fascia

The Architecture of Living Tissue with Jean-Claude Guimberteau (LBP 059)

guimberteau
guimberteau

Today I’m talking with Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau who practiced for many years as a hand surgeon specializing in microsurgical replantation and transplantation. Many of you listening know him best for his current groundbreaking work exploring and defining the movement of tissues beneath the skin using an intra-operative endoscopic camera to record living tissues, and from that to  develop concepts related to the new paradigm of biological structure in human beings. He is the author of many books including the book and DVD set, The Architecture of Human Living Fascia.

In our conversation today we talk about how he transitioned out of performing surgery and into this discovery of form. We talk about the Multimicrovacuolar Collagenous Absorbing System, or MVCAS for short, and what it has to do with form, how we are volumes, that the traditional anatomical view point of movement happening in 3 planes is incorrect, how each movement is unique, and that structurally we are an apparent, yet intelligent, chaos.  

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Conversation highlights

  • The inspiration to film tissue endoscopically came from taking pictures in reconstructive surgery. He was initially impressed by how tendons were sliding in the connective tissue- to understand that you have to observe it you need a camera.
  • Wan not prepared to find what he found, "I found a very strange world,a  world of fibers, a world without order.
  • MVCAS used this abbreviation 15 years ago for the sliding tissue around the tendon because when you are moving your tendon, the tendon inside this part of your hand is moving but if you observe the surface of the skin of your palm it’s not moving.
  • Between the tendon and skin there is an absorbing system. When you observe it you observe fibers and between them some small vacuoles- the frame is made of collagen.
  • The MVCAS is in fact the fibular network you can find everywhere.
  • Vacuole- this term is not the best, have also thought about using areolar, but too irregular. Aveolar, also interesting. I use vaculoe because it is a small volume with apparently nothing inside.
  • I think of it as a 3 dimensional structure and it’s not made from solid material but it contains proteoglycan gel- it is responsible for our fluid volume.
  • We are volumes. If we are volumes you can’t think the structure of the body only in 3 dimensions otherwise it’s drawing on a book. You can explain how a body is organized only if you accept that we are volumes. Microvacuoles are everywhere made by the intertwining of the fibers in 3 dimensions.
  • It’s made of proteoglycan gel and it’s attracting water. You have a constant volume, so the volume is maintained. It’s adaptable. You can preserve the volume during the movement. From the mechanical point of view this behavior is interesting and for me it’s been a discovery. I was never taught about that. During the first part of my surgeon life I never imagined how it was working.
  • The traditional way of thinking about anatomy tries to explain mobility by a stratification of 3 planes. But in fact that is wrong. If you only think of the traditional anatomy description you can’t explain many things. You can’t for example explain why all these small vessels has such surprising design without any order. Why is it a sort of chaos? How will this chaos assume the perfect blood supply of an organ?
  • When people listen to the world of chaos they think it is completely no sense, but in fact if you look to say a tree try to find an order along the branches. There is no order that humans consider order. It’s a disordered pattern but it’s a tree and it’s a perfect tree. Our body is made with a similar architecture.
  • I think for the moment that biotensegrity is the only one concept able to explain how a body can resist gravity. There is no other concept able to describe it.
  • At first, what I found is not icosahedron [considered the building block of biotensegrity], I found microvacuoles which are not empty, there is glycosaminsoglycans inside the volume. In biotensegrity you never talk about what is inside the icosahedron- We talk about the frame and the tension/compression but never what is inside the volume. This why I have some nuance with the global concept of tensegrity, but I agree with it.
  • Biotensegrity is a theoretical model and I don’t think our body is made of icosahedrons, that’s wrong.
  • You have to have an understanding of the gel volumes with the glycosaminosglycans or proteoglycan gel.
  • How does the system move- sliding vs. gliding  John Sharkey and Joanne Avison  discuss the difference between glide and slide but for a Frenchman this is difficult to understand. At the beginning used gliding. Then met some American and English friends who said use sliding.
  • The mobility of the fibular frame- all these fibers are moving. When you have a movement, 3 or 4 or 10 minutes after if you think you are going to make the same movement, it is not. There is another way that fibers are going to adapt. The external factors are different, and for each movement you have a particular behavior of the fibers. Each movement is unique.
  • At 20 years old you are at optimum of tension inside your body. Little by little all these elements are decreasing slowly in quality because we are not plants to be alive for eternity. We are not as able to resist gravity as well which explains aging. It also explains scars. All the fibular harmony is completely destroyed the result is a true chaos, not an apparent chaos. All these behavior disappears and never returns. A scar is a scar for life.
  • Is it possible to get some of that glide/slide back with a manual therapy approach? Yes, but i think it’s better to hope you never lose the original state. You can largely improve and have a good result but you need time. It’s not in one instant, you need patience.
  • Now we know not to use too large incisions. Surgeries have changed so much over the last several years. It’s a surgical revolution.
  • The ideas are parallel- the body is a perfect harmony and so you use very small incisions to avoid destroying the harmony.
  • Talking about the Theil dissection coming up at Dundee University with John Sharkey and Joanne Avison- it is more difficult to do a dissection with an old cadaver. If you use a tree  cut one year before and if you use a tree still living it’s different. Our idea of anatomy has been built on cadavers, thanks to technology we can change that.

Resources

Jean-Claude Guimberteau's website

Book + DVD: The Architecture of Human Living Architecture

Paper: The role and mechanical behavior of the connective tissue in tendon sliding

Stephen Levin on biotensegrity

Joanne Avison on biotensegrity

John Sharkey on biotensegrity and glide vs. slide

The Dundee University biotensegrity dissection

If you’re inspired to support the show, you can do that here. You can also leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher  or simply tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Natural Born Heroes with Christopher McDougall (LBP 039)

Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, joined me for a conversation about his latest book, Natural Born Heroes. We talk about this remarkable story of a band of resistance fighters on Crete during World War II, how they contributed to toppling the Nazi occupation there, and the amazing local Cretans who taught them about their tradition of the hero. 

Christopher doesn't stop at these remarkable people however, he asks what makes a hero and how can we all be heroes? 

The book dives into some of my favorite body nerd subjects; We talk fascia, Parkour, natural movement/MovNat, low heart rate training, burning fat for fuel, and how we can all rise to the occasion by studying the way of the hero. 

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Conversation highlights

  • How the bizarre story of a group of freedom fighters who wanted to kidnap a Nazi general led Chris to the question, "What makes a hero?"
  • Crete as the birthplace of the hero: they didn't believe heroes were superhuman at all- they wanted the million (rather than the one) to be the hero.
  • The ancient Greek definition of compassion.
  • Chris got interested in fascia (and studied with Tom Myers and Robert Schleip) when he realized that all the best trainers were interested in fascia and its elastic recoil properties.
  • How important Chris thinks Parkour is and why he even describes it as crucial medicine in this day and age.
  • Natural movement has to be universal- it does not discriminate between the sexes.
  • How the difficulty with monetizing things like natural movement or Parkour is the reason we keep forgetting and remembering it every 50 years or so.
  • How Barefoot Ted introduced him to Erwan LeCorre of MovNat.
  • University of Michigan Study "Your Brain in the Woods vs. Your Brain on Asphalt" and its findings
  • Erwan LeCorre's insight as to why staring at a screen makes us so tense and anxious.
  • Low heart rate training and burning fat for fuel- how did a bunch of amateurs behind enemy lines accomplishing intense endurance athletic feats- with very little food- manage to fuel themselves?
  • All effective things are simple and easy to follow.
  • What's stayed with him in his personal practice.

Home play!

Chris says that if he could boil down the book to two words they would be, "Be useful." This week let's embrace our inner hero by just noticing how in our daily interactions we can be most useful.

Resources

Natural Born Heroes

Christopher McDougall's website

The Heroes Tour aka "The Hero Cabaret" (see if it's going to be near you!)

Parkour- Shirley Darlington Chris's first coach

Erwan LeCorre and MovNat

Low heart rate training and burning fat for fuel- Phil Maffetone

University of Michigan study

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Erwan LeCorre Evolutionary Fitness

Steve Gangemi Raising the Bar for What "Healthy" Actually Means

Darryl Edwards Primal Play

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! It helps more body nerds to find their way to the show and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Gil Hedley: Exploring Inner Space (LBP 031)

I have long admired the work of Gil Hedley who is the founder of Integral Anatomy and Somanautics Workshops. For those unacquainted, Gil Hedley is an ethicist and anatomist who runs unique human dissection labs. They are (very) unique in the field of anatomy in  that they are about discovering the reality of our connectedness, rather than about finding the separations between things. We talk about this viewpoint and what it changes,  how our model of the body determines our relationship with it, the superficial fascia and why everyone is either ignoring it or hating on it, different tissue layers as different kinds of antenna of the body, insights into the famous “fuzz speech” (in the resources below if you've never seen it) and more.

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Show notes

Brooke: Can you define what integral anatomy is?

Gil:  Integral anatomy is my way of describing a field of study, or of naming a field of study. I use the word anatomy very broadly, and that's what integral earns me. I put integral in front of anatomy and I get this whole world that I can play in beyond what folks normally consider when they use the word anatomy, which of course means to cut up with a knife. I do some cutting up with a knife, but my approach to anatomy, the intention is not to anatomize things for the purpose of naming bits, or establishing mechanics. My entire reason for cutting things up with a knife, or anatomizing is to put myself together, and to help other folks have a more integrated experience of themselves.

I do find that the study of anatomy does bring us into a much deeper understanding of ourselves if we'll let it. I was trained as an ethicist, and if I bring my ethics background to the study of anatomy, I find myself wanting to ask questions of the body of how I might live, as opposed to me showing up and telling the body what it is, and what I'm going to make it do.

Brooke: What are other parts of your background that have brought you to this fascination with the human body, but in this particular way?

Gil:  Like most people my keenest interest in the body sparked by the pain in the ass that it has been to me. So many people are in pain, and so they start studying the body, and I'm not different from that. I took an interest in my body very early on, and started lifting weights, and doing all kinds of wonderful damage to myself as an ignorant teenaged, 1970s weight lifter. However, that did bring me into an experience of my body, and I have a very transparent anatomy. At 13 years old standing in front of the mirror, I was like, "Shazam. Look at all them muscles. What are they all about?"

My ethics background, basically I went to college and learned how to read, which was helpful. Then graduate school ultimately. It was there that I took my study of the body past weight lifting into things like Tai Chi, and massage, and ultimately Rolfing, and then healing work. I'm a very head oriented kind of guy, and I found that practicing Tai Chi, and studying massage is very grounding. I took that desire to be embodied further through my study of dissection.

Brooke: You've created one of my favorite words of all time, somanaut. Can you define what that word means?

Gil: The word breaks down nicely. Soma is the body in Greek, but richly understood because there's also sarks which in Greek simply means flesh. Soma is maybe a richer understanding of the body, or a broader conception of form. Then naut would be the same root for sailor, or sailing, or to navigate that we have. The astronaut navigates the outer space, and sails about in outer space, and the somanaut then is the one who navigates the inner space of the human form. I made up the word basically to describe the wonderful healer, and shaman, and dancer Emilie Conrad who developed Continuum Movement, and many years ago when I was editor of the Rolf Lines Journal at the Rolf Institute, I interviewed Emilie, and to make an article for that. The only way I could describe that woman was to make up a word, because she was absolutely original.

I described her as a somanaut in that article, and that was maybe 22 years ago, or something. Ever since then I realized, "Oh, maybe I'm a somanaut too. Maybe all of us who are curious to explore the inner space of the bodies are somanauts." and it kind of caught on.

Brooke: You pointed out that regional anatomy is really about naming, which I think is so fascinating, because it's a distinction that's rarely talked about. Oftentimes I think we've believed that anatomy means understanding the human body.

Gil:  I haven't seen a whole lot of that going on.

Yeah, anatomy ... It would be wonderful if it were about understanding the body, and developing a relationship with it. But it tends to be more like if you can't come up with that Latin word in the right amount of seconds while someone is tapping their foot, and you're filling out little dots on a form- that tends to be what the words are used for. For testing, and professional trainings, or schooling situations. I feel that for anatomy to be a process of understanding, it needs to be an experience, and the words if we're going to use them should evoke experiences. The only way for that to happen is to connect with those tissues that are named in a way much more deeper than the flinging of intellectual vocabulary words.

Thankfully there are many who've plowed this field before me. People like Emilie, or Bonnie Banebridge Cohen, or Tom Myers, and ... I'm trying to think of, "Taking Root to Fly"- Irene Dowd. Irene, and Bonnie, and Emily all long precede me, and are inspirational to many. Just consider me a recent loud mouth.

Brooke: You've said that our model of the body that we're mostly functioning from, that it's determining our behavior towards our body. How so do you think?

Gil: The thing is that anatomy is generally understood as this naming of things based on the cutting up of them, generates a very abstract set of information and categories. I literally mean abstract meaning the levels of tissue have been drawn away from other levels of tissue. Abstraho literally means to draw away from, so we draw one thing away from another, and then we feed the thing that's left and develop a mental conception of it. Every time you approach a body with an idea, and then execute that idea with a knife, you're making up anatomy, because there is no thing as a liver on a tray. There is not such as a skin unto itself, except through a process of dissection, and abstraction. Those aren't realities. The reality is this whole flesh and blood pulsing experience that we're all wondering around with.

Then we get our abstraction built, and then we say, "Oh, okay. There's this muscle, rectus femoris, there this muscle adductor magnus, there's this thing in our chest, the heart, and that's a pump. The other one abducts and the other one adducts. We have all of these very abstract, conceptions. Then we approach with our techniques people, and we see them move, and we have that set of abstractions in our brain, and we say, "Well." It's like a math problem, and we add it up, and say, "Well, this should be doing that because of what they're doing there. Then we apply our abstraction to the form, and try and make it emulate what our abstractions tell us it should be instead of taking in a given whole set of compensations and helping it to function better.

Rectus femoris doesn't exist except as a mental construct, but in fact our human function is always a function of the whole.

Even my layered approach to anatomy is just a set of abstractions, which with the help of the folks who come to my class, I break down my model as I teach it, so as not to believe it too much, because it's just a way of getting in. The actual functional person is always a gestalt of all the systems, and all of the hopes and dreams, and all of the life processes, and all of the trillions of cells streaming. In other words, that's what's happening in front of you, not, "Oh, we're having difficulty abducting our x, y, z." Which would be cured by strengthening the a, b, c. I don't think we work that way.

Brooke: Yeah, for me one of the things that I'm most excited about ... I did an interview recently where somebody asked me, "What are you most excited about all of the current research into fascia?", and the honest truth is my most idealistic self would like to believe that maybe if we're approaching the body in this much more unified, whole way, maybe it can change culture eventually. Maybe we'll start to see ourselves as more unified.

Gil: I hope so. That was certainly Ida Rolf's goal. I don't think I've fallen too far from the Rolfian tree in my aspirations along with you to transform culture. She was looking to cultivate a more mature human being, and I feel that I'm wanting to do the same, at least for my part. I feel that part of that maturity lies in an acceptance and learning from the body. I may not carry an ideal of the body the way that maybe Ida Rolf did, like it should be this way, and then if it were, then that would be great. I don't have so much of an ideal. One thing I'm certain of at this point is that their ain't no single representation of human anatomy. Each one of us is an absolutely, 100% perfect representation of human anatomy. Not like you got it right, and I didn't.

In other words, that's another element of integral anatomy is to shift the focus from the idealization, and the consequent idealistic representation of the body as the point of reference for anatomy, and shift the point of reference for anatomy to the specific, to the individual, to the most basic living individual representation of it. Also, to spread the conception of the body much larger then that which is contained in our skin. You go to a lab and you see a dead human form, and you're like, "There's a lot missing there."And so what all that other stuff is to me is also deserving of our attention, and our anatomical inquiry, because we really don't know how that stuff on the table will ever work without considering the emotional life ors the spiritual aspiration, or the intellectual constructs, or the religious beliefs, or the cultural underpinnings. It does involve a culture shift to understand the body differently. This culture's got some serious opinions about the body-

I think the study of anatomy can challenge that. As an ethicist I was writing on family ethics, and stuff like that. A lot of considerations of the body were involved, and a lot of rules for embodied folks were being written without much consideration of the actual knowledge of the body, or experience of it. It's like how would our ethics change, not to mention our culture. How would our ethics change if they were informed by the truth of human experience as we might perceive it through the study of integral anatomy?

Brooke: You are particularly well versed in a tissue that has gotten totally ignored in most spheres, which is the superficial fascia. What is your fascination with the superficial fascia?

Gil: Well, it's there, but it wasn't in my book, so what the heck? I took the pre-training at the Rolf Institute, because as an academic, I didn't have that massage background, and Tom Myers had written this pre-training for the Rolf's Institute back in the late 80s, and early 90s when I was there. That was when I first was exposed to this very idea of superficial fascia, and I didn't have much of it. Still don't, but we did this layered meditation kind of experience with a partner to feel into the different layers, and that made a huge impression on me. When I went out eventually, a couple years later as a Rolfer and found myself noodling around in the body, I wanted to see that, and other things. I went to the lab, and it made a big impression on me, because it freaked me out.

I didn't have an instant love affair with superficial fascia. It was more like a total fear and loathing. I thought, "Well, that's interesting Gil. What's all that about?" It was extremely provocative and challenging to me to face my own cultural baggage that I carried with respect to that, and my own personal relationship to my body, and what it might mean. It took a lot of nightmarish self-work to come to what I would consider to be a much more mature, and loving, and accepting relationship with superficial fascia, so much so that I could help others to really love that tissue, and love themselves wearing it, because it is our anatomy. It is the fact. It is massage therapists touch. It's what every Rolfer works through.

When you look at a muscle chart at every school in the country, and that's suppose to represent human anatomy, and its so far from the reality. Again, it's a very crazy level of abstraction. I wonder to myself, "Well, why do we prefer that? It's all human tissue. It's all part of the whole, so why does one get preferred to another?" It gets into the culture critique, and what have we done to our self in the process of abstraction to alienate our self from certain tissue textures, and accept other ones, or to give preference to certain mechanical relationships, and to dismiss, or ignore other mechanical relationships. Even the mechanistic approach itself has within it strong preferences for one tissue relationship over another. You have to do culture critique to actually embrace the whole body. My comfort did not come easily.

Brooke: What are some of the gifts that our adipose tissue gives us that we miss sense we've decided it's a bad tissue to have too much of in our culture? I'm sure there's a long list.

Gil: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 it's 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.

It's a very American movie culture thing to hate that tissue. Before the movies, a beautiful woman was portrayed as fleshy. You can look at the arc, the curve of decline of appreciation for a tissue over a century, or less. Really less than a century. Near 60-70 years where we've started to put that aside. I'm trying to rehabilitate a little bit. I'm putting a little energy into rehabilitating our cultural connection to it by helping people see what it is.  Can the hand say to the foot, "I don't need you."? Can the mouth say to the superficial fascia, "I don't need you."?  We do need you, but in my mind the only way to create a revision of the connection is through appreciation, and it's very hard to appreciate something if you keep chopping it up, and throwing it in a bucket, or if you refuse to draw it, if if you refuse to give it a chapter in your book.

If it doesn't even rank a chapter, then how can anyone ever have any regard for it? I'm giving folks a visual connection, and then maybe a whole bunch of people will do me the favor of adding chapters to their books that acknowledge this tissue. How can you be a massage therapist touching people all day, and not have spent a couple of weeks in your training connecting to this tissue as opposed to this bodily prioritized muscle layer.

Brooke: I love this idea of it being an antennae of sorts for receiving a certain kind of information. That's going to be on my mind for a long time now after this interview.

Gil: I personally see each texture of our body as having a quality of an antennae. I mean it very specifically as a transducer of signals from one kind to another, like a radio antennae transduces the radio waves into an electrical wave. Our eyes transduce visible light spectrum frequencies into neural impulses. Our ears, we transduce warping of the air into frequencies. Similarly, all the impressions made upon our body are transduced by the different tissues, and delivered different kinds of information into the whole system that we are.

Brooke: What are some of the ways that the superficial fascia differs from the fascia profundus, or the deep fascia?

Gil: Well, it's all squishy and yellow for starters, and it changes it's dimension very much so over the course of a life. Different parts of your life cycle, and in different areas of your body. The superficial fascia is interesting. It's a loose areolar connective tissue with variable adipocytes deposition. Adipocytes are connective tissue cells. Folks don't really know that for the most part, but an adipocyte is a connective tissue cell. In the deep fascia, we don't have that. It's more of a dense material.

We could get into fascia definitions, and category charts all day long, but for the most part, superficial fascia, I would call it a fluffy layer, and deep fascia, I would call it a thin layer. We have an alternating sequence of thin, and fluffy layers in our body. Skin is thin, and superficial fascia's fluffy, and deep fascia's thin. Maybe we could look at their relationship as one of like insulative, and conductive. Maybe that the superficial fascia is an insulator of the conductive properties of the deep fascia. That's one way to hold it in your head. In structural terms the superficial fascia is movement, and the deep fascia is stability.

The superficial fascia moves relative to the stable deep fascia. The muscle tissue is also a fluffy layer. We went to thin skin, to superficial fascia, to deep fascia thin, to muscle fluffy. We have to fluffy layers, muscle and superficial fascia sliding relative to the somewhat fixed deep fascia. They have very different functional properties in our body. They're both contractile. I know folks have gotten a lot of sense of the contractility of the deep fascia from Robert's [Schleip] research and his company, and friends. Superficial fascia also is a highly contractile tissue, perhaps more so than the deep fascia, and the superficial fascia. We know in wound healing if you slash your body with a knife, the superficial fascia will pulse, and contract to close the wound. It's really ... It's alive.

Anyway, that's just a few snippets. I could go on-

Brooke:You did a talk a while back that really got around. Did it's viral thing on YouTube called the "Fuzz Speech." Personally, I love the "Fuzz Speech," I have heard that you have come to clarify some of the concepts in that talk. I was wondering if I have a chance to talk with you here, if you can speak to what you would change about that discussion now?

Gil: I pretty much stand by what I said in the "Fuzz Speech," although I don't feel that visually I represented it in the least confusing way possible.  That's partly because 10 years ago, or when I made that, it represented the culmination of 10 years of thinking, and experience that needed another 10 years of maturing to make more sense. As a Rolfer I was told that the muscles should glide, so when I touched somebody I was hoping to facilitate the silk stocking gliding between the gastrocnemius, and the soleus when I was working on someone's leg.

In my mind, "silk stockings" were independent things, and didn't have any actual relationship. Here's a stocking, and here's a stocking, and they're sliding against each other. When I got into the body and started doing anatomy, it was like, hey, these things are connected. There's fuzzy stuff in between the gastroc, and soleus. Does that belong there? I didn't see it drawn in Netter. I didn't know what it was, so I called it fuzz. I was like the bodies are full of fuzz! I speculated about that for a long time. What is this stuff, and does it belong there? Do some people have more of it? Some people have less or it? Does it inhibit movement? Is that what I'm trying to get rid of? Should my hand be obliterating that when I'm working on a client because it doesn't belong there? But it seems to be everywhere. Maybe it's some kind of an artifact of the lack of movement? There is some truth in that in that we can have a tissue agglomeration. Sticking together of tissues. Tom [Myers] had taught us back in that initial training that there's hydrogen bonding going on in our tissues at night, and that would increase our inner stickiness. I pieced together the idea of that along with the fuzz that I was seeing, and came up with my theory of the fuzz. What I would change is my now knowledge that, that tissue is anatomical, it does belong there.

It never was my job as a Rolfer to make it go away. What is my job is to facilitate the level at which a tissue that's all about movement helps you move. If you are frozen, or stuck in that tissue which facilitates movement, then the play in the tissue can be enhanced through movements and touch, which really is a kind of movement. What I would change is the visuals and say, "Our job isn't to make the fuzz go away. Our job is to facilitate the quality of the tissue so that's it's hydrated, and so that it has optimal play." That, what I call, filmy fascia now. Filmy fascia is in between any tissue that moves relative to the other tissue.

Superficial fascia can slide a bit over deep fascia. It does so because they have a filmy relationship at certain points. Similarly muscle tissue isn't only fixed into deep fascia with say, septa, but with what I would call filmy fascia. Now, if I'm taking the body apart, we're going to call filmy fascia fuzz, because it looks like cotton candy, but if you lay it back down, it looks like a film again, and that film is the principle of movement in our bodies. Fuzz permits movement. On the dark side, it can also limit movement. If it's inhibited, it glides, it's through dehydration, or through scarring, or through adhesion, then it becomes a limitation on movement, and we need to melt it.

In the viscera, every word I'll stand by in my fuzz speech, because in a viscera you have tissues like say a stomach to a small intestine, they have greasy sliding relationship, and if see a fixation here that's non-anatomical, then I'm saying, "Hey, that's an adhesion. That's a pathological fascial relationship relatively speaking." It might not cause a whole lot of trouble, or maybe it will, but in either way it's not standard issue anatomy. It's a fixation that subsequent to inflammation, scarring, injury, surgery, whatever.

I can see those aberrant relationships with my eyeballs when I do dissection of the viscera, but when I'm dissecting muscle tissue, I can't at any point say, "Hey. There's too much fuzz here," because it's already connected, so I'm not in a position to evaluate the quality of the relationship of tissues that already have a filmy, gliding relationship in the cadaver. I can see it in the living though. In other words, if I'm evaluating tissue movement with my hands, or with my eyes, I can say, "That ain't moving there," and then facilitate the movement. In the dissection process I can't really say, "Hey, there's too much filmy fascia between these two things," although I have ... You can read up surgeons, and whatever who will confirm the kind of thing I say with respect to the tissues I say it about in the "Fuzz Speech," that it gets agglomerated basically. It gets solid.

The deception that carries forward in the "Fuzz Speech", and I feel bad about this, sometimes people think, "I should get rid of my fuzz" , and it's just one more thing on themselves to hate. Now, there's also many thousands of people who've told me, "You inspired me to move," and then I'm jumping for joy and clicking my heels, and that's why I don't take it down. I think I've inspired more movement then self hatred with with the "Fuzz Speech", and I'm going to run with that.

Brooke:I believe you have. We'll make t-shirts that say, "Love Your Fuzz and All Will Be Well," When I was at the Rolf Institute we did a 5 hour dissection lab with a medical student in Denver at the teaching hospital. We were basically working with this medical student who got stuck taking the body workers through a 5 hour tour of a cadavear already cut up via med student specs. He was stuck with us for the day, and there was really this glibness in his attitude. This real intentional disregard for the human being on the table by the med student. A lot of us, being sensitive Rolfer types, I think we felt really uncomfortable and irritated quite frankly by this guy.He really had this very intentional way of taking advantage of this person who donated their body to science for us to learn. I know you create a very different atmosphere in your dissection labs, and I was wondering if you could speak to that a bit.

Gil: The atmosphere that I create is very much based on a similar negative experience that I had. When I was as senior in high school, and in the advanced biology class for AP Bio, or whatever, back 100 years ago, our teacher took us to a school in New York City, and we were brought down to the anatomy lab. I tell you, the fellow might as well have been John Belushi who took us through this cadaver lab. He was glib, and disrespectful to us I would say, not only the cadaver. He was trying to get a charge. He was playing with the charge of it. Instead of serving us, he was playing with us. I found it offensive and didn't eat chicken for 2 years. I thought to myself, well, when you enter a laboratory you literally go into an altered state. It's no time to mess with people.

That's your big chance to serve them. When a person is brought into a state of tremendous vulnerability, how will you act in their regard under those circumstances? That's the guiding principle for me. It's like, "Okay. I've got a bunch of people in altered state here, I'm going to be a little bit careful, and try and serve their interests. This is no time to trick them into voting for my candidate, or to provoke them, or traumatize them. This is not a hazing." I'll only say, with regard to whoever took you through that experience that it represents a certain maturity level that your group exceeded. Some other groups he might have done that for, and they all would have laughed along with it as a quirky yada yada, but when you're trying to cultivate regard instead of disregard, then there has to be a whole other kind of approach.

This isn't to say that I don't have fun in my class. We have a blast, but the fun that I have tends to be at my expense rather than the donors. I'm a donor family. My uncles body, and my father's body I gave to medical establishments, and I know what it's like to have offered a family members body up for study. Believe me, it's not that I don't hope that people didn't laugh when they were working on my father's body. I hope they laughed and had a good time, and made as many jokes about his giant testicle as we did, but that having been said, it was done in good spirit.

Not at his expense, but in the love play. You know what I'm saying? It's a fine line to be walked when you're in a lab, and given that my intention is to cultivate self-appreciation, and inner connection, I do try to take advantage of that altered state in a best a way as I can.

Brooke: You're in the midst of a big project related to a recent 3 week dissection that you held. Can you talk a little bit about that, and what might be coming up for people.

Gil: I stated my intention publicly to produce the atlas of integral anatomy. Now what that means to me, and what that means when people hear the words, are probably very different things, because there's conventions around the word "atlas", and "anatomy" that may lead people to believe it would be a certain thing, but I'm imagining a more multi-genre effort. My first efforts toward producing anything called integral anatomy ended up yielding a book called, "Reconceiving my Body," that's many years old now, then I was like, "Okay. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do integral anatomy." Then it didn't turn into a book, it turned into a DVD series, and that was a multi year project.

Now I have 6 books, and a DVD series, and I still don't have the atlas of integral anatomy. I thought, okay, well I'm going to run these 3 week dissections then I'm going to collect incredible stuff towards that. I absolutely had an unbelievably powerful learning experience doing that, but because I am compelled to teach, I spent more time teaching then recording in both of the sessions.What I found myself doing presently, and I'm working day and night on it, I swear to you, is a subscriber site into which I'm going to put all my content, and I'm going to build what I call, "Atlas Galleries."

The atlas galleries will consist of something like this, an image, and then so there's an image right? Then the image will have accompanying with it some explanatory video. You'll see an image, you'll get me explaining the image, maybe some audio of that, maybe some textual accompaniment, maybe a set of references, maybe what other people think about it. Each gallery entry will be a little lesson, a story that can be gone into as deeply as the interested party wants to, and that it will connect to different learning styles so a person can listen to something, or watch something, or do something with regard to the entry, as opposed to a regular regional anatomy atlas where there's a picture, and then a bunch of lines, and then a bunch of typed words with names of things.

Again, I'm not so much interested in naming things as exploring relationships, as exploring continuities, and connections of that thing. Helping not to separate that out in someone's mind, so that they can spot a liver when they see one, but rather to help there to be so many roads going into it that you can go there if you choose to. They'll be maybe this abstract thing, but then I'm hoping to provide many paths into it, and many paths out from it so that it becomes the truly contextual related reality that we are living with more so. Then my idea is that after several years of building these atlas galleries, and adding video, and basically putting my entire professional archive online, which is what I'm going to do ...

Everything that I've ever shot, and everything I've ever snapped a picture of is going to go into this site, and be nicely sorted over time, and then my idea is to go backwards from that, and produce "The Atlas of Integral Anatomy," so that I'll pick and chose from those presentations something that could be textualized, put into a book, and then there would be a very intimate connection between the atlas itself, and the website. They would be mutually supportive, and inter-functional learning resources.

Brooke: Sounds amazing. Consider me in the proverbial line with everyone else waiting for that. Sounds great.

Gil: The site I'm going to open soon actually-In a couple of months. Basically, the content initially will consist of- I'm just going to put my 1 day workshop that I filmed a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, I'm going to have that whole thing there available for viewing, and I'm going to have a course option, so you could potentially get credit for watching that, or for watching my integral anatomy series. Then I will get the gallery opened with a couple of entries and continually add video, and topics. I have so many things that I want to build into this thing over time, that really could be a project going forward for many years. I'll build a very rich learning resource hopefully. If I don't, well you can all say, "He had a big mouth."

Brooke:            I doubt we'll say that. Just to wrap it up I always like to ask all the amazing people I get to talk to, is there anything you're currently fascinated by in your own practice right now?

Gil: The thing is that what's turning me on is that nothing stays that same. What's turning me on is that if I attach myself to any particular idea the dying process has begun. I am willing to suffer the indignities of constant change until death. I'm on that ride. I'm not going to be one of those persons who picks a set of ideas, and then marries them until death do I part, and defends them. I'm willing to constantly have my projects broken down in front of me so that the shells keep it being cracked, and that I can continue to expand as a variable amorphous light, as opposed to a dried stone.

Home play!

I don't know about all of you, but after the holidays I have a bit more adipose tissue then I did when they kicked off... all the more to explore with! Can you notice how you ignore or hate on your adipose tissue? Can you get to know it in a friendlier way? To not look away from it? Embrace it even? Let me know how it goes!

Resources

Gil Hedley- web home of Integral Anatomy Productions and Somanautics Workshops

Gil's book Reconceiving My Body

Numerous dissection videos (viewer discretion is advised) 

Gil Hedley's fuzz speech (including notes on his current thinking about it)

Continuum and Emilie Conrad 

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Thomas Myers

Taking Root to Fly  by Irene Dowd

Robert Schleip

If you liked this episode

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Tom Myers: Mapping the Anatomy of Connection

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Mary Bond: Posture is an Exploration

Michol Dalcourt: What Training the Whole Body Really Means (LBP 027)

Michol Dalcourt is the director of the Institute of Motion, the inventor of the fitness tool the Vipr, and the co-founder of PTA Global. He and I talk about the insightful work they are doing at IoM including how fascia moves the body, our body as a fluid organism and why we need to pay attention to its fluid dynamics, tensegrity! (one of my favorite subjects...), what he means when he says the body is a lever-less system and other concepts in the “new” biomechanics, why we need to zoom out and not just focus on the nervous system’s effect on muscles, and how the fitness industry’s go to approach of training for speed via more strength is actually slowing people down.

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Show notes

Brooke: Can you describe what you do at the Institute of Motion.

Michol : IOM really is a collection of thought individuals that take a look at movement strategies, coaching, and content for not only the health professional but ultimately the end consumer as well.

Brooke: One of the phrases that I came across as I was reading your materials is the phrase "farm kid fit". Can you describe what that means to you and how you realized that was an important thing?

Michol:  I'm Canadian, so most of us are observed with the game of hockey. When I finished my university in Alberta, I was working with hockey players, rather. What we saw was that generally the strongest of those hockey players came from rural communities and we spent all our time with city kids in our sport performance training center and we would follow a periodization model of training stress but it wouldn't really match what these people who never really stepped foot in a gym were doing.

By investigating this anecdotal evidence of why farm kids are so strong, we uncovered a lot of interesting things and many of them pointed to the body as an aggregate and actually led us to develop a fitness tool that's on the market right now called Vipr.

Brooke: You have several nice short lectures, videos on your site and one of them is about how bones do not touch and what that means when we think about a body. Can you talk a bit about the concepts in that?

Michol: When we look at the idea of bony structures coming together, it really is an opportunity to describe the ability of the body to create space internally. If bones were actually touching, we would wear out far too quickly. We would probably last about a week and then the bones would be rubbing down the hyaline cartilage would be rubbing down to a point where the surface of the joint articular surfaces would just decay. The body sets itself up differently to maintain space so that we can have efficient movement.

Brooke: We think so much about ourselves I think it's like stacking up bricks and it's hard to conceive of that internal space.

Michol: If we use that analogy, it wouldn't make much sense. If we were to build a building, it wouldn't make much sense for us to have most of the bricks and moving bricks on the basement or on the ground level floor and adding all these things stacked up. We have a third of the bones of our body from the ankle done. That would be analogous to having a building that is 10 stories high having most of the movable bricks on the ground level.

Brooke:  Tensegrity is a big part of what you do at IoM and I'm a big tensegrity nerd'

Michol: When I went to school we learned about the analogy of levered systems, right? We really looked at the body with that lens as we associated our body with the same set of laws as what we build bridges and what we build buildings with, which is Newton's three laws, which are physical laws.

But the structure lacks the critical aspect that we need, which is movement. We wouldn't build a building or a bridge that can move. We would build it so that it can move just enough to mitigate stress but not so much that it's going to be onerous to its construction.

When we look at the idea of tensegrity, the way I think about it is those are biological laws and they operate differently than physical laws, i.e. Newton's three laws. When we look at differentiation of how biology self assembles, it's going to be without the constraints of stability first and mobility only as a subset, as a function of that stability. In other words, you build a bridge than can perhaps move just slightly to mitigate some stress but not that much or building to do the same thing.

Whereas biology, the critical aspect of biology is movement. Cellular movement, system movement, and then organism movement. If we don't have those most fundamental things, then the organism won't survive. This idea of push forces and pull forces for mutual benefit, and that's really the underpinning of tensegrity.

Brooke:You used this great phrase: self-assembly. We're not putting ourselves together on a factory line.

Michol: We went through the Industrial Revolution. We mechanized everything and so we treated our body the same way. We had fulcrums, we had pivot points, we had joints that were operating in one plane of motion, and we even dissected the muscles to reflect primarily the sagittal plane and primarily this idea of what we call link action, which is you've got one bone that's still and you've got the adjacent bone that's moving against the still bone, and that's brought to us by muscle that shortens under concentric force, and voila, we have movement.

Although that may be true, it's only true in a limited capacity and I would argue that it's true only when we put ourselves in a very restricted position. The flip side is that the body can do more than just that one thing and most of the time you'll have one bone that's moving and the adjacent bone is moving as well. It will be moving in all three planes of motion.

Biology is predicated upon the idea of adaptability and resiliency, and like I said before, mobility and movement.

Brooke: You described the body as a leverless system. Is that some of what you're talking about here?

Michol: Yes. This idea of push and pull forces. We've got bony structures that are resistant to compression and then we've got tensile elements like skin, collagen fibers, connective tissue and muscle that operate as a center-seeking pulling force.

Between the two you've got these bones that essentially create space by pushing things away and then you have all this viscoelastic material, which is also water, by the way, and pressure of water, that is regulating the tension of a body and they all operate for mutual benefit. The more balanced that they are, the more viable that the organism is.

We look at health of skin, we look at health of fibrous connective tissue. We look at health of bone. We look at health of the aqueousness or the hydration of the body and if they are in balance, then the individual can achieve or has the potential to achieve more.

Michol:  With fascia more particularly we're looking at how collagen itself self assembles. If we think about Tom Myers always used a great analogy that muscles will create force but the fascia organizes it. A subset of that fascia is really the collagen and the health of the collagen is predicated on diet strategies, hydration strategies, and movement strategies.

Brooke:  I love talking about the fact that we're a fluid system, again, we're not a product.

Michol: We are mostly water. H2O molecules  occupy a lot of space cellularly. They keep things not only hydrated but they keep things in a viscoelastic way so they help the other structures, the bones, they help the skin, they help the fascia, they help the muscles create a mitigation system for stress. If we hit the ground, part of that ground reaction force is going to the muscles part, it's going to the bones, part if it's going in the skin, part of it is going to the fibrous connective tissue, which is our fascia, and part of it's mitigated by this gelatin that we have for lack of a better description that will buffer kinetic impulse into the ground.

If all of those things are not working well, then injury may plague the system or we just increase the risk of injury, and we see this a lot with runners. Then they ponder was I designed to run?  In my mind, I would first look at, all right, if you've got the metabolic engine, do you have the hardware, the structural hardware to mitigate stress if you come colliding into the ground?

Brooke: If I'm, say, a personal trainer, what are some ways that you evaluate this?

Michol: What we're doing at the Institute right now is we're actually putting together what we call an onboarding process and what it is, is it is a way to create a battery of different assessments that look at different elements that make up the whole. With those metrics, we can then create a view of is the person prepared and how are they prepared for what they want to do ultimately.

Our feeling is that there are a lot of good tests out there but they operate on an island. You take one test for this particular result and then that's it. What we would rather do this is aggregate this into a whole picture and then create what we call a dashboard.

Brooke: The spine is not a column.

Michol: The spine is really fascinating in terms of its development and its morphology. If we look at it in its development when we were in the womb, what we would look at is a C-shaped spine that could accommodate restricted space. Without crowding and becoming a taller structure, we need to accommodate a very much a compact structure while we're in the womb.

With intrinsic muscle action on the body and the spine as we wiggle around in there, we start to create intrinsic pressures that begin the process of changing the C shape of the spine to what would we know now as the S shape curve. We've got 33 mobile segments in the spine.

That really accommodates this idea of axial loading, which is this top-down force that we apply when we stand up. If we were a column, that would be egregious load to the discs of the spine, so to mitigate this, what we have is very much this wave scenario in the spine where it's a shock absorption system. We never really want one vertebrae to be crushing down on another because what's stuck in the middle is a disc, which is mostly water, and if one impacts the other too much, be it a sudden trauma or be it just repetitive positional stress.

The longitudinal ligaments go on into a slack position and then what happens is you've got the structural abnormalities. Now we're calling upon one system to do too much so now muscles are on and they're on more or they're upregulated more past the resting tone to stabilize the spine, and once we have that, then the system is on too much.

There's a lot of research that indicates that muscles if they are doing their job, the neuromuscular system should turn on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off. Muscles that stay on chronically generally lead to problems.

Brooke: One of the other pieces of the whole that you're looking at a little bit differently is the nervous system and you talk about how our traditional model of movement is really just looking at the nervous system's relationship with muscle.

Michol: We learn about this idea of an action potential being propagated along the nerve to the motor units. Then they pull on a bone and then that's what creates human movement. Although that is extremely true, it's not the only thing that physically creates movement. One of the easiest ways to create movement is to interact with gravity and ground because gravity will always torque the body and always move the body.

If I was standing and I lean forward, that would initiate the gait cycle. If I can continue to do that, it would continue to initiate the gait cycle. As we lean in a field of gravity, it creates a very efficient model for movement because we're grabbing from these environmental influences, which is gravity and ground.

If I swing my arms and legs, that creates potential kinetic energy for movement as well. What we say at the Institute is what the body first seeks to do is to capture energy. Whether it's from the ground from reaction force, whether it's from tissue lengthening to create potential kinetic energy as I stretch an elastic band, same thing, viscoelastic material skin, fascia, muscle, they all have the qualities of an elastic band in that if you stretch them, they create potential kinetic energy.

All those things are in flux as it relates to creating movement, and pressure in tubes as well also creates movement and mechanical lift through the hydraulic amplification of shoving a bunch of pressure in a tube. Pressure inside tubes creates mechanical lift as well.

If we use too much of one system, then we start to wear out too quickly.

Brooke: You say that the fitness industry is typically training for speed via more strength but that this actually slows the athlete down.

Michol: It only requires that we think about times in our lives where we have high anxiety, we're more tense. With more tension, with more of this engagement in the neuromuscular system, we generally slow down because the action of speed is predicated upon both a high level of engagement of the muscular system and then a quick disengagement of the muscular system to allow the segments of the body to move quicker.

It may be just as important to view the muscular system as acutely turning on and acutely turning off quickly to achieve higher levers of speed. If you're training athletes for speed, do they have a quick ability to turn a muscle off? In our industry, generally we have cues that engage the muscles too long. Right? It could be keeping things tight, keep the core tight and then move. That may be something that you would give to a specific individual if they have a certain, let's say, condition or instability but in terms of achieving high levels of speed, we want the system to relax.Which is very antithetical to how we're thinking about things right now in my estimation.

Michol: I think part of that is the fear of we need to stabilize the system but it really is about the individual. If the individual has good balance or is achieving good balance between the idea of skin health and fascial health and bone health and muscular health and nervous system timing, and then, again, all the other things that make up the system, i.e. good hydration and everything else. What we have is  shape stability based on the principles that you describe before on tensegrity. If we're creating that resiliency within the tissues, then we don't have to achieve high levels of stability in the body because a lot of that stability is given to us in the aggregate with skin health and with fascial health. They all contribute to body-wide stability.

Brooke:  We've touched in on a bunch of these concepts but what are some of the other ways that you're seeing the more traditional views of biomechanics changing and getting challenged these days if there are any others that we haven't touched on?

Michol: I think it's just this thing that we have tend to think about biology in the terms of Newton's three laws as a class of levers and we talked about this before. Biological laws set themselves up differently. Right? It's all about mitigation of stress into the whole. That's how the body can capture energy.

Let's say you are in the track and field discipline. There's a lot of biomechanic textbooks that really amplify the value of taking a look at how we would achieve greater impact in, I don't know, a high jumper or a throw of some sort. There's merit to that and I think if we blend this idea of the math and the forces that we apply to the body and to an implement if we're engaging in let's say a track and field activity, and we look at it in the lens of biology is all about self-assembling things in aggregate and we take a look at the health of the whole system, then we might find a sweet spot for us to be able to look at both sides of that or both aspects of that to put the sentence together, so to speak.

We're putting all aspects of the conversation together to make a complete sentence as opposed to taking a look at just part of the sentence, because in a lot of cases what we end up doing is we take a look at a certain aspect of the body and we look at it in a very mechanistic way. If we can realize that every tissue is important to the outcome of movement strategies, then we would take a look at skin health, we would take a look at fascial health, we would take a look at bone health, we would take a look at hydration health.

In the health field, especially in the fitness field, we don't have a tendency to do that. Monday is never skin day in the gym, it's always a muscle day in the gym. That narrative is changing, but if we can expand our lens a little bit further, then I think that we would achieve a body that has a constitution that allows it to move and then to achieve its goals.

Michol: I live in California, there are people who have spent thousands of dollars spreading creams on their skin to fortify collagen in there, and I'm not going to debate whether that has merit or not, what I would say is that we can achieve a similar thing by training it in a certain way, and that refortifies collagen. It's by no accident that people who exercise tend to look better in their skin for longer.

Michol: We are looking at anti-aging strategies because when I was in my 20s, my goals for health and well-being are different than now that I'm in my 40s, and I'm looking at taking what I have and trying to extend that as far as I can. From an endocrine response, from a tissue response, from the metabolic response.

Brooke: I've been in the fascial fields professionally for so long, I've said this before but people are always looking way younger than they actually are in those fields. I go to a conference of my peers who are also fascial therapists or movement therapists of some variety, and I don't know how old they are because they're probably 10 to 15 years older than they look, which is great.

Michol: They're doing something right.

Brooke:  Is there anything that you are currently playing with in your own practice these days or something that you're fascinated by mentally even?

Michol: We're doing, like I said before, the onboarding, which is really exciting to us because we're taking a look at how we can create a profile for an individual that creates some metrics, some things that individuals can look at, some numbers, some schemes that they can look at, that tell them or give them a glimpse into how they are doing.

The other thing that we're quite excited about is from a programming perspective- Whether you're going to load your soft up with external resistance or whether you're going to use your body as a mechanism for movement, we've structurally put this down in a very simplistic way to allow a person a very much inclusive approach to training so that they're not stuck in one aspect. Let's use the bodybuilder as an example.

Let's say a bodybuilder engages in bodybuilding activities, typically what they do is they introduce load to the body via weights and they have a very linear response. Research shows that that is a great way to put muscle on the body, but if that's all I do, I lack mobility in time and then the body breaks down. There are many bodybuilders that don't age without injury.

Even for that bodybuilder, it would behoove that person to spend some time working on other strategies, unloaded, recovery-based, and everything else. We've mapped this very simple programming model out that reflects the nature of yes, your goal may put you in this area for a while but you still need these other areas, at least a little bit at a time to balance out the training scenario.

The same thing is true with runners. Right? If I'm a runner and all I do is run, then chances are my body's going to break down, but I can do these other prophylactic exercises or strategies that allow my running to be enhanced but I'm not necessarily running while I'm doing it, I'm looking at tissue quality, resiliency, all these things that allow me to be, let's say, a more efficient runner if that's what I was doing.

It's very simple but it's very scalable in terms of people utilizing this system, so we're very excited about that as well.

Home play!

Let's make it "skin day" in our training! Obviously you can do this in a number of ways- so if you want to get a session of bodywork, roll around on Yoga Tune Up therapy balls, or MELT yourself with the MELT Method go for it! But if you are looking for a simple, at home, tool-free technique, there is always skin-rolling. Here is another old school video of me demonstrating it:

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception (LBP 015)

Steve-Haines
Steve-Haines

Steve Haines talks about Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, body maps and how they become strange or distorted, interoception and why there is more pain in areas that we have less interoception about- or are more poorly mapped, the huge role the vagal nerve plays in our bodies and our sense of well-being, and much more!

*Thanks to Danielle Rowarth for helping to make this interview happen!*

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Show notes

Defining Biodynamic Craniosacral Work: The essence of cranial work is that you touch people and they change. It is really light, slow, gentle work. The understanding is that we're really interacting with the autonomic nervous system.

Another big theme of the work is the sense of a living organism. You're always touching a person, not body parts. And by appreciating wholeness it changes your touch and changes your focus.

There's a sense of a rhythmic body- so bodies pulse. We're never completely still. Rhythm- heart beating, cerebrospinal fluid moving, blood pumping- is an essential part of the body. Interacting with those rhythms is fundamental to Biodynamic Craniosacral.

The smartest thing in the room is the intelligence of the body, so less is more. We are trying to facilitate self-healing.

It's hard work being in a body, it's really not a given. Trying to get a clear sense of your body is difficult. It's a deep practice to be able to experience the nuances of sensation.

Our brain has whole series and layers of body maps. You use different maps at different times- skiing vs. sitting on the sofa for example. I have different ways of representing my body to myself.

A body schema is a sort of default map and that governs reflexes. and people have a limited view in these schemas of their bodies.

What does the word "dissociation" mean in relationship to the body? It is a word in some ways owned by psychotherapy. In cranial work we use it in a looser sense as a loss of relationship to the body. And it's a whole spectrum of things.

The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually. Or maybe people can't get a sense of the size and shape of their feet, or feel their belly. The belly commonly is a hollow, empty area that they can't feel really.

I mention that it's like the song "You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone" but its inverse: "You Don't Know What Was Gone Til You've Got It Back". It's kind of an unknown unknown.

People don't know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It's really not a given.

People with pain commonly have more of this dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed.

Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.

Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we're beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we're flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you've got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, "Do something about this."

Study on back pain counting receptors in fascia in the back on people with chronic back pain and the expectation was that they would find heightened activity or more activity in the slow receptors, and what they actually found was this paradox of people experiencing more pain who were receiving less information from the tissues.

Phantom limb pain tells us so much about how our brain works. After amputation 63% of people still experience themselves as having a limb, and usually it's painful. It's something the brain is expecting to be be there and is not there.

Proprioception is when you hold your arms out, close your eyes, and you can touch your nose. If you just hold your arm out and close your eyes, how do you know you have an arm? The internal subjective experience of an arm: that's interoception. It generally goes along slower pathways.

Interoception connects differently in the brain, it's much more associated with consciousness. Interstitial receptors carry far more information than for proprioception. Robert Schleip says 7 to 1 (in resources).

There are two big sources of interoceptive information: fascia and the vagal nerve.

What's the important information that the brain uses to let us know that we have a body? The fascia, the flow of information from your guts and your hearts and around oxygen control and the sense of metabolic activity in the body- and most of that is vagal. It's a huge source of information about your sense of self.

People who have high vagal tone are seen as happier and more trustworthy. They are the people who you would move towards in a social situation. So when your vagus is firing you love, you trust, you feel yourself being happier.

How does one have problems with vagal tone, or have low vagal tone? Trauma or anything that overwhelms- too much stimulation. Stephen Porges is an amazing theorist around seeking safety- it's his Polyvagal Theory (in resources). We're constantly scanning the environment for danger, and it often is an unconscious process.

Safety is the most important thing your brain is negotiating. If there's threat in the environment we go into fight or flight, and if that isn't successful we immobilize or dissociate.

As therapists we can mimic what creates safety as a mother would to a baby. There's great research around slow gentle touch activating interoceptive fibers in fascia.

I really believe that you don't change pain by giving pain. You can engage those deep receptors by slow gentle touch. We really don't need to use the deep stuff. I'm not saying it doesn't' work, but I am saying you can have an enormous change in physiology with gentle stroking to trigger that quality.

A simple movement practice to enhance vagal tone: when we're stressed we're checking our environment you have lots of activity in the neck muscles, the eyes are darting- there is a big surge of activity in the head. And your big flexors muscles are getting activated.

The opposite of that might be coming into the extensors, firing the back of the body. When we do that our throat is open, our heart is open, our belly is exposed. This can allow parasympathetic tone to be present.

And the counter-action to all this movement up in the head is to feel their feet and find their feet. I sometimes think what I do should be "feel your feet therapy". But switching on a downward firing coming into the ground you switch off all the business in the head.

Steve talks about your skin as this boundary between the inside and outside. Steve says he likes to have people even imagine walking in soft grass or imagining walking barefoot in a variety of environments. And he likes having people get their softest and fluffiest towel and really luxuriate in getting the receptors activated.

Steve is currently playing with: Trying to find ways to create safety and stimulate the vagus. It's quite hard to touch people's throats. I've enjoyed finding soft ways to tune into the carotid sheath. Often one feels radically different than the other. There's an awful lot of things you might be influencing by touching into that throat area. That might be feeding the vagal nerve and getting some good tone.

Home play!

I like Steve's very practical exercise for stimulating vagal tone by activating the extensors of the body. There are a number of ways you can do this, from simply lying on the ground and pressing your back body into that surface, or stretching and reaching, or my current favorite way of swinging and hanging on monkey bars. (I'm working on it!)

Resources

Stevehaines.net

Cranial Intelligence the site

Cranial Intelligence the book

Body Intelligence

Summary of papers from the second Fascia Research Congress. I'm not sure if any of these include the study Steve Haines was referring to when he talked about people with chronic back pain actually having fewer receptors, but several of these studies talk about that.

Robert Schleip: Fascial Mechanoreceptors and their Potential Role in Deep Tissue Manipulation

Stephen Porges: The Polyvagal Perspective

Steve Haines: Vagus, Baby, Vagus! 

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Judith Hanson Lasater: The Power of Restoration

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging at Any Age

Nancy DeLucrezia: How Bodies Change

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!

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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.

Resources

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

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching (LBP 009)

I got a chance to talk with Jules Mitchell right after she turned in her Master’s thesis on the science of stretching. Jules’ work blends biomechanics with the tradition of yoga to help people move better, and while looking into the research on stretching she discovered some pretty eye-opening things! For example, the idea that we can persistently stretch a muscle and have it grow longer, it turns out, is not true. We get into many other myths of stretching- and it seems there are plenty- what really works, what’s really risky, and what a better model of viewing the body might be when we put aside the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” paradigm.

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Show notes

Exercise Science is a field of science with many different aspects. Jules focused on biomechanics in her Master's work, which is a science of forces and how the body responds to loads.

Yoga therapy can mean many things, but for Jules it means the application of biomechanics into yoga. It takes into consideration how the body is responding to loads, and how individuals have a loading history based on what they have done in the past, so you can't give people a blanket yoga practice.

Her Master's Thesis is basically the science of stretching.

About 1 year into the research she discovered that what she had learned from the yoga community was not supported by the science.

She went through a pretty big transformation from that and had to allow herself to unlearn and approach the science with a blank slate, and then to re-learn.

The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that's just damaging it [the tissue].

If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It's much more an issue of tolerance. It' s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn't understand it and doesn't want to go there. So your nervous system limits your range of motion.

That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length.

"Tolerance" means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that's their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.

For those who are dealing with limited range, or flexibility issues, what can they do? Gentle, passive stretching to the point of tolerance where they can relax into it and their nervous system feels safe there, and be there for 30 seconds to no more than 1 minute.

If you really want to see changes it's really about using it. Create muscle force at that range of motion. It's active, your body has to be in control.

Jules does more strength training at these ranges of motion than passive stretching and that's where you start to see the results, because your neuromuscular system starts to work in cooperation.

Pectoralis minor (images here) if that's my issue and I want it to get longer, what would it look like to do this with strength training?

Jules says she is not going to use the word "longer" because the range won't increase. And it's not just pec minor, it's all the connective tissue around it, the ligaments of the joint, all the neighboring muscles, etc.

How that would work, you would bring the shoulder into a range where the shoulder is limited, and then you would work in that range on flexing the muscle to get it as strong as it can at that limited range. It's kind of like resistance stretching. You are stimulating the fibers so that they can communicate with your nervous system back and forth, and that's one of the most effective ways because you are developing strength and control in that joint position.

At the opposite end of that she would refer them to Restorative Yoga which is based in props. You wouldn't try to stretch as hard as you can. When you stretch as far as you can what's already compliant is going to stretch first so you're not going to hit your target tissue. But if you properly use props now there's a more equal force distribution, and you can be in that pose for a long time and communicate to your nervous system.

We are dynamic communicating organisms vs. lumps of clay that can be molded. It's all about how our nervous system regulates our muscle tissue, which transmits a force to our connective tissue.

We have to look at the tensegrity model where muscle fibers literally embed into connective tissue. If you think about it your muscles are contractile tissues- that's what they do. They produce force. the sarcomeres are literally transmitting force to the connective tissues all around, not just length-wise but also radially outwards in all directions and dimensions.

If you don't have the ability to control the muscle force in all dimensions you run into weakened muscle force. We want our muscle tissue to be strong enough to move.

[said another way] We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion "stiff" makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.

This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when reality those people have more trouble "holding themselves together".

How does someone get "tight" in the first place?

Jules does not use that word, because there is no definition for tight. It's not a mechanical term.

If we're going to go with air quotes "tight", or talk about limited range of motion- that you can only take your joint in certain positions- that happens, 9 times out of 10, because it hasn't been used there, so the nervous system doesn't put it there. The muscle fibers aren't strong enough to maintain that force regulation through the body. It will go to where it's safer. It's not a matter of tightness, it's more a matter of communication.

Jules mentions Van der Wal's article (which is linked below in the resources). He was groundbreaking in this research. He was an anatomist and he realized that our mathematical models for human movement weren't fitting in to how we viewed anatomy. We really aren't a collection of muscles. There's never any part of the body that's slack. His work was groundbreaking for understanding tensegrity. Force transmits radially through out the body, so everything is always under some degree of tension.

One of my favorite Dr. Rolf quotes of all time: "Wherever you think it is, it ain't"

Stretching an injury: we have a cultural misunderstanding of stretching. We have an idea that if it hurts, stretch it. People who are in pain should just leave it alone instead of stretching it and instead move it and use it so the muscle fibers will direct the loads where it's supposed to go.

If you have a tendon or ligament tear, that you want to wait before you stretch. A big problem is that the inflammation goes down within a few days and they no longer feel the injury and so are ready to go right back to stretching it. It's a good 6 weeks before the collagen can take stretching. And that's conservative; A safe measure would be 1 to 2 years.

Most often it takes some re-injury before people are willing to hear that advice about not stretching.

Nobody cares about stretching the way the yoga community does. In the research and in the Exercise Science community there is no interest in these extreme ranges. In fact, in the research Jules was looking at- in many cases people who practiced yoga did were excluded from the studies because they don't expect these extreme ranges.

The biggest surprise was that there was very little research on yoga and flexibility. She found one short study. The yoga community has done some great research but more on mental health and relationships.

However in 2012 Yoga Journal did a study on the 18 million Americans that practice yoga and the number 1 reason they were practicing yoga was to increase flexibility, so there' s a big disconnect [between the research and the reasons people seek out a yoga practice].

When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer.

Jules believes that is what yoga was meant to do- yoga is using your body weight in a bunch of different positions.

But we have gone in this "push harder, harder, harder" mentality and you have 80 people in a classroom, and some have been doing handstands for 10 years, and some just got off their couch, and you're giving them the same class. That's scary.

You can't expect a yoga teacher, or any other fitness instructor, in a group setting to be able to fully take into consideration how you have used your body for its whole history. And you have to keep that in mind.

In her own practice Jules is currently playing with decreasing her flexibility. She was never hypermobile, but she's learned that she was really flexible and she was really weak in these full ranges of motion. Increasing the muscle contraction at the end range has got her feeling better than she ever has.

Home play!

I am in the process of finishing the first Liberated Body Guide (short guides of what works for what) and the first one will be the Short Hamstrings Guide ("short" in air quotes, but Limited Range of Motion in Your Hamstrings makes for a wordy title...). Because my world is fairly hamstrings-centric right now due to the guide, let's play with load instead of stretching to see how the hamstrings respond. For one week play with swapping out any stretching protocol you might have for squatting, lunging, or a Founder (from the previous episode with Eric Goodman) and see what response you get. I'm talking about body-weight movements that are not high velocity or high quantity. This is good for both the "tight" types and the Gumby types, so everybody wins!

Resources

Jules Mitchell's site

Jules' most current blog post which covers in more detail what we talked about in the interview: Stretching and Muscle Control

Restorative Yoga

Jaap van der Wal article  (It's exceptional, print it out and digest slowly...)

Jules' post that I refer to in the home play section: Are You Really Stretching What You Think You Are?

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.

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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?

Resources

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