Hello everyone, This week we will revisit the magic of tensegrity and the critical role it plays in body wide communication. We look into how we can reach the quality of movement idealized by the tensegrity model. A tensegrity structure is a communication network. In a network it is possible that a signal can be communicated with zero loss of information. Sometimes there is distortion or a loss of signal, and at other times it is not possible to connect to the network at all. Fortunately we can reconfigure our whole body with AdaptiveBodyworkStructural Integration. This will reestablish our body wide communication, refresh our body maps, and create a state of equilibrium in every position, which is both neutral balanced and sustainable.
Kenneth Snelson - Rainbow Arch, 2001
We can imagine and sense a fully connected integrated structure that distributes forces omnidirectionally. The intuitive sense we get from holding a tensegrity structure also evokes a strong internal resonance that this is how the body moves when it is moving well.
Tensegrities always distribute forces throughout the structure in the most efficient way.
The thing that is so obvious when holding a tensegrity is that when one part moves every other part moves. This is also what happens in the body when it is optimally organized, but we know that this is often not the case. Often in the body when one part moves, just one part moves. It is our job at AdaptiveBodywork to help the client reach the quality of movement that is idealized by the model.
How does the theory of biotensegrity inform and interface with our practical understanding of human structure and movement?
Tensegrity models are remarkable, and we learn important things from them, but it is important to be clear that we are not these models. Kenneth Snelson built the first tensegrity structure. It was the x module shown here.
The X-module by Kenneth Snelson
He called this invention floating compression and said that these newly discovered structures are forces made visible.
While tensegrity structures make this remarkable arrangement of forces visible, they also make these same forces palpable. That is most meaningful and profound for many of us. In different yet related ways each one of these structures seems magical. Our bodies have the potential to experience each of these seemingly magical properties. One structure magically floating above the other without what most people intuitively think of as support. What does this feel like in our bodies? Imagine that the floating x is your thorax or your shoulder girdle or your neck and head.
Remember that while these structures are not direct representations of our anatomy, they are representations of the same forces made visible that animate us. Our bodies obey the same laws as strut and cable tensegrities.
How does it feel if you imagine that the upper x is not floating in this tensional network but is instead supported by a compressional column? What does this feel like? The term spinal extension isolates the spine in our thoughts. Instead of the isolated spine extending, the whole body reconfigures in extension, which feels better in the lower back.
Tensegrities can be reconfigured by changing the tension in a cable or putting in a different size strut. The structure responds to the change by changing shape so that the tension is balanced in a way that requires the least energy.
When a beam is cantilevered out past its base. It is under stress. This stress is known as a bending moment. It is remarkable that while the Snelson sculpture is cantilevered out past its base it does not experience any bending stresses or strains. All of the forces are delivered in straight lines. What is interesting about this arch is very common, but this is not a common arch. It required force to create the curvature or bend in the structure.
Although the tensegrity arch is bending, no individual strut or cable in the structure is bending even though the whole structure is bending. The forces within the structure are all distributed as efficiently as possible in straight lines. What does it feel to bend and feel that while your shape is curved no part of your structure is bending?
To paraphrase Steve Levin we don’t bend we reconfigure into a shape that is arched or curled.
Notice how the struts in Snelson’s tower seem to be floating and extending magically upwards. When our bodies are optimally organized and activated there is a resulting sense of weightlessness. I hope you all recognize this in yourselves when the sense of weightlessness comes into the system it is a phase change from feeling heavy to feeling weightless.
We create stability and resilience in our bodies by managing intra-abdominal pressure. An important aspect of the biotensegral forces in our system is that they are also dynamically managed. Some of these forces result from the control of intra-abdominal pressure. Tensional forces provided by the cooperation of the diaphragm, abdominals, pelvic floor and intercostals are balanced by the compressive forces of the close-packed abdominal contents.
To understand the phase shift from heaviness to lightness we need to consider the question using the theoretical framework of biotensegrity. These are questions of the dynamics of the system. Dysfunction or pathology in the body of this type can be considered in the realm of dynamical disease. The most important practical question is I believe, how can we determine how well a tensegrity is functioning. In a way the question is not valid since tensegrities always function optimally. The models do always function optimally yet it is clear that we do not.
We also know that there are many effective therapeutic modalities for creating positive change, like Adaptive Bodywork, and it would be useful to have a framework to understand how these might actually work in biotensegril terms.
It would also be useful to have a sense of how dramatic change can occur from a small change in a seemingly unrelated part of the body. Traditional models have a hard time explaining this. To determine how well something functions it is useful to clarify what the function of the thing is.
A tensegrity can be considered a medium that conducts mechanical energy. This mechanical energy carries information, and energy that carries information is a signal. A tensegrity structure is a communication network. Move one part and every part moves, that is communication. In the case of a tensegrity structure the signal is mechanical energy, or movement. This signal communicates through and throughout the structure sequentially and simultaneously.
In a tensegrity architecture, every external impulse is clearly communicated through and throughout the entire structure. Aside from structural damage, there are two ways that the system can fail if there is a blockage in some part of the structure.
In a network it is possible that a signal can be communicated with zero loss of information. Sometimes there is distortion or a loss of signal, and at other times it is not possible to connect to the network at all.
Notice that the mechanical signal, the information, does not reach past the blockage. So any blockage will create a loss of integrity in the system. The other way that the system can fail is with a collapse somewhere in the structure, which will require a compensation of stiffening somewhere else in the structure.
Either way, the biotensegril system is impaired in its function as a communications network. This also means that other mechanical characteristics that we have in common with tensegrities will not be present until the structure is reintegrated.
Viewed as a communication network, it is easy to see how small changes can block communication or re-establish communication. Sometimes a small change like the locking of a wrist can negatively affect the function of the whole body. Mobilizing a locked rib can reestablish the body’s integration.
Our body map is the internal representation that we all have of ourselves. If you think of your left knee, you know where it exists in space. You have some notion of its structure and also how it moves. These maps can be clear and accurate or they can be fuzzy. They can also be very clear yet very inaccurate.
Misconceptions can arise because of language we use to think of and describe our bodies. This dissonance between our picture of ourselves and the true nature of our structure has an effect on how we organize ourselves and how we move. When our body map is informed by a skewed schematic representation, these mismappings can dramatically limit our potential for free and efficient movement.
If we reconfigure our whole body with AdaptiveBodyworkStructural Integration, our body wide communication is reestablished, our body maps are refreshed, and any position can be in equilibrium, neutral balanced and sustainable.