully reintegrate itself and adjust to the fascia work.
Saman said anyone can benefit from the program.
"We're all using our bodies incorrectly all the time. Structural integration helps us become aware."
"It was a really good way to get in touch with my body. It provided an overall wellness for me. I just feel better."