Structural Medicine

23 May

I have had great fortune in being asked to ‘model’ for a local body worker’s Structural Medicine training.  This means I get treatments monthly for one year, and she takes measurements, photos, notes, etc., to study the structural and subtle changes that happen in my body over the course of my treatments.

My experience with the first treatment truly blew me away … SO much that I want to share this rather personal journey with my community, and also encourage each of you to schedule an appointment with Suzy Cornell!  She is amazing!

Suzy Cornell
Skagit Valley Structural Medicine

My first appointment happened last weekend.  I drove into Concrete on a iconic drizzly PNW morning and was greeted by a long driveway lined with old growth cedar and big leaf maple, ferns, and even medicinal mushrooms growing on old stumps.  This scenic and magical setting on the bank of Finney Creek really set a soothing stage for my first visit.

Suzy herself is a fantastic woman–energetic and compassionate, she is easy to talk to and immediately made me feel comfortable.  In her home, with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Finney Creek, we sat at a table and went over some intake information & my medical history, and spoke about physical areas of concern.

In my body, I believe in part due to falling off horses numerous times in my youth and in part due to over-stretching the ligaments that support my sacroiliac joint in yoga, I have occasional sometimes acute hip and low back pain.  I have treated this pain with physical therapy, Reiki, and yoga, and I’ve found most recently that my yoga practice at Yoga Northwest under the guidance of very anatomically-aware and alignment-specific teachers has helped most with the pain.  However, in the past year, I feel like I’ve come to a bit of a wall and don’t feel like I am progressing.  My personal home yoga practice feels at best uninspired, bland.  I avoid many poses (specifically twists) that tend to inflame my hip problem.  I was ready for a new perspective.

I came to the right place at the right time.

Structural Medicine is a combination and integration of various forms of bodywork, developed by Donna Bagellis, a Physical Therapist here in Washington.  It’s a sort of tango between Hallerwork, Rolfing, PT, pilates, and yoga.  After an extensive series of tests on my range of motion (even down to my ribcage expansion in my breathing) and strength, I lay on a massage table and Suzy began doing some deep work on my fascia.  She mostly focused on the area of my torso: from my hips up to my collarbones and into my armpits.  She coached me to breathe deeply as she worked.  After awhile I switched and lay on my belly while she worked my back.

Below, I felt so inspired after my first treatment that I did an exercise that my writing professor and first yoga teacher, Michael McColly, introduced to me in a Creative Body class: Draw an outline of your body and then write words/draw pictures of sensations and messages from the body within and around that outline.


Body work is powerful because of the subtleties that are physically entrapped in the physical body.  As muscles and fascia releases, so do emotions, sub-consciousness, things that were stuck or suppressed within the subtle and physical body.

“It’s all about inspiration,” Suzy said to me.  She had me take a deep in-breath, and let the out-breath come naturally.  I realized that it was hard for me to inhale and spread my middle ribs.  At first this shocked me.  As a yoga teacher, one would think I would have exceptional lung capacity.  I was shocked to find that I did have a deep, full low belly breath, but my middle and upper ribs were constricted.  Very constricted.

For so long I have been lengthening and deepening my exhale, and consciously keeping my inhale shorter because this longer-exhale helps to ease  and lessen anxiety (something I have struggled with).  However, I’d been so deeply focused on the exhale that my inhalations have become stifled.

Exhales, on an energetic level, correlate with giving, release, offering.    I can see this tendency in myself: teaching more, giving more time away to others, working more, trying harder, doing more …

Inhale invites creativity, helps us take in pleasures, brings in energy, nourishes the body: intake, receive, take in, accept, indulge, welcome, invite, inspire:  and this is where I need to focus.  I’m real good at exhaling.  My in-breath needs some work.

As in everything, there must be balance.  Even to the breath.  In the past, my pendulum had swung too far toward the inhale.  Now it is too far toward the exhale.  With this mindfulness practice, I hope to still the pendulum in the middle of a balanced breath.

Throughout the session, I felt like I was being freed!  With this work, I will become balanced, whole: able to let go yet maintain boundaries.  Fully myself.  Giving, gifting, offering, and receiving, accepting, taking in: the dance of balance.

There is such beauty in balance!

I love working with the subtle body by way of the physical body.  It is in bodywork that we can truly realize that there is no separation between body, mind and spirit.  Like in yoga, what manifests in the physical body is an expression of the subtle body, the emotional body the spiritual body.

On a physical level, at the end of the treatment, Suzy took the same measurements as the start and we noticed these differences:

  • My left hip (previously lower) became level with my right hip
  • My left hip was less anteriorly rotated, more balanced with my right
  • My right shoulder range of motion was greater by twenty or so drgrees
  • I could breathe more fully into my mid-chest, around the area of my xyphoid process (base of sternum)
  • My IT bands weren’t nearly as tight (amazing to me, since she hadn’t touched my legs at all, instead focusing on releasing fascia in my torso)

My shoulders and neck felt completely different than they had pre-treatment.  My walking felt more free, my chest more open.  It struck me to realize how stuck we can feel without even knowing it.

A lot of this Structural Medicine work deals with Fascia, the connective tissue which holds the organs, tissues, and structures of the body in place.  I have much still to learn about fascia, and will continue to update my blog as I gain more resources to share.


I continue to receive insights as the days pass … the day after my bodywork session, I went on a run.  I felt like I had a new body!  I felt free and moved more easily.  My joints felt more open, my legs felt springy.


In my yoga class at Yoga Northwest, again I felt like I was in a completely new body.  Like a beginner to yoga, I felt sensations for the first time.  I stretched differently, felt openness in new places, breathed differently, went deeper in some poses and not so deep in others.

I feel more creative, like new ideas flow easily, like my future plans are unfolding more clearly.  Clarity, yes!

It is all so very inspiring.

I truly believe, after just one treatment, that this type of bodywork is one of the the best things we can do for our yoga practice.  It opens places we can’t quite open on our own.  It gives us feedback to have hands-on contact.  It slows us down.  It helps us recognize that we are a part of a greater community. it teaches us how to receive.

I can not wait until my next treatment.  I’ll write about it in the next installment of “Bodywork.”  In the meantime, give Suzy a call and get yourself out there!  It will be worth your while.

Suzy Cornell
Ultimate Physiques
rosesque at hotmail dot com


5 Responses to “Structural Medicine”

  1. Jessie May 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Reblogged this on Jessie Tierney.


  2. Jessie June 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    I am so excited … my next session with Suzy is this weekend! Stay tuned …


  3. Jessie February 19, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    For your chance to meet Suzy in another manifestation — as a Yoga Teacher — join her at 5-6 PM at the Sedro Woolley Center for Holistic Wellness for Yoga Therapy!
    Details here:



  1. Community Acupuncture | YogAscent: Heighten Your Practice - June 4, 2013

    […] it tonight.  My hip pain was 100% gone after the first treatment.  This may have correlated with my first Structural Medicine treatment with Suzy, but I think most likely they both helped!  My IBS has improved (I am not on my restrictive diet […]


  2. Community Acupuncture | Jessie Tierney - June 4, 2013

    […] it tonight.  My hip pain was 100% gone after the first treatment.  This may have correlated with my first Structural Medicine treatment with Suzy, but I think most likely they both helped!  My IBS has improved (I am not on my restrictive diet […]


Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: