KMI sessions can be used to resolve particular problems, as a “tonic” for your posture, movement, and what used to be called “carriage” – how you carry yourself through the world. Your body is your most proximate tool. How do you use it? KMI can be seen as an extended course in reacquainting yourself with your body in motion, whether you are a finely-tuned athlete or a computer-bound couch potato.
Most of us have collected extra tension through the course of our lives, either from injury or surgery, imitation of our parents or heroes, from our repetitive activities, or from attitudes we’ve acquired along the way. These injuries and tensions form a pattern in our bodies. Exercise, and our mother’s nagging to ‘Stand up straight!’ may help, but most of this patterning happens below our conscious awareness and becomes part of ‘who we are’. These patterns become written into our muscular tensions, or skeletal form, and into the tissues that go between the connective tissues.
The KMI approach is to free the binding and shortening in these connective tissues, what we refer to as the ‘fascial network’, and to re-educate the body in efficient and energy-sustaining (as opposed to energy-robbing) patterns.
This process happens over a series of sessions. The KMI process has 12 separate and progressive sessions, although the actual number you need may vary. To begin these sessions, your KMI practitioner will go ever your history and help you set realistic goals for the process. He or she may take pictures of your body posture to have a record of where you started or may just examine your postural pattern with you in front of a mirror.
Most KMI sessions are done in underwear or a bathing suit. Your comfort is paramount, but we need to get directly to the tissue that is restricting the free flow of movement. Much of the session work is done on a treatment table, though some moves are done on a stool or standing or other applicable position.
The practitioner will contact tissues and ask you to move, thus freeing old restrictions and encouraging the tissues back to a freer place called for by your body’s inherent form. You and your practitioner can work out how deep or how gentle you want the progression to be.
The sessions progress through the body:
The first four sessions are generally more superficial, freeing the tissues on the front, back, and sides of the body and freeing the shoulders and arms from any binding to the trunk.
The middle four sessions address the “core” of your body, working into the central stabilization muscles closer to the spine.
The last four sessions integrate “core” and “sleeve” into your habitual movement (and address specific problems you bring to the table), leaving you with a lasting and progressive change that will echo throughout the rest of your life.
Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI) springs from the pioneering work of Dr. Ida P Rolf, as developed, by Thomas Myers. KMI consists of a multi-session protocol of deep, slow fascial and myofascial manipulation, coupled with movement re-education.
KMI is one of a number of schools that train practitioners in ‘Structural Integration’, Ida Rolf’s name for her own work. Structural Integration is practised as an old-world craft with a 21st-century comprehension of how your body structure works.
The KMI ‘brand’ of structural integration concentrates on doing deep, lasting, and significant work, with anatomical precision, blended with movement and sensitivity to the unfolding individual experience. The KMI ‘recipe’ for structural integration is based around the “Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians”concept, which are explored in the book written by Thomas Myers, published by Harcourt Brace (Elsevier) in 2001 a 2nd edition in 2008 and the current 3ed edition published in 2014.
The design of KMI is to unwind strain patterns residing in your body’s locomotor system, restoring it to its natural balance, alignment, length, and ease. Common strain patterns come about from inefficient movement habits, and our body’s response to poorly designed cars, desks, telephones, and aeroplanes, etc. Individual strain patterns come from imitation when we are young, from the invasions of injury or surgery or even birth, and from our body’s response to traumatic episodes. Beginning as a simple gesture of response, movements can become a neuromuscular habit.
The habitual movement forms one’s posture, and the posture requires changes in the structure – the body’s connective tissue ‘fabric’. In other words, a gesture becomes a habit becomes a posture and eventually lodges in our structure. These changes are rarely for the better – anything that pulls us out of alignment means that gravity works on pulling us into more misalignment or increased tension to counteract the force. Compensation begets compensation and more symptoms. KMI is designed to unwind this process and reduce structural stress. The method depends on a unique property of the body’s connective tissue network.
Connective tissue is a remarkably versatile bit of biology. It forms every supportive tissue from the fluid blood to the solid bone, and a host of sheets, straps, and slings in between. The muscular tissue moves us around, and it works through the connective tissue, the fascia, tendons, and the ligaments at every turn, and it is the connective tissue complex that holds us in the shape we are in. When we are injured or stressed, no matter what the source, there is a neuromuscular response – usually involving some combination of contraction, retraction, immobility, and often rotation. These patterns put some muscles under strain (where they may develop painful trigger points or those 'sore spots') and also pull at this fascial fabric, requiring it to shift, thicken, glue itself to surrounding structures, and otherwise compensate for the excess sustained muscular holding.
It is not enough to release the muscular holding, though that is definitely a good start especially for chronic and long-held patterns. Freeing and repositioning the fascial fabric, along with re-integrating the movement patterns so that they stay easily in their proper positioning, is the job of KMI. In this sense, KMI could be seen as a companion to osteopathic or chiropractic care, and instead of thrusting the bones back into place, we adjust the fascial ‘guy-wires’ so that everything stays at ease and the new alignment simply becomes part of who you are, not something you have to work at or repeatedly see a practitioner to maintain the changes.
The KMI “brand” of Structural Integration is different from other comparable schools of structural integration practice such as those offered by the Rolf Institute, Hellerwork, or the Guild for Structural Integration.
KMI uses a wide “vocabulary” of touch, not just deep work, to evoke lasting and progressive change in body pattern.
KMI’s method of “body-reading” (visual analysis) is logical and coherent, unfolding the skill step-by-step.
KMI’s “recipe” for the unfolding of the sessions is based around the Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians.
KMI proceeds from a deep understanding of “issues in tissues” (the emotional underpinnings of body carriage and tension), hence our tag line…….“Change Your Body About Your Mind”.
Basing the sessions around the body’s myofascial continuities ensures that:
The entire body is covered through the series,
Clear session strategies allow for individual patterns and preferences, and
Our work is easily explainable to other health professionals you may be working with to achieve your structural goals.
What makes KMI different?
KMI is a form of Structural Integration (SI). There are many other brands of SI – Rolfing®, Guild of Structural Integration, Hellerwork, soma, Core, to name a few. All of which are all good schools with talented practitioners and each school/brand having its own distinctive “’flavour’. The purpose of the next few points and paragraphs is to give a sense of the distinctive elements of KMI.
KMI is system-oriented, not symptom-oriented
KMI work is applied gently and sensitively, with full client participation
The KMI series unfolds around a logical and coherent map of the myofasciae — the Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians
KMI practitioners welcome and value other inputs
KMI seeks client autonomy
Although many people come to KMI and Structural Integration because of some kind of pain or restriction, the intent of this work – especially when undertaken as a series of sessions, is to get to the condition behind the immediate problem.
Many shoulder injuries, for instance, are caused by the lack of support from the rib cage. What’s the point of fixing the immediate problem if you don’t at the same time moderate the cause? The KMI series is designed to progressively build support, sturdiness, and balance throughout the structural system so that there is a whole new ‘frame’ underlying your posture and movement, which can keep old injuries from coming back and help to prevent new ones from happening. Ida Rolf used to joke: “If your symptoms get better, that’s your tough luck”.
A KMI practitioner may or may not address right away the area where you are having pain or restrictions – the roots often lie at some distance from the presenting problem. It may take several sessions or most of the series to get to the specifics of the problem since we have to build up the supporting structure first. In this way, KMI resembles classical acupuncture or homoeopathy or osteopathy – where the symptoms were secondary and building the ‘constitution’ is primary.
KMI work is not imposed on the client. The work should be on this side of the pain threshold, and the client and practitioner work out where the pressure and intensity level should be for maximum benefit. No good will by ‘grinning and bearing it’ through an entire series. Occasionally, it is beneficial to ‘expose’ pain stored in the body, but ‘imposing pain’ is not a part of KMI work.
Secondly, the client moves during the application of the manual therapy. If you are lying passively on the table for most of the session, you are not getting the best work you can get. KMI follows Ida Rolf’s pithy dictum: “Put it where it belongs and call for movement.” Your movement produces several benefits: it lessens the sensation by spreading it out, it engages your proprioception (inner sensing) that helps integrate the work, and it also helps the practitioner stay on the right layer of fascia during the release.
Thirdly, your KMI practitioner wants to hear about how the process is affecting you – physically, emotionally, in your exercise or other performance activities. Letting your practitioner know what’s up is very helpful in getting the best work for you.
The KMI session series is built around a logical, coherent approach to the myofascial system. The Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians provide a way to define the territory of each session, allowing the practitioner to be both confident that they are getting the proper territory, but also creative within each session to ensure that each individual client is getting the exact work that his or her unique pattern requires. There’s more information than you would ever want to know about the Anatomy Trains on this site.
The KMI school and KMI practitioners welcome other therapeutic inputs to your process. KMI is compatible with osteopathy, chiropractic, cranial work, and most forms of massage, yoga, and exercise.
We recognize that no way is the ‘one true way’ in manual and movement therapy, and we are always learning from other disciplines. Sometimes we absorb what we learn into our work, sometimes what we learn tells us when to refer to the other competent professionals available within the wide spectrum of healing.
The KMI series is a project, with a beginning, middle, and an end. The idea is to create the conditions where the client is independent and stable on their own, not to create a long-term dependency on the therapist or continued work. Of course, people come back for more work, but not on a continuous basis. This work is best, in short, intense periods of work, followed by longer periods of absorption. We want you, within a reasonable period of time, not to need us anymore.
What to expect from a KMI session
KMI is a wonderful ‘tonic’ for your posture and movement, but it is no panacea. Do not undertake KMI without medical permission if indicated, or if suffering from a ‘hot’ (inflammatory) disease. KMI can be remarkably effective for chronic pain patterns of a structural nature, but is not designed as a ‘curative’ for any disease, or as a ‘first aid’ remedy for recent injury. Check with your practitioner if you are unsure whether KMI is contraindicated.
You can certainly ‘try out’ a session of KMI to see if it suits you, but the best, most permanent and progressive results are obtained by undertaking the whole series. You can do the 12-session series within a season, and spread it out over three. Spacing the sessions too close together does not give your body time to absorb the information, whereas drawing the process out too long means you risk losing the momentum essential to the process.
Different KMI practitioners have different styles, so be sure your practitioner ‘fits’ with you, and feel free to bring up any issues you have with the work with your practitioner. Typically, the KMI process will begin with a fairly extensive interview about your history and current habits. Most KMI sessions are done in underwear or a bathing suit, without draping. Your practitioner will usually want to observe you standing and walking before the sessions start in order to assess your current structural patterns. Your practitioner may take photos in order to give you a visual sense of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ since there can be some fairly dramatic changes in your shape. (And sometimes there will not be dramatic visual changes – judge your KMI experience by how you feel rather than how it looks.) KMI work is done on a massage table, or for certain moves on a stool or bench.
The practitioner will use his/her fingers, hands, or arm to contact certain tissues, and then ask you to move in specific ways while s/he opens and repositions those tissues. The process of opening these tissues can involve some burning, like a yoga stretch or moving some long unused muscles. The pain, if the sensation gets that far, should be short and bearable. Please converse with your practitioner to find the right level of depth for you that allows the maximum value for each session consistent with your comfort. The idea is to achieve a balanced body that is pain-free. You may have to feel some of the stored pain as it leaves your body, especially in traumatized areas. Traumatized tissue can also contain emotional pain. Although we are not trained psychologists, your KMI practitioner has been trained to sensitively work with you around these issues as they relate to your body structure. Feel free to work with your practitioner to find the right level of work for you.
Each KMI session deals with a different fascial plane or set of relationships in the body, progressively working around the body, and from superficial to deep and back again. Your practitioner may not work where you are reporting the symptoms, as the patterns that feed that problem are body-wide. A whiplash, for instance, is a problem of the neck for some days, a problem of the whole spine within a few weeks, and is linked to a whole body pattern within a few months.
It is not unusual to have odd feelings – physical or emotional – between sessions. Please contact your practitioner if they are cause for concern. Often, old long-forgotten pains will resurface for a time – this is a positive sign that the process of unwinding is well under way. Your practitioner has a short pamphlet, ‘Getting the Most From Your KMI Sessions’, which can be helpful.
View your KMI series as a project, with a beginning, middle, and an end; not an ongoing and endless therapy. The initial 4 sessions deal with the superficial layers, the middle 4 sessions with deeper structures and the last sessions of the KMI process integrate the two layers and bring it into everyday movement. Results will continue to accrue after you have finished your final session.
Clients often return once a twice a year for a ‘tune up’ session, to ease the effects of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Others simply go on to some other maintenance routine such as yoga, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais, a workout routine – whatever is appropriate to them. Still, others return periodically for a shorter series of sessions, advanced work designed to take the process deeper into your body and your experience.
Getting the most out of your KMI
Now that you are starting your KMI sessions, here are some suggestions for making the most of the experience. The KMI series is a project; a project of realigning your body, educating your kinesthetic sense, and reclaiming your whole bodily self from the many alienating influences we have in our culture. You may find that some of the following ideas are more to your liking, while others do not fit your situation – consider them all, and then take what you like.
It is recommended that you keep a journal during the process – you may be surprised at the changes as evidenced by your sensations, dreams, attitudes, or experiences. Start by standing in front of a mirror, and writing down everything that you can see, think of, or feel about your body. Be as honest as you can, noting areas you like, ones you do not, the areas that give you pleasure, and any chronic aches or pains. Think back to the things that have affected your body-shape the body-image you hold – accidents and surgeries, incidents and limitations, your parents, your heroes. Try to make an entry just after and just before each of the sessions in the series, as well as any other time you are so moved.
Leave time for a walk before and after your session – this will give you a chance to feel the ‘before’ and ‘after’ in your body, and in the familiar kinaesthetic experience of walking. The walking will help you integrate the changes from the session as well, and give a chance for your head to clear before returning to the everyday absorption of driving and the rest. You could, for instance, simply park your car several blocks from the studio.
During the session, the most benefit is derived from letting your practitioner in. It is common to react by tightening or pulling away. If your practitioner is creating too much sensation with their pressure or speed, let him or her know that they should lighten up, or slow down, or get out. While your practitioner knows what s/he is doing, you know you the best.
This is your session, and the best results come with your ability to stay with the work and let go and work with it.
People have different ways of opening up to the work. Bring your awareness to the part that is being worked, and accept the pressure or direction of movement being offered or suggested. If the pressure of the fascial work is so much that you have to mentally ‘leave’, then the work is too hard, and probably less productive. Any movement explorations by definition are free from discomfort and will feel easy to perform, if not mentally challenging to start.
The exception to this can be an area that was physically traumatized and is still storing a lot of pain. Here, the pain can be intense, but it is pain leaving your body. In any case, develop a dialogue with your practitioner about how they can best work with you.
Between sessions, listen to your body. We are accustomed to dictating to our bodies from above. During the series is a time to listen for the messages coming up from below. You find you have more energy and want to move more, or you may feel restless, so go with it; dance, do some pandiculating and move naturally. Alternatively, your body may give you signals of needing more rest as it repairs itself – go with that if you can, rest and you will restore much more.
Break up long periods of sitting with movement. Give yourself a few minutes break during every hour of driving, for instance, or do some stretching during long bouts on the computer.
Long-held patterns of sitting can be very damaging to our structural integrity and health.
A warm bath on the evenings after a session is often a treat, and adding Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) to the bath will reduce any residual soreness. Or engage with whatever brings ease.
You may notice odd stresses and strains in your body in the days following a session, as your body readjusts its tissues to the changing forces. This is normal. These feelings or pains should be passing – your practitioner will want to know about anything that lasts more than few days, or anything severe or worrying.
Likewise, you may feel odd emotions between sessions, coming seemingly from nowhere. This is normal and these too should pass. As much as you can, just accept and watch them happen. Again, anything lasting should be reported to your practitioner.
Avoid imposing an ideal on your body – holding yourself into what you think of as a ‘proper’ posture. The sessions are designed to bring you toward a better balance without effort.
Pinning your shoulders bcak or tucking your tail under to where you think it ‘should’ be will only get in the way. Your body has its own wisdom – allow it to unwind toward its own natural length and balance. In the end, this may conform to some plumb line or grid, but it very well may not. To thine own self, be true.
Your KMI practitioner may give you exercises or awareness designed to help overcome old habits between sessions and bring in the new, but this awareness should be tried on gently and frequently, not imposed or held for long periods of time. Holding someone’s (even your own) idea of ‘good’ posture will only substitute a new set of strains for the old ones you left behind.
Many times, the most helpful thing that the client can do is to notice when old patterns of holding are creeping back in and drop them. Noticing them as they reassert themselves is easier after they have been released in the sessions, but they do have a way of creeping back in. Your job as a client is to notice these holding patterns and just let them go, as often as necessary. After a period of watching the tendency come and go, it will simply relent and the new position will be your ‘natural’ place. Remaining gently sensitive to what your body is doing is your chief responsibility in this process.
Your body will also give you messages about your environment. Your way of standing over the sink, or sitting at your desk may need to change to be consonant with your ‘new’ body. Your practitioner can help you with these adjustments, and you can also stay alert to when you are using yourself in the way that no longer works.
You can expect that the novelty of the changes you feel right after the session will feel less pronounced toward the end of the week. They are still there – it is just that your body has become more used to them and integrated them. The KMI series is carefully worked out in a sequence that is designed to prevent you from regressing. In fact, you can expect positive changes to keep developing in the months following the end of the series.
Finally, enjoy yourself! The KMI series is a wonderful way to explore your body posture and movement. It was so important and positive for your practitioner that he or she took it up as a career! We look forward to sharing this voyage of discovery, healing, and ease with you.
General goals of structural integration work
Complete body image
You understand, can make sense of and use all the information coming from your body to move and breathe with grace and ease.
Skeletal alignment and support
Your bones are aligned in a way that allows for minimum effort in standing and action.
Tensegrity / span / palintonicity - evenness of tone. Your body in tune.
Your myofascial tissues are balanced around your skeletal structure such that there is a general evenness of tone and shape, rather than areas of higher tension and slackened tissue.
Length / space (compression, shortness)
Your body lives its full length in both the trunk and the limbs and in both the muscles and the joints, rather than moving in shortness and compression.
Resilience / adaptability
Your body shows increased ability to bear stress without breaking and to resume a balanced existence when the stress is removed.
Ability to hold and release somato-emotional charge
You have an increased ability to hold an emotional charge without acting it out, and to release it into action or simply into letting go when the time is appropriate.
Unity of intent with diffuse awareness. Focus – awareness.
The term Structural Integration implies the ability to focus on any given task or perception while maintaining a diffuse peripheral awareness of whatever is going on around ant given activity. Focus without contextual awareness is fanatic; awareness without focus is ineffective.
Reduce effort in standing and movement.
Less parasitic tension or unnecessary compensatory movement involved in any given task
Generosity in range of motion (full range of human movement is available)
Less restriction in any given activity, and that, within the limits of health, age, history and genetic makeup the full range of human movement is available.
That standing and activity be as free of structural pain as possible.
Adapted from Tom Myers article (box 4) on:
Structural integration: developments in Ida Rolf’s ‘Recipe’ – Part 2. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2004) 8, 189-198. Thomas W. Myers