Joanne Avison

The Best of Body Nerdery in 2015

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The year 2015 has been an abundance of riches for me, and really much of that is due to listeners like you. When I began the Liberated Body Podcast I knew I wanted to talk with teachers and thought leaders who were shaping the way we understood our own bodies. It felt like a personal master's degree that I was putting together for myself in order to immerse myself more deeply in my field. I just happened to decide to do it in public via a podcast. What I didn't anticipate was the thriving tribe of body nerds who would come join the party and make it infinitely richer.

The way I know that I'm on to something over here is not because fantastic people agree to talk with me, or that I'm gradually improving my interviewing skills, or any silly metric like a growing number of listeners. It is because all of you are so scary smart, dialed into your own bodies, and profoundly aware of how critical it is to make the world a more embodied place. And you want to listen to my show!?Whaaaa!?

I feel so humbled and grateful that you have wandered into my world and to know all of you through this little body nerd learning home we have created here. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a part of this journey with me. And thank you for the good work you are doing in the world- I know most of you are teaching and practicing in the wide array of somatic fields and this work is so sorely needed on the planet right now. Keep it up.

With that, here are some of the highlights from the show for me in 2015 in order from January to the most recent. Picking a favorite episode can feel like picking a favorite child, so I just sifted through my mind and heart for the outtakes that I keep returning to most frequently.

Gil Hedley:

Our superficial fascia is this sort of glowing leaf that we all wear, and it’s a sensual, slippery slope, it’s an emotional ride, it’s part of our sexuality and our sensuality. I would go so far as to say it’s part of how we listen to our world. It’s a kind of antennae that we pick up information of a certain type. In other words, texture has specific structure, and therefore specific tone. We can go very far into it. Superficial fascia is an endocrine organ. It’s an organ of metabolism. We could go on with its many different features, but that’s only because I’ve come to notice and accept it as this thing that we all have. It belongs there.

We’re depleted without it. If you consider also this is the place where a baby rests on it’s mother’s breast, and nurses there, that this is part of the layer as well. When we refuse it, or curse it, and hate it, we hate all that it brings to us as well, and separate ourselves from that comfort, from that sensuality, from the ministry of the superficial fascia to our personalities in a life. We put ourselves away from our self when we hold up to brutal criticism, a tissue. Some day down the road maybe we’ll hate muscle the way we hate superficial fascia now, and it’ll reverse. We didn’t always hate it. It’s a new thing to hate that tissue.

Judith Aston:

One of the pieces that I became aware of and really became such an integral part of the work that I teach is that I heard so often that gravity was the enemy; That you have to fight it and the way you fought it was by holding up against it. Before I met Dr. Rolf in dance and in different posture classes we were taught to pull up to the sky hook. Dr. Rolf had her own model.. It also had this up feel, this is a feeling of up that you had to pull up against the force of gravity pulling us down.

When I look at that model in action I didn’t like the effort. This little voice inside me said, “If this is correct, why does it have to be so effortful? If this is correct, why do people not do it naturally?” Therefore I was off jumping in to the field of trying to figure out a different way of finding a better posture and being on the planet. I’m not lifting up. I never saw a sky hook before. The only sky hook I’ve ever seen are those that hold the skeleton by the head in a screw. There is no sky hook. If we bounce off the earth, if we let go into gravity, it increases this pressure into the ground and it pushes back on us. As children we learn that spontaneously.

Stephen Levin:

We essentially are foams... When I started doing this, I tried to find some structure that looked like a cell and that would build from a cell. The icosahedron is one of the Platonic Solids going way back. It’s a fully triangulated structure. Again, only triangles are inherently stable, so if you’re going to have flexible hinges, you have to be triangulated. It’s omnidirectional so that you can turn in any direction. It has the largest volume for surface area, so it’s energetically in the sense of using materials that are most economical. It can be close-packed to fill space or would fill spaces like cellular space filling. It joins together. When it does join together, it’ll share structures.

It’s like sharing the faces in the bubble, as we pointed out. The individual icosahedrons can actually then function as a one unit structurally, but it also has the ability to function as the individual unit. They become independent and interdependent at the same time. It can have an external or internal skeleton. You can internalize the compression elements instead of keeping it in the outside shell, and that internal creation is a self-emerging property that comes from the structure itself. It also has mechanical properties that are non-linear, or viscoelastic, which is the same as biologic materials.

Ged Sumner:

The body is full of bliss. Absolutely. That's the greatest secret of all actually- It's brimming with it and somehow we remove ourselves from it... I think something in our culture has said no way can we experience bliss, especially if it's free. No way can that be the case. How can that possibly be the case!? We've sinned way too much to experience something as beautiful as that.

But it's there, it's on offer from your cells all the time. We've just generated this ability to shift away from it. Maybe it's unbearable? The unbearableness of light? We like misery- it's what we know. We are completely as mad as hatters. It's kind of funny really. I laugh at myself and all of us, we're so crazy and we keep digging the hole don't we? We make it worse all the time. It's got to be more complex, faster... all kinds of weird attainments to get to.

And all the time the very thing we probably do want is right there, it's sat with you, it's sat within you. It's your biology. I don't think you need to make it any more complex than that. The bliss of biology. The bliss of your blood moving around you body. And when you start to tune into these things- the simple things like your heart beating and literally arterial and venous flows- it's totally blissful. Give it a week of meditation and you'll be walking around in this beautiful state all the time and not getting caught up in the past or the future. There lies happiness. Just feeling your bones- that is the most beautiful thing. To feel the living bone. Not as an idea, not as a visualization, but to actually to drop into your sensory awareness of that. And on it goes... that is a universe of experience. It's endless. Endless experience and it's all within. All that is necessary is a finessing of your sensing apparatus.

Frank Forencich:

The "long body" is a rarely talked about Native American term. My understanding of the long body is that it refers to the individual body plus the life support systems around it. So it's a much bigger conception of the human body than what we normally have in Western culture. This seems not just to be a Native American idea but it comes up again and again in native or indigenous cultures. They don't make such a distinction between the body and the larger environment; They see the body as being continuous with the larger environment...

In this realm the question that always comes up is why do you have a nervous system, what does it do? And the short answer is that you have a nervous system to regulate your own body. That's true and that sounds good; It's fantastically effective at doing that. But the nervous system has other functions as well that have to do with learning. For human beings in particular, the purpose of the nervous system is to learn habitat and to learn our social environment as well. So we have this incredible sensitivity to these two things: the land, habitat, to plants, the weather, sensation. And also we have this incredible sensitivity to one another.

In other words, the nervous system is all about helping us to learn our life support systems: The ecological ones and the tribal ones. This is why we have a nervous system. If we ignore the life support systems of habitat and tribe then we look at the body in isolation and we miss so much of what the body is actually doing in the world. The body is not as singular and unitary as it would appear.

Joanne Avison:

Fascia is by no means new, it's been there since before the dinosaurs. But what's very interesting from a historical point of view is that it was largely ignored anatomically for its significance. What that means is that John Godmen 100 years before Andrew Taylor Still, 100 years before where we are now, all mentoined the fascia as being highly siginficant and a major part of the body when viewed from an anatomical point of view.

What happened was, if we go back in history very briefly- basically science has to have an element of something popular that inspires the patronage of the appropriate circles to have it considered and have it researched. Rene Descartes was considered to be the father of modern science and he did what Candace Pert in the book Molecules of Emotion called a turf deal with the Pope. Human dissection was not allowed, it was forbidden. So he did a deal with the Pope persuading him that it was appropriate to do human dissection. The Pope basically sanctioned human dissection under very specific circumstances- the church held jurisdiction over the mind, the spirit, the soul and the emotions- anything non-physical. And the physical body only could be taken to science and examined under scientific law. According to Candace Pert that created a rift in the science. It took it down a road under the auspices of the person that had this type of examination sanctioned.

We can't make Rene Descartes the bad guy, his work was extraordinary, but the circumstances under which that work developed meant that the future of work with the body was designated under the way clocks were managed. Horology was another one of his [Rene Descartes] studies- and he suggested that the human body functioned by means like a clock- levers and pendulums. He saw it as like any other automaton. It was divorced from its context. And so anatomy progressed in scraping away anything that isn't a thing.

When you do a dissection fascia is everywhere... Fascia is continuous and ubiquitous. It is absolutely everywhere and it is connected from the tiniest microscopic part of the innermost core of a muscle out to the skin. And it covers the bones, the organs, the neurovascular vessels- absolutely everything within this mesh-and it is continuous. That is one of the reasons why when it is unbroken it affects everything we do.

No one is saying the muscles aren't doing anything, no one is saying the bones are not doing anything- No one is saying throw out the old and in with the new. We are inviting an evolution of the perspective. We are saying we have to include this highly significant fabric of our form because it is all joined up.

Daniel Keown:

We're all effectively crystals. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but our bones are crystalline, the collagen itself is semi-crystalline. And one of the properties of crystals is pizeoelectricity. That means that when you bend a crystal it will create electricity. And equally if you apply electricity to a crystal it will bend.

So anyone who's got a cigarette lighter with the clicky thing that produces a spark- that spark is being produced by pizeoelectricity. There is a tiny quartz crystal in there and when you push it down it deforms this quartz crystal and you get more electrical current on one side and that arcs across the gap and you get a spark of electricity. This is happening all the time within our bodies. The collagen itself appears to be pizeoelectric.

Within our bones this is almost certainly why astronauts lose all their bone mass in space. Because the gravitational stress on your bones is constantly deforming the collagen and that's producing electrical currents. Where these currents are strongest we know that bone cells move into the area nd they lay down calcium and phosphorus and this creates hardness, this creates incompressibliity... This is governed by the electricity in the area generated when things move.

When you go into space because there is not more gravitational stress on the bones there is no more stressing of the collagen and no more piezoelectricity. So the bone cells, called osteoblasts, think, "Oh great! We've done a fantastic job and there's no need to do anymore building." And then the bones get slowly reabsorbed. So piezoelectricity is everywhere in our bodies, and again it's almost completely ignored by Western medicine.

Happy 2016 everyone! I look forward to more deep body learning with all of you soon, and am currently in the process of creating the line up for season 3 of the podcast. It never ceases to amaze me how many spectacular people there are to talk to in the somatic fields. I look forward to sharing those conversations with you soon!

photo by Shelly S

How We Form and Move with Joanne Avison (LBP 045)

Joanne Avison, author of Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy, and Movement, talks with me about fascia and why it has been overlooked historically (which includes a fascinating tour through the history of anatomy and its relationship to the Catholic church), how we form embryologically and what implications that has for biomechanics vs. biotensegrity (or biomechanics vs. biomotion). We also discuss what that changes when we have to reconfigure the language we use about movement and the body.

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Conversation highlights

  • Why has fascia been so ignored historically?
  • Andrew Taylor Still and John Godmen before him first mentioned the fascia as highly significant
  • Back in history- Rene Descartes did a "turf deal" with the Pope. Human dissection was not allowed. The Pope sanctioned it except the church held jurisdiction under the mind, spirit, soul, and emotions- the physical body only could be taken to science.
  • Candance Pert points out in Molecules of Emotion that this took us down a road where we thought about the human body functioning like a clock, or like any other automaton. It was divorced from its surroundings.
  • Anatomy then progressed by scraping away anything that wasn't a "thing".
  • John Godmen was the first to have students to open the body and see what they see without their ideas from their anatomy texts. What they saw was fascia everywhere.
  • Andrew Taylor Still is the father of Osteopathy, Thomas Findley has done a lot of beautiful pieces on Still and his story of fascia [in resources].
  • Fascia is continuous and ubiquitous.
  • No one is saying throw out the old and in with the new- we're inviting an evolution of perspective. We have to include this highly inclusive tissue.
  • Biotensegrity- one of the big difficulties about understanding the fascia is that if we take the fascia out on its own- is that the architecture of the body is under tension. It is pre-tensioned. It's under a kind of stretch already.
  • The visual metaphor of a circus marquee- this is not a biotensegrity structure because it is attached to the ground- but it is easy to imagine tension-compression architecture.
  • We are a closed structure but we are formed under this tension. It's the appropriate tensioning of the tissue that gives it its characteristics
  • When a muscle contracts it has got something to pull on in order to move. You can't separate one from the other.
  • This is why levers give us a tough time- because they are open chain mechanisms.
  • According to the naming of the different types of fascia, it has to be continuous to be called fascia, but the bone has to be discontinuous in order for us to move as we do. Bones are omitted because they are considered discontinuous, yet in a tensegrity structure we need those discontinuous structures.
  • If the elbow is a lever, where is the pin? (!!!)
  • We are formed in the round- how do we work if we are formed in the round?
  • Jaap van der Wal did his PhD on fascia. What he found was a whole and complete architecture full of proprioceptive nerve endings. His work wasn't published because it was so controversial. [in resources]
  • He also said there are only 6 true ligaments connecting bone-to-bone, the rest are continuous with the joint structure, and in essence accused anatomists of carving ligaments.
  • Jaap van der Wal says "ask the embryo" because the embryo forms in the round.
  • Joanne does an amazing job of taking you on a gorgeous tour through how an embryo forms- don't miss it.
  • It's like bio-organic origami.
  • No one really knows how an embryo "knows"how to specialize. We've grown up in a culture where we have inherited a foundation in fact, and science has come to mean that the spiritual side of things- or accounting for anything that can't be seen by data- gets lost.
  • John Sharkey facilitated the first human dissection program looking through the lens of biotensegrity. It was a Thiel dissection- meaning the body was treated for 5 months in a different way than the standard formaldehyde cadaver- and therefore they behaved like anesthetized bodies in the operating theater.
  • Joanne could look for membranes instead of which bone is which and which muscle is which. She was allowed to look through a different lens.
  • The second you put the knife to them you have destroyed their wholeness, but they found the membranes. They were so fine.
  • So-called "muscles" are continuities.
  • Anatomists "designing" anatomy.
  • What was so amazing was the folds- you don't get to see this in a typical dissection. If we learned movement in terms of folds I don't think we would make so mamy mistakes or have so many injuries.
  • Muscles are turn-buckles- they tension the whole matrix. People can tighten them in uneven ways with movement patterns and repetitive fitness habits.
  • If we follow the laws of fascial fitness we bring in diversity.
  • We have to be stiff enough to hold ourselves up- yet we use the word "stiff" to describe pathology. We need to think differently about the words we use- particularly "tight" and "stiff"
  • The idea of the plumb line and how it is a faulty view of how gravity works.

Resources

Joanne Avison

book: Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy, and Movement

Thomas Findley: The Fascia Research Congress From the 100 Year Old Perspective of Andrew Taylor Still

Carla Stecco: Fascia Redefined: Anatomical Features and Technical Relevance in Fascial Flap Surgery

John Sharkey and Joanne Avison: Terra Rosa magazine: Biotensegrity, Powering the Fabric of Human Anatomy

Jaap van der Wal: The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System- An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the Locomotor Apparatus

John Sharkey anatomy events

About the Thiel embalming method

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Biotensegrity with Dr. Steven Levin

Exploring Inner Space with Gil Hedley

Mapping the Anatomy of Connection with Tom Myers

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!