Spiral Body Hellerwork and Tensional Integrity by Stuart Bell
Spiral Body Hellerwork speaks to the connectedness, wholeness and integrity of body, its structure, movement, psyche, and intent.
Spiral Body Hellerwork speaks to the connectedness, wholeness and integrity of body, its structure, movement, psyche, and intent. Spiral Body relies on principles from Tensional Integrity. Tensional Integrity, also known as Tensegrity, is a set of structural, functional, generative, and organizing principles that can be profitably applied as a model for understanding human structure and function. Tensional Integrity is described here with possible ramifications to the practice of Structural Integration, posture, movement, and overall human health.
Tensional Integrity implies integrity resulting from structures which are made from a continuous tensional matrix, in which discontinuous compressional elements are suspended. Such structures have the qualities of whole system continuity, elasticity, flexibility, convergence, sharing of stress, and springiness. These structures were first invented by Kenneth Snelson (www.kennethsnelson.net) and inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller of Geodesic dome fame.
Most often we think of structures and build structures as one segment piled on top of another supported by gravity, for example brick homes. Compressional thinking is deeply ingrained, due perhaps to an easy experiential knowledge of this phenomenon from early childhood. Even the word structure is derived from the Latin struere which means to heap up or pile up. As a result, we unconsciously think of our bodies as built like that, as compressional structures, where the segments of the body stack one on top of another and where the bones are compressed directly against one another. This model works pretty well but it lacks finesse in describing all of the characteristics of human structure and movement. Many of us take on a “compressional” look in our bodies and postures. Our weight often looks passive and heavy. We look tired, as if gravity were not the ally it can be but an arch enemy instead.
Using Tensional Integrity as a model for bodies, where gravity acts as a friend, offers a beneficial alternative. Such a structure depends for support on a tensional-fabric-network where bones float in this sea of fibrous connective tissue and where the fabric in turn is seen to float in an ocean of fluid called the ground substance. Buckminster Fuller’s posits that such structures are more efficient in many ways, requiring a minimum of building material. The ground substance, by the way, is the very same fluid which surrounds and nurtures all of our cells, namely the interstitial fluid. It is the fluid which transports food and oxygen to our cells and carries away cellular waste products. Bodies and postures inspired by a Tensional Integrity model take on a springy, resilient look of lightness.
Research in cell biology confirms that, like our bodies, the internal shape and structure of cells are also governed by a tensional integrity connective tissue-like fabric surrounding an internal cyto-skeletal compressional type structure. This means that cells do not behave only as fluid filled bag, but take and spread force throughout them selves dependent upon this cellular matrix. It has been suggested by Dr. D. E. Ingber that some regulatory mechanisms may be ascribed to the connection and communication between the nucleus and the cell membrane via this internal matrix.
The cytoskeleton offers the cell a network of microtubules throughout the cell's cytoplasm that exist in a tensional integrity fabric of microfilaments. These help the cell maintain its shape and give support and integrity to the cell. A variety of cellular organelles are held in place by these cyto-connective tissues. See photos above. Further photos, discussion, and citations are available through Dr. D. E. Ingber at http://web1.tch.harvard.edu/research/ingber/homepage.htm.
Additionally, the internal structure of the cell is understood to be connected to the outer structure of the extracellular matrix of body connective tissues through the cell membranes by transmembrane glycoproteins called integrins. It turns out cellular attachment to the extracellular matrix is required for our cells to survive and many cancers live without this need for attachment. Interesting!
For me, these accepted ideas and my background beg some interesting questions. May cellular structure, activity, efficiency, and vitality be regulated to some degree by the health and vitality of our body connective tissues, and vice versa? Could the vitality of our cells depend upon how we conceive of ourselves and of our posture, structure, and movement? How does a compressional model or a tensional integrity model of our bodies affect our overall health and the health of our cells? Is it possible to communicate through structure and function to cells, and vice versa?
When we conceive of ourselves as built by compression, the image could leave us with a heavy sense or feeling. In this sense gravity could be considered mostly as a downward force and perhaps the enemy. We might think of our aches and pains as local incidences, due to accidents, and localized structural failure and not be able to see the structure as a whole, not treat the whole body-mind continuum. We might become focused on single areas and lose our overall, connectedness perspective. We might also expect to have lots of problems where these compressional elements meet, at the joints and not look for causes from further afield.
The ubiquitous bone, muscle, fulcrum, and pulley model that pervades current thinking has served as a useful model when used within its bounds. But, improperly understood this model causes us to demand support from our bones and spine which is not healthy and causes much suffering in human spines and joints. Perhaps tensegrity can help.
Imagine our cells and the structure of our bodies all relying on a Tensional matrix for their Integrity, structure, support, well being, and communication. In the body we call this matrix connective tissues. The connective tissues respond to forces by sharing tension throughout the entire tensional fabric of the body, just as do the structures you see modeled here in the pictures below. Tensions, aches, and pains we feel in one area of our body connect everywhere in the body fabric, and they are often caused at some other surprising and unexpected locations. Gone are the days when working on separate parts alone will do without considering the effect upon the whole. The whole system all the way to the cellular and nuclear levels needs be addressed. In structural integration we see that proper organization in connective tissue leads to a balanced body and adds vibrancy to our cells. See also http://www.intensiondesigns.com for more images, to purchase models of the body, and for more information, ideas, links, etc.
A life conceived in the realm of tensional integrity could be connected, buoyant, continuous, and at the same time light and strong, not passive and heavy. Such a view, deeply held, believed and lived could open up vast possibilities and innovation in movement, cellular health, science, exploration, and expression. New previously inconceivable movements and ideas could be born and flourish.
Some of us remember seeing the innovative Dick Fosbury do the Fosbury Flop in the 1968 Olympics high jump. The impact this new paradigm shift had on the high jumping world is without question, yet it still took a decade for it to be fully accepted. The impact this innovation has had on innovation may not be so clear, but it has spawned a whole league of sports enthusiasts who are willing to try something new and different. Take a look at snow boarders, wind surfers, skateboarders, dancers, and circus performers of today. Wonderful, new, exciting innovations!
Unlike the Fosbury Flop, tensional integrity has yet to capture the imagination of most people. In the fields of biology, sports, and medicine it could still take a wee bit longer, but it is happening. D. E. Ingber of Harvard and others are using tensional integrity innovatively as models for cellular structure, function, and communication.
Spiral Body Hellerwork Structural Integration works with the overall balance, alignment, movement, and wellness in human beings. In addition to offering clients outstanding body-mindfulness insights and movement, performance, and posture coaching, our prime tool (and the brilliance of our work) is recognizing (and then altering) the connective tissue network of the body as the main supporting structure of the body. To make changes in posture, structure, movement, performance, habits, attitude, and health one must systematically address the connective tissues as a whole body tensional integrity network. Tensional Integrity offers a stellar paradigm for making profound, stable changes.
Spiral Body utilizes the principles of Tensional Integrity to revitalizes posture and balance in order to promote cellular health. Tensional Integrity inspires us with new possibilities for understanding ourselves. The results are improved health, self image, movement options, beauty, and self expression.
Since all models have their inherent limits, we must continue beyond this wonderful model of Tensional Integrity. I believe the next innovations in understanding of the body and furthering of structural integrity will come in the area of understanding the fluid flow systems within the cellular and extra-cellular matrices and their connection. I appreciate the osteopathic image of the body as hydraulic tubes, but hydraulics science doesn’t quite represent how our bodies work, since the body and its structures are not quite like bags or tubes, but rather more like seeping fiber filled bags with fiber connections between one another. I suspect a better model may come from the fluid flow ideas of earth hydrology. We will see what new innovations and ideas offer us.
Stuart Bell has a graduate level degree in bio/chemistry. He was initiated into the wisdom of the body and the skills of embodyment under the fine tutelage Joseph Heller, Don St. John, Pamela Maloney, and Roger Pierce at the Hellerwork School for Structural, Functional, and Psycho-Physical Integration in 1981. He co-taught Functional Orthopedics (connective tissue and joint mobilization with PNF) with Greg Johnson, PT (1983-87). He studied Feldenkrais (1984-95) and the Alexander Technique (1987-95). He currently studies Laban-Bartenieff Movement Analysis. Stuart teaches for the Hellerwork schools internationally.