Illustrations: Michelangelo Libyan; Bob Burkhardt Tensegrity, Cover art Anatomy Trains
Thomas W. Myers
Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists – and me and you, too
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Website Anatomy Trains
The basis for this book is simple: whatever else they may be doing individually, muscles also operate across functionally integrated body-wise continuities within the fascial webbing.
Aesthetically, a grasp of the Anatomy Trains scheme will lead to a more three-dimensional feel for musculoskeletal anatomy and an appreciation of the whole-body patterns of compensation and strain distribution.
Clinically, it leads to a directly applicable understanding of how painful problems in one area of the body can be linked to a totally ‘silent’ area at some remove from the problem.
Though there are many fine books of anatomy for yoga teachers and practitioners – I own at least half a dozen myself – for as long as I have been teaching I’ve enthusiastically recommended Anatomy Trains as a unique, invaluable resource for yoga lovers and body geeks.
The life of the whole body: myofascia in motion
The word ‘myofascia’ connotes the bundled together, inseparable nature of muscle tissue (myo) and its accompanying web of connective tissue (fascia).
In the decade since Anatomy Trains first appeared in the literature of the bodywork scene, hundreds of thousands of therapists of all stripes have worked within their own fields and specialties, applying its constructs and wisdom.
As increasing numbers of yoga practitioners educate themselves for personal practice, the time is ripe for yoga aficianadas to become yoga afascianadas.
Thomas Myers created Anatomy Trains to help massage and anatomy students understand the relationships among materials and potentials, i.e. muscles and bones, movement and stability. What sets Anatomy Trains apart from other books on anatomy first of all is Myer’s training in our body-wide responses to dynamic forces, AKA, getting older.
According to Myers, seven lines of relationship describe the range of motion and dependency through which we interact with the environment around us. In his preface to Myers’ book, living physiology saint, Deane Juhan wrote:
The anatomy trains carefully described and well illustrated here are linkages of fascia and muscle that wind through the body, connecting head to toe and core to periphery, and which orchestrate the organization of gravitational and muscular forces necessary for stability and movement.
The result is a vision of the web that does not tend towards an evaluation of a correct posture, but rather towards a vastly richer perspective of the full complexities of a body in dynamic action.
The consequent therapeutic model does not lead to pushing tissue into a proper mold, but to the concept of opening up increasing possibilities of movement in progress.
Bodies reshape in response to stress, use and change
In addition, Anatomy Trains stands out for Myers’s ingenuity in conveying his knowledge through illustration, anecdote and trustworthy phenomenology, knowledge that is the result of both theoretical research and years of hands-on work with bodies.
Myers began his college education at Harvard in the late 1960’s but left after two years of majoring in English to study systems analysis with Buckminster Fuller in Southern Illinois.
Myers describes Fuller’s influence in an interview with Darren Buford:
Anatomy Trains in particular, and my view of anatomy in general, is a systems view. What has characterized anatomy in the 500 years since Vesalius and the renaissance of anatomy is that it’s all been informed by Newtonian mechanics that says if you understand the parts and you put the parts together, you’ll know what the whole does.
In class, what they usually do is put the bicep muscle on a skeleton that has no other muscles attached to it, and then say that the bicep does X.
My view of anatomy is a Fuller view of anatomy. We’re looking at: What does the whole system do that you can’t predict just by looking at the individual parts?
Tensegrity: balance between compression and tension
The idea of viewing the whole body as more than the sum of its parts often leads conversations away from the phenomena of the physical body into consideration of non-physical and abstract, etheric aspects of self.
Myers, in wanting to understand the sense of body that is more than adding up its muscles and bones, instead dives deeper into its physical nature -
- to concentrate on one aspect of the patterns of arrangement – the design, if you will – of the ‘fibrous body’ in the upright adult human. This fibrous body consists of the entire collagenous net, which includes all the tissues surrounding and attaching the organs as well as the collagen in bones, cartilage, and elsewhere.
Myers determined to follow the human body through its entailments and constraints as they develop in relationship to the body’s own motion, how the body breaks down or builds up in answer to what happens over the course of life and use. Myers traces this perspective to the understanding of the forces of tensegrity which he gained in his work with Fuller:
Instead of what we’re used to, which is a brick sitting on a brick sitting on a brick and that’s how you make a building. With tensegrity structures, the bricks, the sticks, float in a sea of rubber bands and they stay where they are because of the balanced tension between the rubber bands.
In the past, we have thought of our bodies as a stack of bones with the muscles hanging off of it like the cables of a crane. And it’s not that way – the bones float in the soft tissue. It’s those tensegrity structures that give us a geometric model to see how that works.
Coming to grips with synergetics: bodies are not inert
A favorite description of mine from Myers both shows off his sense of humor, and his pragmatic everyday-life examples, which help to break down our idealized view of how bodies work:
What can we learn from looking at synergetic relationships, stringing parts together rather than dissecting them further? It is not very useful to say ‘everything’s connected,’ and leave it at that.
If you kick a ball, about the most interesting way you can analyze the result is in terms of the mechanical laws of force and motion. Inertia, gravity, and friction are sufficient to determine its reaction to your kick and the ball’s final resting place.
But if you kick a large dog, such a mechanical analysis of vectors and resultant forces may not prove as salient as the reaction of the dog as a whole. Analyzing muscles mechanically likewise yields an incomplete picture of human movement experience.
So it is, while under the best of conditions how any of us might take on a yoga posture is one thing, it is quite another under the actual conditions of life in the real world, in important real life ways.
After the groceries, children, too many hours commuting, carrying a heavy briefcase, or sitting at a desk everything about the posture and how we might want to explore it changes.
Anatomy Trains helps us to investigate our true physical realities, rather than leaving us prey to the idealizations of posture instructions, or damage visited upon us by fantasies of a distant time and place.
Tom Myers’s CV is too long for us to post here! Please take a moment to find out more about him -
About Thomas Myers
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.