Ask and you shall receive! Many of you have gotten in touch with me to say how much you would like to hear Tom Myers, founder of Anatomy Trains and Kinesis Myofascial Integration, on the podcast. Well here you are! He does not disappoint. This episode is the proverbial kid in in the candy store moment for body nerds…
Tom talks about the history of Anatomy Trains and how he came to chart connections through the fascial fabric, where Newtonian biomechanics fall short and how fractal mathematics might illuminate new understandings of the body, fascia as the 3rd big autoregulatory system, what Kinesthetic IQ is and why it matters, common misconceptions about fascia, and more. Phew! Lots of good stuff!
Anatomy Trains started as a game. All of the anatomy books, then as now, were looking at origin and insertion of muscles and how muscles worked by pulling those 2 ends together on the skeleton. That’s only one thing muscles do. Much more emphasis in recent research is now being placed on the isometric or stabilizing functions, the eccentric or braking function of the muscle, and more than that it turns out the muscles are attached to the muscles beside them, which we cut away with our scalpel. That’s the work of Huijing and van der Wal [in resources].
My work was to say, “Well, why stop there?” The fascia is continuous with the next muscle, and I wanted to see the connection through the fascial fabric, yet all the anatomy books were written in this origin to insertion way. I started this game suggested to me by an article that James Oschman gave me by Raymond Dart, an anthropologist in South Africa, who was also a student of Alexander Technique. It was about the trunk and these double spiral arrangements [it’s in the resources] and I thought again, “Why stop there?”
With my students, we played a game; If you keep going in a line, how many muscles could you find connected? There were other rules- they had to be fascially connected, they had to be able to transmit force from one to the other without intervening walls of fascia in between, etc, but that game soon was built into a system.
The book Anatomy Trains was really an outlier initially, but it’s turned out to be a bestseller in the world of textbooks.
We understand when we have a nerve problem that that nerve is a part of a whole system, and we have to consider the effect on that whole. We understand when we have a hematoma, or some other problem with the circulatory system, that it’s going to have systemic effects. Yet if you go to physio or anyone working in this kind of field, and say you have a problem with your Achilles tendon, they are really likely to focus on your Achilles and not see it as a part of the whole system.
So I’ve put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600’s has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.
After 500 years of anatomy we still don’t have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam roller rolling out their iliotibial band. It’s really of limited value, and it’s really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people’s minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it’s a really inadequete view.
There’s a lot we don’t know about fascia. I’ve spent 40 years with it and I don’t understand it. A couple of the misconceptions:
One from the medical point of view is that you can’t move this stuff. Fascia is understood to be fixed, and this is because they did their dissections on cadavers fixed with formaldehyde. But in a real, living human being it is very dynamic.
Another misconception is the idea that it is the saran wrap around the muscles. It is so much more. There is saran wrap and that’s called the epimesium, meaning the outside the muscle. However there are structures inside the muscle called the perimesium and endomesium which have different characteristics.
We don’t actually work the muscle. The mind doesn’t’ think of it as training the deltoids or biceps. It thinks in terms of individual neuromotor units, of which there might be a hundred in the biceps. Each of these neuromotor units is wrapped by fascia, called the fascicles.
The idea of a muscle is something that we created because of the way we took apart the body with the blade. If you go after anatomy with a blade you’re going to come up with some structures. But now that we can see inside the body, we see that really the body is not organized that way.
I think people are jumping on the bandwagon and saying fascia does all sorts of things, but we really don’t know so many things. We don’t know how much fo this is neurological change vs. fascial change- and the neurological system and the fascial sustem are so intertwined.
It’s very exciting that it’s this framework that holds all of our cells. If you think that you start as one cell and proliferate to several trillion cells by the time you are born, and somewhere around 70 trillion cells by the time you are an adult.
So your 70 trillion semi-autonomous cells are coursing around in your body either staying still and doing their job or going around with the blood and doing their job and somehow the whole thing works.
It has to work biomechanically and it has to work at every instant. There is no point at which you can put it up on the shelf. The body is continuously working all the time and it goes through amazing biomechanical changes.
The cells are held together by this amazing system of fibers- by all different forms of mucous and a fibrous network embedded in that mucous. It’s an amazingly adaptive system.
Recent work with Dr. Stephen Levin (who pioneered the idea of biotensegrity- in resources) about how Newtonian biomechanics have fallen short. When Einstein came along with his theory of relativity he didn’t overturn Newtons laws. Newton’s laws still work. They are included in a much bigger picture.
We’ve been using Newtonian biomechanics for the last 450 years which is basicaly the lever model. If we go back to the biceps, your elbow is a fulcrum and the biceps are the lever force which exert force on your arm. So it talked a lot about vectors, and force couples, etc. Every anatomy book you ever read is all based on that kind of mechanics.
The dynamics of all these cells holding themselves together is much more fluid and is better explained by fractal mathematics, or chaos mathematics; the mathematics of complexity. If you think of things rolling, tumbling, and flowing, it’s a lot more like that than like levers.
It doesn’t’ negate the idea that the elbow is like a lever, but if you actually go in there and look at the body it doesn’t explain movement. If you had to describe swinging a baseball bat simply with Newtonian mechanics it’s very hard to do. We think of the nerves as these wires, like telephone wires, that snap the muscle on or off, and again that’s way too simplistic and industrial a point of view.
Your fascial system is constantly adapting, It adapts in some ways very fast. When you catch a baseball, the synovial fluid in your hand is solid, but the moment you catch the ball, it becomes quite fluid so that you can manipulate the ball.
There’s the gel- the mucopolysaccharides or proto-amino-glycans that lubricate things to almost zero friction. If you have zero friction environment, you have to be holding the body together not one single muscle at a time, but considering the whole system.
So if we imagine the fabric holding it together, the first is under the skin and very movable in any direction, but if you try to tear someone’s chest open like you did in Indiana Jones it’s very hard to get through the skin without a blade. Under that is the adipose or fat, but under that is the first fabric that really holds us together- the fascia profundus. Then you have the sections inside just like you do in an orange, everything you own inside you is wrapped in fascia.
When you consider that as a system you begin to see this different idea that bones float in a sea of soft tissue. Your brain doesn’t organize movement in terms of parts, it’s a response of the whole body [when you move to catch a ball].
Tensegrity is the balance of the body determined by the tension in the soft tissues. In other words, of you want to re-position the bones you need to address the soft tissue.
Now everyone agrees that no bony manipulation will stay put unless you address the soft tissue, this has completely changed from the viewpoint when he started working in the field.
Why he’s working with movement and fitness professionals a great deal these days: If I do wonderful work on people in a session, and they go back to sitting in their same chair in the same way, what I did won’t hold. So we need to address changing habit.
Trainers are on the front lines of health care these days, as massage therapists are. People come to them and are asking all kinds of questions. We’re really looking at a different approach to healthcare in the next 20 to 30 years as our healthcare system changes- I don’t think the system is going to survive all that much longer. What we call the healthcare system is sick-care, not healthcare. And we have a number of people in our society that need sick-care, they have any number of diseases that bodywork isn’t going to cure.
The trainers, the massage therapists, the yoga teachers, they are all on the front lines of healthcare, and people are turning to them for their health-care and this crew needs to be educated more.
Kinesthetic literacy- we have a real idea about what IQ is and how to measure it with tests. With the help of Daniel Goleman and the rise of the feminine in culture we are getting an idea of EQ- emotional intelligence. We really have not defined KQ- physical or kinesthetic intelligence.
In today’s society people are no longer required to do physical work. My European friends say an American is someone who drives their SUV around and around the parking lot until they find a parking spot close to the gym.
So we go somewhere to exercise, and that’s annoying to me. We should have a life that engages our bodies completely. But we don’t. We have energy slaves- things working out there for us in the form of light-switches, and new cars- I don’t have to lift the lid of my car anymore, so that’s one more way I don’t have to use my muscles. And kids are pretty much focused 40 cm away on their screens.
As we move from the Industrial Society to an Electronic Society, we need to define Kinesthetic Literacy, what do kids need to know, what do older people need to know? What are the certain set of movements that they should have to know? Physical education doesn’t give an idea of how to be competent inside the body. We need to educate the kids of this generation or we’re going to have mental problems because of the physical issues.
We haven’t even mapped this out.We don’t even know what the topology of movement is.
A lot of the intuitions that we have about people are coming up from our kinesthetic self. Things that we call “hunches” I think are body based.
What is Tom playing with in his own practice? Tom is currently enjoying his sailing season. What he describes as his delight in life- every sense is engaged. I [Tom] wish that for everybody- that you find something that really engages you as a whole.
For his work he is currently really interested in how does a 1 celled ovum grown into a 70 trillion cell adult? [He references the Inner Life of a Cell animation by XVIVO which is in the resources] they have shown the biomechanics inside the cell. All of us a-fascia-nados and a-fascia-nadas are interested in what’s happening between the cells that allow the cells to be perfused- I [Tom] want to know how that works, because if we know how that works then we can get every cell in the body into their happy place.
The fascia tugging on cells can actually change how the cells express themselves, change how their genes work, change the epigenetics, determine what gets switched on, this is new business. We can make physiological changes with bodywork. It’s not just that you made more space in the ribs, it’s that you made more space for the cells to do their work.
Go for a walk, run, swim, yoga practice… whatever movement you do where you can get “inside yourself” better, and for the time of that practice- whatever it may be- let go of ideas of yourself as a collection of parts, and see if you can think about yourself as 7o trillion cells that are held together. Cells that are rolling, tumbling, flowing… You don’t have to do your best impersonation of an octopus, it’s not about changing gross movement patterns, but you can see if this little mental shift changes the experience of your practice.
Anatomy Trains website
Anatomy Trains book, now in its 3rd edition
Kinesis Myofascial Integration, Tom Myer’s school for Structural Integration which holds trainings worldwide