Has the entire world of physical and movement therapy gone mad? Instead of people moving toward a more natural sense of body awareness, ease and comfort, they continue to be led down the Path of the Hard Body – a cultural contrivance that has replaced chopping wood and carrying water with the vanity of the asphalt jungle gym.
“Biomechanics is going by the wayside” exclaims Thomas Meyers, Structural Integration therapist and author of Anatomy Trains. According to Meyers, the New Biomechanics remains loosely defined. Yet, it seems to have at its foundation the perspective that instead of the body hanging on the skeleton like a suit on a coat hanger, the skeleton floats in a bag of soft tissue. While both views are equally incomplete, at least the Old Biomechanics is based on 500 years of anatomical study about how muscles and bones operate. The New Biomechanics being espoused by manual therapists, trainers, and yoga teachers is as amorphous and mystifying as the structural disorders it attempts to describe.
Take Liz Gaggini’s pelvic Tilt and Shift, “the two positional possibilities that are important in pelvic girdle alignment and function.” Anterior Tilt means the top of the pelvis moves down and forward, while Posterior Tilt means the pelvis moves up and back. According to this arrangement Anterior Shift means the entire pelvis sags in front of the ankle line, while Posterior Shift means the pelvis is pushed out behind. Curiously, pelvic rotation is not included, which the Old Biomechanics considers to be a major cause of osteoarthritis of the hip.
Says Gaggini, “It is always the case in Structural Integration that we must deal with patterns in the whole.” Thus we have the central problem with both the Old and New Biomechanics. What, precisely, is the “whole?” What does a structurally integrated body look like? What are the moving parts and how are they integrated into the whole? The Old Biomechanics rotates the pelvis 45 degrees backward and draws a plum line from the ear down through the load-bearing joints of the body. This integration necessitates pulling the abdominal wall in and tucking the tailbone under.
The New Biomechanics gets around the issue by describing “integrated” as individualized postural patterns that can be freed from their fascial restrictions by the specialized knowledge of trained body workers. Meyers tells his proteges they must “seize the truth” of the New Biomechanics. “If we posit that tilt is the tilt of the pelvis on the femur, such that anterior tilt equals hip flexion, and posterior tilt equals hip extension, and we remember that pelvic shift is either a position anterior or posterior to the line of the ankle, then we get the four pelvic types [described by Gaggini].”
According to the Old Biomechanics, bipedal standing is called hip extension. Drawing the pelvis toward the thighs (by pushing the buttocks back), or the thighs toward the pelvis (by lifting the knees), is called hip flexion. The human pelvis is already tilted all the way forward in the standing position of hip extension. The New Biomechanics has taken the liberty of reversing established anatomic language and understanding of pelvic movement.
Even more bizarre is the New Biomechanical description of the pelvis in early human development as Posterior Shift/Anterior Tilt. Says Meyers, “Favored by toddlers everywhere, the hips are pushed back but the pubic bone pulled down with hip flexion. Normal for a toddler (who has yet to develop balance in the psoas complex and deep lateral rotators), but if you see this pattern in the adult, one can suspect neurological deficiency or somatoemotional immaturity” [emphasis mine] The absurdity of these remarks cannot be overstated.
A baby crawls with her pelvis in the quadrupedal position. When she stands up, she does so not by rotating her pelvis backward, but by profoundly curving her lumbar spine. Her pelvis must stay in the horizontal position to continue developing (ossifying) the symmetrical arched roof of the acetabulum, which is conserved across species.
Unlike the long, flexible human lumbar spine, the short, inflexible chimpanzee lumbar spine must rotate with the pelvis as one unit to stand upright. Why western science determined the human spine and pelvis are wired up like the non-human primate is an unfathomable mystery. The mistake has never been corrected and continues to inform both the Old and New Biomechanics.
In no way are toddler hips “pushed back” and the pubic bones “pulled down with hip flexion.” Rather, like many other living forms she is unfolding from her center, her sacrum. At first her lumbar curve is very acute, but as she unfolds further she lengthens between chest and pelvis, keeping her head balanced over her horizontal sacral vertebrae.
By adulthood she has fully unfolded into the wide-radius lumbar curvature of natural female posture. Her abdominal wall is still held out – never in – but now the leading edge of abdominal curvature is at her midriff, between breasts and navel.
After childbirth her breasts are slightly lower and her abdominal wall slightly expanded. Due to the spiral nature of the female body, pelvic and spinal dynamics do not change from the pregnant to non-pregnant state.
The male spine has only two wedged lumbar vertebrae (and discs), while the female has three. Wedging means the vertebrae are taller in front and shorter in back, which is what forms the curvature. Males have only two horizontal sacral vertebrae (S1-S2), while females have three (S1-S3). These differences result in less curvature in the male lumbar spine, an exceedingly important reality unrecognized by either the Old or New Biomechanics. However, males do have lumbar curvature and a forward placed abdominal wall.
A strange and destructive body-dysphoria predominates in modern exercise and therapy systems, which I believe has its roots in white male supremacy. It is probably no accident that the physical culture of male body-building coincided with European and American hunters and anthropologists bringing back photographic images of native bodies. The most obvious way to distance themselves from “savages” was to abhor the native belly.
Prior to this, men had no problem with the abdominal wall, which was held proudly forward in natural human posture. Like all animals, the human body develops into a particular conformation while moving and breathing naturally under the forces of gravity.
Buddhist monks provide another example of effortless human posture when the belly is relaxed, the chest lifted, and the chin pulled in and down.
Yet, by the 1930s control of the abdominal wall was the reigning paradigm in western culture and medicine. While Joseph Pilates proclaimed the value of extreme abdominal exercise, physical therapists Henry and Florence Kendall defined a 90-degree backward rotation of the pelvis as “neutral.” Today, male body-dysphoria continues to reign supreme in yoga studios, gymnasiums, and physical and manual therapies. The “mummy tummy” is regarded with disgust, and young mothers are resorting to extreme measures, including devastating abdominoplasty, to achieve the flattened six-pack abs idolized in body-dysphoric culture.
Excessively contracting and chronically holding in the belly has serious implications for female pelvic organ support. The urogenital triangle of the pelvic floor (where the vagina is located) is closed off in the male, so they are not subject to bladder prolapse. Rectal prolapse is another matter however, which may be more prevalent in males than females.
Male body-dysphoria is exemplified by a gut that is chronically contracted and tightly pulled in. When the abdominal wall is flexed in this way, the pelvis rotates backward and the pelvic floor becomes chronically tense. A person has no choice but to reverse natural breathing. Instead of allowing the abdominal wall to expand forward on the in-breath and passively fall back on the out-breath, the chest rises on the in-breath and the belly is pulled further in. Over time the muscles of the chest wall and shoulder girdle hypertrophy, leading to the classic barrel chest of the body-dysphoric male.
Importantly, instead of the center of mass of the body being distributed evenly over the arched roof of the acetabulum, it is now positioned over the top, front aspect of the joint, where virtually all adult-onset hip disease is known to occur.
Alarmingly, body-dysphoric males educated in the New Biomechanics are teaching doctors and therapists a distorted and unintelligible anatomy. Hip flexion, which also involves elongation of gluteus maximus, is now being called “hip extension.” While anterior displacement of the entire pelvic girdle (slouch posture) is now “hip hyperextension.”
The deceptive and harmful practices of orthopedic surgery allowed a conceptual vacuum to be filled by alternative anatomic models based on deficient standards and partial truths. Orthopedics claims ownership to 500 years of anatomical understanding, yet has squandered its knowledge in favor of fallacious imaging technology and reductionist surgical dogma.
Birthing large-headed offspring increased biomechanical function and unfolded the female body further into the human form. Failing to recognize this flowering, and deeming female spinal curvature pathologic, is at the foundation of male body-dysphoria. The New Biomechanics describes natural female proportions as “anterior tilt” and “hip flexion”, when in fact the ability to extend through the hip and knee by fully extending the pelvis and lumbar spine is uniquely and essentially human. The male-dysphoric body has lost its ability to double extend, and is held chronically in hip flexion, as evidenced by an anterior shift of the head and torso. The resulting shortening and thickening of the iliopsoas tendon is a precursor to degenerative hip disease.
It is a profound truth that humans are horizontal creatures from the hips down and vertical from the waist up. The female of our species has expanded the human design further into the proportions of the Fibonacci spiral. The same Golden Proportion found in sunflowers, galaxies, and inherently registered as beauty by the human eye.
Thomas Meyers also tells us agriculture is dying and that, “We’re not all going back to live on an organic farm and work hard.” Perhaps he is unaware of the current trend in young, physically fit, and happy urban farmers doing precisely that. Meyers asks, “What does a child need to know to make it on this planet in terms of their physical movement?”
Here is my short list:
- Beware of male body-dysphoria, which pervades modern culture
- Ignore the New Biomechanics
- Perfect your handstand
- Plant a garden
- Trust in the natural design of the human body