Spotlight on Education

By Rebecca Jones

Massage therapy student Eli Thompson was halfway through his two-year training program at the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he happened onto a blurb about an upcoming class that changed his life … again.

His career plans had already done a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn in less than two years. The son of a software engineer, Thompson had followed his father into the hard sciences. He was pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering because he loved the mechanics of the physical world, loved knowing the way things worked.

Then, in his third year of college, an infection left him bedridden for six weeks. And when he finally returned to class, he realized he had been following his father’s footsteps, not his own.

“I spent about a year very frustrated, feeling that I had wasted so much of my life,” says Thompson, now thirty-five. “And then I stumbled onto massage.”

Thompson instinctively knew that massage and bodywork were good for him. He liked connecting with people, liked making their pain go away. He didn’t expect he’d make a long-term career out of it, but he enjoyed what he was learning.

“I had decided to take several CEU courses to get a sense of the potential and breadth of bodywork,” Thompson says. “I had taken an energy course and a craniosacral course. We’d been exposed to several different modalities in class.”

Then, in that summer of 1998, he saw an ad for a Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains workshop. The ad explained that the body is really a continuous web of fascial interconnections, not separate parts. Anatomy Trains was the map that explained it. The systems analyst in Thompson emerged. This sounded a bit like Systems Theory and Chaos Theory, topics that fascinated him. It focused on the relationship between the parts in a complex system. In a way, it was mechanical engineering for the body. By focusing on the relationships between the parts we begin to see how the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

He signed up for the three-day workshop. His “aha” moment came in the introductory lecture. From that moment on, he was hooked.

“It was the way Tom Myers brings in so many fields,” Thompson said. “The old and the new sciences, like systems theory, chaos theory, quantum theory—he brought all that into the humanitarian fields, into the bodywork field. It’s basically the unifying field theory of us. It gives a holistic perspective on what it is to be human. It was the most complete picture I had experienced yet.

“When he coalesced it for me, it changed my worldview completely. I saw the potential of bodywork, how you can impact people. I saw, really, the complexity of what it is to be human.”

Thompson went on to complete his massage therapy training. It took a couple of more years after that before he could complete Myers’ full five-hundred-hour Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI) structural integration training, but by that time he knew his purpose in life and he pursued it with gusto.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be fulfilled by relaxation massage or even therapeutic massage,” he says. “Therapeutic massage deals with current, acute stress-based problems. But I wanted to become a structural manipulator, to deal with long-term problems, like debilitating back pain or posture deficiencies, or anything people weren’t able to get resolution from with other means.”

Thompson likens what he learned about structural integration to the ancient Asian art of bonsai. A bonsai gardener will wrap a tree’s branch in metal to make it grow a certain way. A month later, the gardener removes the wrap, but the tree remains in the new position.

“It’s the same in our bodies,” he says. “Being able to intervene or impact a person at the structural level can have long-term changes. If their pattern sets them up for shoulder or neck pain, massage will alleviate the pain. You can give them a cortisone shot or meds, but it still just deals with the symptom. Exercise may stabilize them enough to sustain the strain caused by that pattern, but it’s still dysfunctional.”

Structural work, however, goes still deeper. It is designed to impact the fascia rather than the muscle. “You focus on a specific part of the body, and you determine how to get it to support a better pattern. In each session, we focus on a specific part of the body in context to the whole and determine how to get it to support a better, more functional pattern.” Thompson says. “You get more and more of the body involved in this change. And the body gets to a point where it likes the change better. As the sessions accumulate more of the body’s fascial web becomes involved in this change. The client gets to a point where the new pattern works better and feels more natural than the old one. You reach a tipping point, in a sense.

“If I hadn’t taken that first course, I might have continued with massage, might have gotten into energy-based work, but I don’t know what satisfaction I would have gotten from that.”

Thompson saw this play out in his own life. As he learned more about structural integration, he saw the destructive old patterns of his old life slipping away, evolving into healthier patterns.

As a boy growing up in Israel, Thompson had been outgoing and sociable. But when his family moved to the United States when he was nine, he withdrew. The change in culture left him traumatized.

“It was tough transitioning,” he says. “I had to conform. The way I did that was by shutting down and burying everything about me that was different, everything that was special or Israeli. I became a different person.”

It wasn’t until years later, in the summer after he took that first Tom Myers class, that Thompson made a breakthrough. He went to Israel for a three-week vacation, “and something changed during that trip,” he says. “Something changed within me.” All of a sudden, he started reading Hebrew in a way he hadn’t been able to before.

“The shift was really kind of a surrender,” he says, “a letting go of all the anger and frustration. It was the accepting of a new path. I became committed to this new direction and dived into this new life. Since then, so much has changed.”

His structural integration training impacted his life in one more very profound way: it’s where he met his wife, Debbie.

“She was one of the ‘practice bodies,’” he says. “She heard me speak Hebrew, and it just went from there.”

Today, the Thompsons have been married five years and have three children: a four-year-old son, Noah, and two daughters—two-year-old Talia and seven-month-old Nava.

Thompson now happily has a full-time practice in Brookline, Massachusetts, doing structural integration work, and as of 2005 he became a certified teacher of Kinesis, teaching Anatomy Trains. He has also opened a second business called Benchworks, selling the ergonomically-correct benches (pictured) required for structural integration work. Using his mechanical engineering background, he redesigned the old Ida Rolf bench, giving it a modern look and several color options.

“My life,” he says, “is a wonder
to me.”

  Rebecca Jones is a Denver-based freelance writer who embraces life and a myriad of topics. Contact her at