Structural Integration

Tom Myers: Mapping the Anatomy of Connection (LBP 011)

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!




Show notes

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.

Home play!

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

Huijing: Muscle as a Collagen Fiber Reinforced Composite: A Review of Force Transmission In Muscle and Whole Limb

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

Raymond Dart: The Double Spiral Arrangement of the Human Trunk

Dr. Stephen Levin's resources on Biotensegrity

Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence

The Inner Life of a Cell- animation of cell biomechanics by XVIVO and for Harvard

Nancy DeLucrezia: How Bodies Change (LBP 008)

Nancy DeLucrezia, founder of Neuro-Structural Bodywork and of The Kali Institute, talks about the importance of connecting fascial release with neuro-muscular re-education- or how to address both the hardware and the software of our bodies. She also talks about Breathwork and somato-emotional release, and her own process of becoming embodied and of healing. This is a good one for the manual and movement therapists out there, as well as for those of you who are curious about one of these therapeutic processes that you might be going through. It's also just a nice primer to understanding how bodies make long-term progress and change.




Show notes

Nancy describes Neuro-Structural Bodywork and how it synthesizes vs. a whole new realm of work. In particular: fascial release , neuro-muscular reeducation, Restorative Exercise (the work of Katy Bowman), Breathwork, and Shaitsu.

An analogy of working on your computer- there are both hardware and software issues. The hardware issues are more addressed by the fascial release- you're cleaning out the closets so to speak from a structural point of view. But the software that runs your body need to also be addressed. This is the neuro-muscular reeducation.

If you tied a baby elephant up by its ankle and it grew up that way it could only walk 10 ft in any direct. Once it grew up you could take away the chain on its ankle so it was free to walk anywhere, but it wouldn't necessarily go anywhere because it had learned to occupy that 10 ft space. So you can free up restriction in the body, caused by an impact trauma or repetitive mis-motion, and your nervous system doesn't' necessarily integrate that information without prompting.

With Restorative Exercise it's all so logical and mechanically specific and the physics are so accurate that it encompasses more levels of how it is that our body learns to move, and position itself in space.

The neurological part is most important, and the physical part is more of a facilitator.

People who just do fascial release without understanding the neurological component, it's not necessarily faster because the neurological part is where the change happens.

It's like dieting- if you do a crash diet and lose a bunch of weight, if you don't change your lifestyle and habits you're just going to gain the weight back.

Nancy talks about how she got into the work because of her own pain. She was running a PR firm in New York and she wasn't aware that she had a body at all. She met some people in bodywork and started exploring the idea of living in a  body.

She was born with really flat feet which caused her pelvis to be out of alignment chronically and she had compression to the right femoral nerve and she was in a lot of pain much of the time. Eventually she went to massage school at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy.

The Breathwork was really instrumental for her in creating a shift in her body. This form of breathing can put you in a radically altered state of consciousness. It is a cleansing of a lot of emotional and somatic stress.

It is more interesting for Nancy than psychotherapy because psychotherapy is just another mental activity. Lately psychology is starting to acknowledge that trauma lives in the body, but they still don't touch people. The healthcare practitioners who work with with a person's trauma are not allowed to touch their clients.

She always preferred to be in the bodywork field because when you touch somebody you can go right to the emotional closet. If you're going to do fascial release it is probably good to have training in emotional release.

A place that was hurt when you were hit by a car or a part of the body that was a target of abuse will actually be location specific in the tissue.

My story of having a vivid memory recall during a Rolfing session of getting a thorn in my foot as a young child and how I had avoided walking on that part of my foot into adulthood.

It sounds unbelievable but in Breathwork people will often, though not always, have memories as far back as birth. It's more common with people whose umbilical cords were cut before they were breathing, because the first breath they took was literally a form of trauma. It creates a subtle trauma in the body. Many who work through that feel they have taken the first breath in their life.

When you touch a body you are also touching in to everything that ever happened to that body. Nancy believes it's all there, every single moment, recorded in the archives [of soft tissue and nervous system].

It wouldn't be to our benefit to remember every single moment or trauma that happens to our body, but it's all there and there can be this backlog.

Some more emotive therapies, especially in the 80's, were all about purging and it got a little crazy for a while. You don't need to sort or analyze everything. There is a certain amount that can happen without our conscious mind getting involved.

"You don't need to go through the trash to take it to the curb."

If you're crawling around on the floor and foaming at the mouth [as an exaggeration of the big cathartic emotional release] are you really getting better, or are you just repeating the pattern of what now you've learned to do as an alternative behavior to repression?

I think by the 90's people were more into "How gentle and easy can this be?" rather than "How dramatic and exciting can this be?"

Nancy's left leg felt like a "flap" that stuck out to the side laterally, she didn't feel like she was on her foot. Over the years that changed a lot.

She had some sessions where her tissue was excavated dramatically, and it wasn't pleasant.

Over the years she's gotten the foot to change. She took footprints and you could see the arch coming back into her foot over a series of months.

The structural change plateaued and then it became a question of the nervous system.

When she met Katy Bowman she told her her arches were collapsing from all the way at the top of her legs from her adductors, etc. The next few years working with her her weight shifted out of her ankle and totally changed.

Anything musculo-skeletal comes down to alignment. If you're not in alignment you're not getting circulation in neurology.

At the cellular level if you're getting enough nutrient and oxygen rich blood and communication in the nervous system, your cells do just fine regenerating themselves.

Nancy talks about how she hates the term "deep tissue". It's very misleading. What does deep tissue mean? That you don't work on any superficial tissue? Is it Swedish Massage where you press really hard?

Fascial release is a whole different approach. Some people mistakenly think that it's pressing really hard and violating a person. But when you get to a point that the person's resistance to what you're doing to them exceeds what you are undoing then you are either breaking even or losing ground.

Nancy tells the story of a client who came to her with massive, significant trauma from multiple motorcycle accidents. Her spine was so severely scoliotic. Nancy was really enjoying working with her because she was changing and the physical difference was really clear. Then there was a plateau and she started to get frustrated and she said to the client, "I don't know what do to because I feel like I'm not succeeding at providing you with change." And she said, "The goal was not to straighten my spine, I feel 100% better in my body since starting this work, isn't that enough?" and it has always stuck with her.

The ideal session is when someone comes to you and uses you to work on themselves. Really we can't do anything with people except to help facilitate their own process.

Nancy recently took a class in cupping and she is playing with that in her own process and learning.

Home play!

Taking the idea from the beginning of the interview of our movement patterns and alignment being the "software" that we are running in our systems, see if you can take a day to notice what "software" you are running. We become the shapes and the movements that we make most of the time, so can you write down the 3 most obvious patterns that you are doing the most frequently in your typical day?


Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Joseph Heller

Moshe Feldenkrais

Thomas Hanna

Katy Bowman's blog

Restorative Exercise Institute

Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy

The Kali Institute

Sondra Ray- breathwork

Sondra Ray- Loving Relationships Training

Rolfing Structural Integration