Introduction to Biotensegrity

Recent years have seen a rise in interest in the idea of “biotensegrity” as a fresh approach to comprehending the structure and motion of the human body. But what is biotensegrity exactly, and why is it so crucial?

The term “biotensegrity” was created in the 1970s by physician and engineer Dr. Stephen Levin as a result of his research of the structure and motion of the human body. Dr. Stephen Levin came up with the phrase “biotensegrity,” which combines the concepts “tensegrity” and “biology.” Architect Buckminster Fuller who studied the tensegrity principles in his designs for geodesic domes and other structures, was one of the first proponents of tensegrity structures, coined the term “tensegrity,” which describes a building that is kept together by tension as opposed to compression. To put it another way, flexible parts in tension, like cables or rods, and compressible elements in compression, like struts or springs, make up tensegrity structures. As a result, a sturdy yet adaptable structure that can withstand different loads and movements is produced.

The idea of “biotensegrity” applies this idea to the human body and proposes that, as opposed to the bones alone, the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds and supports the muscles and organs, holds the body together and provides support. The tensegrity structure involves all of the body’s tissues, including the bones, muscles, and other organs. The bones act as spacers. On the other side, the tension that holds the structure together is produced by the muscles, the connective tissue of the fascia, the ligaments and tendons.

The tension network of fascia, which extends throughout the body like a continuous, three-dimensional web, connects and supports these components. Fascia’s function in biotensegrity is also essential. As a continuous network of connective tissue, the fascia aids in distributing pressure and stress throughout the body. It contributes to keeping the body in alignment and shape.

This is in contrast with the medical models view of the body as a Newtonian structure of pulleys and levers.

Graham Scarr argues that it offers a more complex understanding of the interconnectedness and the wholeness of the body. Within a biotensegrous model, as long as the mechanical force applied to the whole body is not too great, the integrity of the cell will be maintained, both at a cellular level and as a whole. If the force is too great the cell will remodel itself.

Stephen Levin argues against applying laws that that govern columns and beams to the spine for a number of reasons. Firstly, this spine does not behave like an architectural column where the structure must be rigid, immobile. In addition, a column is base heavy. The spine however can flex forward and backwards and bend and twist intricately. If Newtonian Laws were applied the spine should crush under the leverage of a fishing rod. Furthermore, the crawling baby’s spine acts as a beam and is not fixed by the weight of the of the load, unlike a column. Thus, his argument concludes that scientists have conformed non-linear complex structures to linear scientific models even though it is not representing the true nature of the body.

Stephen Levin in his research, discussed the scapula and the idea that the shoulder floats around the scapula, all the muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments form an integrated whole with the centre of these pulls being the scapula. He likened the scapula to a sesamoid bone (compression) and the hub of a bicycle, with the spokes representing the soft tissue (tension) elements. See figure 2 below.

If we are to view the body this way, we cannot simply isolate one muscle, ligament etc especially if dealing with an injury. The globality of the body and the different tensegrity structures within this whole, all contribute to the overall health of the body and thus need consideration.

Amatsu Therapy and Biotensegrity

Understanding the body and how it moves can be done in a more comprehensive, integrated way with the help of biotensegrity. Biotensegrity is a key concept within Amatsu and Amatsu practitioners use this knowledge of the body as a whole interconnected structure to help the body regain its balance. Amatsu has its origins in Japan and is a movement-based therapy that applies the concept of biotensegrity, namely, if you change any part of a self-supporting unit it will adapt and change throughout the whole system. If we apply this to a musculo-skeletal model, shortening or changing any soft tissue element will have an effect on the whole body. Within amatsu we are simply reshaping the soft tissues of the body, without force, back to the original pre injury healthy shape. Thus, allowing the body own healing mechanism to be instigated within a stable musculoskeletal structure.

The advantages of biotensegrity – Why then is all of this significant?
Numerous advantages can be realized by viewing the body’s mobility and structure through the perspective of biotensegrity.An important advantage is better posture and more effective movement. We may better align our bodies and use them more effectively, which can help prevent accidents and enhance general health and well-being, by comprehending how the body’s tensegrity structures function.

Injuries can be treated and recovered from with the aid of biotensegrity. Practitioners are able to aid in the body’s restoration of balance and stability as well as the promotion of healing by addressing the complete tensegrity system as opposed to merely isolated muscles or joints.

Biotensegrity and Related Fields

Yoga, bodywork, and sports performance are just a few areas where the principles of biotensegrity are put to use. Understanding biotensegrity, for instance, can assist yoga practitioners better grasp proper alignment and execute more difficult poses. Furthermore, it is advantageous for athletes to comprehend biotensegrity. Athletes can enhance their performance and lower their chance of injury by strengthening the tensegrity structures in their bodies. As discussed Amatsu uses these principles to address injuries from a global perspective to promote healing and restore balance in the body.

Conclusion

In conclusion, biotensegrity is a ground-breaking idea that offers a fresh perspective on how the body is built and moves. We may learn more about how the body functions and how to best support it by viewing it as a continuous, interconnected network of tensegrity structures. Understanding biotensegrity can be a useful skill whether you are a yoga practitioner, an athlete, or just trying to enhance your general health and wellbeing. Amatsu therapy, which also applies biotensegrity concepts, aims to restore balance to the dysfunctional pulls and strains experienced by the body.

Coming next: A deep dive into fascia & its links to biotensegrity.
Coming next: Amatsu Principles

References:

Smith, S. M. (2007). The structural underpinning of life is called biotensegrity. 11(1):11–19 in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
R. Schleip, D. G. Müller, and (2013). The techonic fascia is the body. 17(4), 496–502 Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
R. Schleip, D. G. Müller, and (2014). An innovative method for teaching functional anatomy is to use tensile-based models of the musculoskeletal system. 18(3):514-522 in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Findley, T. W., and Schleip, R. (2007). Fascia strain hardening: A potential explanation for the tissue’s function in dynamic movement and load bearing. 11(1), 57–67, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Lehmann-Horn, F., Vleeming, A., Naylor, I. L., Schleip, R., Duerselen, L., & Zorn, A. (2005). Active fascial contractility: Fascia may have the ability to contract similarly to a smooth muscle and affect the dynamics of the musculoskeletal system. 65(2), 273-277. Medical Hypotheses
R. Schleip (2003). Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 7(1), 11–19. Fascial plasticity: A New Neurobiological Explanation, Part 1.
R. Schleip (2003). Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 7(2), 104–116. Fascial plasticity: A New Neurobiological Explanation, Part 2.
R. Schleip (2012). Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 16(1), 103–112. Fascial plasticity: A New Neurobiological Explanation, Part 3.
Scarr, G.(2019)Biotensegrity. What is the big deal? Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. P1-4.
Ingber, Donald E. (2008) Tensegrity and Mechanotransduction. Journal of Bodywork and mechanotransduction
12(3), p198-200.