Embodied Tensegrity—Fascia and Yoga

The Fluid Body

“At the beginning of our life cycle, we are conceived in fluid, developed in amniotic fluid and born in fluid; our bodies are more than 70-percent fluid. New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. Recent research shows there is a micro-fascial system (a tensegrity structure) within every cell. Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously.”
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T.—Massage Magazine April 5, 2011

“Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Wikipedia


Tensegrity is a term coined by Buckminster Fuller. The word is a contraction of two terms: tension and integrity. It describes a structural relationship principle that Fuller defined as stabilizing the shape of structures by continuous tension or “tensional integrity”, rather than by continuous compression, such as is used in a stone arch or a skyscraper. A tensegrity structure is composed of firm rods that do not touch one another, but are suspended and made strong by the simultaneous action of a network of balanced compression and tensile parts.

Kenneth Snelson Free Ride Home tensegrity 1974

Buckminster Fuller was inspired in his work by the innovative sculpture of Kenneth Snelson in which we can see how otherwise heavy metal struts are upheld with a sense of levity and ease when the tensegrity principles are applied.

While most buildings utilize simple compression in alignment with gravity—block upon block and into the earth—to support their form, tensegrity structures are different. They are self-supporting, absorbing and distributing forces omnidirectionally throughout their shapes, giving them the ability to yield increasingly, without ultimately breaking or coming apart. They allow for what would otherwise be heavy limbs and reaching projections to be far away from the center without toppling the entire system.

It wasn’t until fairly recently—the last several decades—that scientist have observed that these very same principles of self-inclusive support underlie the integrity of all biological structures.

One of these pioneers, Dr. Stephen Levin, coined the term biotensegrity to describe the ubiquitousness of tensegrity principles in biology. In observing biological organisms, from the most miniscule to the enormous, they have found that all biological organisms are made strong and resilient by their tensegritous unison of tensioned and compressed parts. This applies at the level of the cell membranes and the inner world of every cell. Biotensegritous organisms are as self-intelligent as they are structurally sound. At the cellular level, biotensegrity allows the cell to sense its environment and convert mechanical signals into biochemical changes. Biotensegrity is equally evident at the level of muscle, bones, fascia, ligaments, and tendons. These principles maintain the integrity of every structure of the body, including organs, glands, nervous system, and the rest.  They integrate the body as a whole into a larger biotensegritous form. Dr. Levine and his colleagues have called this a hierarchical system, in that the principles of organization are evident at all levels of expression—from atoms, to cells, to every body tissue, and the body as a whole. Our bodies are layer upon layer of tensegrity structure and function.

Dr. Levine writes:
“What I had been taught during my residency training by some of the top biomechanics people at the time, was the application of first year college physics to biologic structures and particularly how it applied to the human frame. This has been, and continues to be, the accepted mechanics since first described by Borelli, a mathematician and ‘renaissance man’, in 1680, nothing has changed.

This is all based on Newtonian mechanics, as it would be applied to a column or building built with rigid materials and standing in one place on solid ground. But humans, and all biologic structures, are mobile, omnidirectional, gravity independent structures built of ‘soft materials’, foams, colloids and emulsions, (bone and wood are stiff foams, like styrofoam), and mechanicals laws as applied to these structures may be different. It is impossible to explain the mechanics of a dinosaur’s neck using standard Newtonian mechanics.” Stephen Levine—(Bold added.)

Embodied Tensegrity and the Fascial Matrix
Unlike most of the structures we have built to house ourselves, our bodies are far from being simple compressive structures. Fascia is a tensegritous matrix of connective tissue that integrates and forms the support of everything in the body. It is the very fabric of the body. An uninterrupted viscoelastic tissue, it surrounds and penetrates all body structures from head to toe. It is the 3-D web of fibrous, gluey and wet collagen fibers that holds everything together. Fascia comes in all different viscosities, densities, strengths, and resiliencies—from super strong and stable, to gooey, and highly viscous. Its qualitative differences are based on function and how it is embodied and used. The intricate relationship of the fascial system’s muscle, bone, ligament, and tendon creates a tensile and compressive balance that unifies and distributes the force of any movement through the whole body seamlessly. When something moves, everything moves.

Fascia has ten times more sensory nerve endings within it than muscle tissue. This fine three-dimensional network of intelligence is creating, receiving, and expressing information and sensation constantly. Impulses of communication flow through the fascia at the speed of sound in water —approximately 720 mph—as opposed to the speed of impulses flowing through the nervous system—about 150 mph. Communicating roughly three times faster than the nervous system, fascia’s underlying fluidity and connectivity forms an inner communication system that is nearly immediate. The entire system perceives instantaneously.

As a system of proprioception, fascia is constantly communicating to the body where it is in space.  It is also a system of interoception. Interoception is the process of perceiving what is happening within. Body awareness is one of the main ways we feel who we are. Interoception is feeling and sensing who we are in our form. Fascia is an intelligent whole-body-mind system, sensing itself and offering feedback to itself, about itself—constantly and nearly immediately.

Our skeletal system is part of the biotensegritous matrix. Our bones—also connective tissue—form the struts of stable compression for a large portion of our body’s form, while the fascia provides the tensile pull. Bones are suspended within the fascial weave. They do not actually touch. The old paradigm of bones being a system of levers that basically hinge at the joints is simply not true. More accurately, bones are like spacers in the body that float within the fascial weave. In other words, the continuity of the fascial system does not end the way bones do at the joints. Fascia contains and incorporates muscles, bones and joints into the entire system, managing and integrating all movement globally. No hinges, no levers, just resilience, strength, and wholistic integration.


Icosahedron–Cellular Tensegrity Model

This can be understood and recognized at the level of the cell. Cells themselves are beautiful tensegritous structures. Each cell is a microcosm of the body as a whole, with intricate self-supporting functions, that in turn support all larger biological functions. Cells are composed of a tremendous array of functional parts, processes, and intelligence. Like the body as a whole, each cell contains a balance of tension and compression elements. The cell’s compression struts are called the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton weaves through the cell’s interior as strands of filament and microtubules. Cellular microtubules provide a communication system within the cell, and flow with fluid. The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was given to a group of three scientists for their research and findings about the nature of the cytoskeleton. Their work shed light onto the fact that the cytoskeleton is an intelligent and important part of the communication system within the cell. In a New York Times interview, when pressed to describe the contents of the microtubules of the cells, one of the recipients said…it could most closely be described as “liquid light”.

Cellular intelligence is more than an amalgam of its parts and functions. Every cell is awake, alive, and self-aware. Although science is becoming better and better at describing the physical expressions of creative intelligence, we still cannot see or name the nature of intelligence itself. The best we can do is say that cells are intelligent. Perhaps that is good enough. Again, it is the same at the microcosm of the cell and the macrocosm of the human being. Cells do everything we do. They move, they metabolize, they make choices, create energy, and they relate. They relate both to their own inner environment and the family of cells. They are individually organized and also work together to express into complex body systems and organisms.

geodesic red blood cell

Red Blood Cells

Due to their inherent fluidity and shapes, cells have the ability to pack closely with one another. The basic geometry and tight packing of cells allows forces moving through them to be spontaneously transferred omnidirectionally into the other surrounding cells and through the surrounding tissues.

This is clear in the fascial body. Since fascia is primarily fluid and so ubiquitous, wrapping and weaving through everything, we have a way for understanding how any and all body movement can be transferred through the whole body in a seamless and unified way. In the images below we see two examples some of the more fluid fascial tissues. Note the geometric shapes.

fascia   fascia1                                            Examples of Fluid Fascia—Shapes and Textures

“The mechanics of tensegrity structures are quite different than the lever mechanics that have been applied to biologic structures since Borelli’s
{(Borelli 1680)} treatise. Contrary to lever mechanics, hierarchical tensegrity structures have only tension and compression members. There is no shear or torque, nor are there bending moments. Orientation in space has no effect on how the structure functions. Forces are distributed throughout the system rather than locally concentrated as they are in lever systems. The system functions as a single unit. All this makes for a more energy efficient system. Movement is not bending of hinges, but expansion, repositioning and contraction of tensegrities. An instant repositioning of tensegrities allows for freely moving joints while the triangulation imparts stability of form and function. Biotensegrity is the unifying mechanical structural concept that bridges the islands of information that we now have about fascia and its role in body functions, and makes them a unified archipelago for understanding fascia’s role in anatomy and physiology.” Biotensegrity—The Mechanics of Fascia, Stephen M. Levin
 and Danièle-Claude Martin —(Bold added.)

In recognizing and embodying this new paradigm for understanding our biological selves we open to the possibility of living and moving within this system in harmony with the way it is designed—without any shearing forces disturbing the health and resilience of any tissues. Looking at ourselves from the perspective of biotensegrity, cellular movement and intelligence, and the fascial weave, we are called upon to question many of our assumptions about anatomy and what it means to be in a body. An inquiry into fascia leads us to alter our perceptions about how we use our structures to support ourselves. We are led to discover a depth of integration that goes well beyond our beliefs that muscle and bone are the primary weight bearing tissues and the primary movers. We put into question the very dynamics of movement: What is moving? How do we initiate movement? Is movement governed by gravity? Or is gravity just one of the forces that integrates us with our environment? How separate are we? In what ways are we part of—like the individual cell in a larger organism—the larger biological family in which we live?

Consciousness and Form are Inseparable
When we incorporate yoga philosophy into our embodied explorations we begin to see and experience ourselves more fully. In yoga practice we learn that there is consciousness penetrating our form. We know that all of the layers of structure, from the finest to the most dense, contain all of the elements that exist in nature. In the world, as in our bodies, consciousness and form are interpenetrating and in motion.

mesenchyme_embryonic_DEVEOLPING CELLS Study Blue        MYOFASCIA          dense_regular_connective_tissue Study Blue

Embryonic Mesenchyme               Myofascia                  Dense Regular Connective Tissue

In the examples above we can see how the fine beginnings of fascia in the embryonic mesenchyme progressively become more differentiated as they form the myofascia and dense regular connective tissue. There are many more layers to this continuum, and these are only examples of the increasing density and variations of connective tissue’s form.

Scientific microscopes show us the shapes and textures of the fascial weave. Yoga practice invites us to use our own inner microscopic vision and subtle senses to experience this directly. As we travel through awareness to our deepest form we find that the finest layers of fascia are in fact highly refined and intelligent structures. Refined structure and refined awareness exist together. They genuinely cannot be separated. They are one moving amalgam of life and function—the finer the fluid, the finer the expression of consciousness. In exploring these elegant, vibrant, and changing structures, we are able to witness the consciousness that is penetrating our bodies at these subtle layers.

When we embody and delve into the liquid brilliance of connective tissue at its finest, we find ourselves right at levels of personal experience that are very close to Source. This is where our most exquisite, powerful, and bright fluids are learning to function and take shape. They are rich with space and they glisten with Awareness. We are there to witness the subtle layers of our being expressing into the amazingly intricate and glorious manifestations of the awake-and-alive forms that we embody. This inquiry takes place in time as well as in space.

Our earliest embryonic beginnings are still here for us to experience. Embryologically, we were and we are, contained and relational templates of moving awareness, intelligence, space, and fluids. Fascia derives from one of the three embryonic germ layers—mesoderm. Mesenchyme, in turn, derives from mesoderm. Mesoderm and mesenchyme give rise to our connective tissue body, including muscle and bone. Fascia, in general, is more liquid and develops before bone and muscle, so we consider it to be more primary than the musculoskeletal system. In other words, it underlies the development of muscle and bone, in effect unifying muscle and bone into its more all encompassing weave.

It can make sense to start an inquiry with embryonic mesenchyme. This is the earliest, most refined, and fluid state of what becomes our connective tissue and fascial body. Highly liquid, the embryo folds, warps, and grows—fluid moving in fluid, driven by vast creative intelligence and profound organization. Powerful spirals and vortexes of movement and awareness give rise to complex form. The movement of consciousness within our liquid body determines human function and shape. This is true in our earliest beginnings and it is still true. Our entire structure has formed in water, and water continues to be the primary physical constituent of which we are made.

How to Explore
Embodying our fascia—which basically means actively feeling it and recognizing the consciousness that is emanating from it—reveals the possibility of fully integrated whole-body-movement. Fascia is composed of intricately relational substances. Each fiber and molecule is in constant communication with its immediate environment and the larger global family of cells. When we look at pictures of fascia it can appear chaotic and disorganized. But that is far from the case and far from one’s embodied experience of this tissue. Its intricate weave is perfectly organized for the exact work that it is doing. Each of the different expressions of fascia has an individual balance of resilience and strength. Where fascia is situated in the body has everything to do with its function, structure, and consciousness. Where it needs to be strongest, it is. And where it needs to be lightest and most resilient, it is. It brings a quality of unity to our embodied experience, even as we recognize and enjoy its variations in form and function.

The tensegritous structure and shape of fascia makes it uniquely able to distribute forces of movement and weight multi-directionally in the body. Because of the nature of its weave, fascia can absorb force into it and provide an astonishing variability and number of pathways for the force to travel. When you put many of these structures together—like we have in body tissues—the options for movement just continue to multiply.

TENSEGRITY TOY1It can be helpful to hold a common “Skwish Toy”. Composed of wooden rods and connecting bands, the Skwish Toy is a tensegrity structure and the way force is transmitted through it is not unlike how it happens in a cell or a larger body tissue. Stabilize a spot in the toy and then move any other part of the toy. Notice how the movement transmits through the entire structure through the dynamic play of the compressive and firm rods, and the connective bands. Then imagine many Skwish Toys connected to one another. Again, movement anywhere would be transmitted through the whole structure. This is a toy model with limitations, but there is a lot to learn here about how we live in our bodies.

Embodying Our Fascial Weave
Understanding our bodies from this paradigm of movement is a huge shift from the kind of thinking that has been most prevalent over the last few centuries. Far from being structures that are in competition with gravity or always being pushed or pulled earthward, this model shows us how our inner relationships of tension, compression, and resilience are involved in supporting one another. It offers critical insight into how we can feel quite light and buoyant, even in very extended shapes and movements. Gravity is not the only force. In reality, we are using omnidirectional inner supports to fill out our form and create our movement. This paradigm makes gravity a more congenial partner—not a brut force that needs to be overcome by the leverage of our hard bones and muscular strength.

What we are not is mechanical or linear beings—neither at the level of consciousness or structure. It is important for our growth and our ability to embody our full potential, to unearth these unhealthy and restrictive concepts and replace them with a more wholistic paradigm for understanding what it is to live in an intelligent and intricately relational body. Our complex fascial weave is an underlying template of wholeness that supports an incredible diversity.

How we live in our fascia affects everything about how we feel. Equally, how we feel affects our fascial system. The tensegritous continuity of the structural body is a mirror of the continuity that we know to be the weave of Awareness, heart, and mind through our being. Fascial sensitivity can be a window into a more complete comprehension and direct experience of individual and Universal Self—as an embodied, sensed, and felt reality.

We find ourselves exploring layers of personal awareness that are rich with insight and comfort, and feel very close to our essential nature. These subtle and delicate layers of form and consciousness are underneath the common restrictions and tensions that we chronically allow to occupy so much of our time and attention. Each of us is already fully primed to take this journey. We can all do this. The recognition of our inner world is available right now. We make a very critical mistake when we assume our personal, so called “issues”, need to be resolved in order to experience our own nature. They don’t. You can do this now. The access is there, even if you feel that in some way you are still not quite good enough, clear enough, or spiritual enough to witness something so precious. You are good enough. But you do need to do the work.

Embodying the facial weave is a deep process. For you, it might begin at the layer of the cell. Cellular qualities and structure form the embodied basis for experiencing all body tissues. Embodying the integrity and intelligence of the cell can easily be expanded to include the larger—and inherently similar—organ of the fascia. Embodied explorations can be done from either direction: cellular to fascial, or from the fascial level back to the cell. They both work and your personal affinity will determine which is the best and least effortful pathway for you.

Initially, this may sound complicated, but in reality, it is inherently easy. It is easy because it is so basic to who we are. A good degree of curiosity is important. Then, all one really needs to do is inquire and practice with tenderness, clarity, and patience. A key is to continue diving underneath restriction. Restrictions in body and mind are by their very nature not as comfortable or enjoyable as freedom. There is freedom and ease underneath all discomfort. If we can accept that greater comfort may be more desirable than discomfort, we can follow the yogic pathway through and under these limiting patterns into deep, abiding, restful ease.

By quite literally following the bliss, we inevitably drop into these subtle and more supportive layers. We can allow our thinking mind and outer layers of self to be seduced by the gravity of inner comfort. We allow ourselves to be pulled inward. The whole-body fluid source of fascia is an excellent focus for inquiry because its energetic pull is very strong. We are spontaneously drawn toward the sea of comfortable awareness that is emanating from our core.

In exploring fascia it can be useful to limit our outward expression of physical movement at first. Awareness and prana initiate movement. If we go very directly into muscular movement we will often simply use habitual patterns. The habitual patterns of movement may block our experience of the more subtle forces—consciousness and prana—that underlie the movement. As we learn to feel life force flowing within the facial weave, we open to a different initiation of movement; one that begins as a gesture of consciousness and intention.

The unifying weave of fascia carries and distributes the impulse to move. It sets the tone, distributes the forces, and then the muscles move. Fascial initiation is a more wholistic experience than what the more differentiated muscles feel. It is impossible to move through fascia without feeling it transferring and undulating its forces through the entire body. One of the hallmarks of fascially initiated movement is that every movement is felt wholistically, not just in the specific area of the body that is obviously expressing, but fully through the entire weave. It is a fluid sensation—like noticing a current in the ocean that was already there, and allowing it to express into a larger movement.

Our state of mind fully penetrates the body through the fascia. Fascia will harden if we try too hard or become too serious in our approach. Attitudes of perfectionism in life, spirituality, or yoga, as well as harsh self-evaluations, will always create tension in the fascial network. Cultivate kindness toward yourself. Profound self-acceptance is not just necessary for this process, but self-acceptance grows fuller as we perceive the inner world more clearly. Follow your experience inward through the layers of consciousness and form—opening to newness.

Practice santosha—contentment and acceptance of all that you find, and viveka—keen discernment and discrimination. The crucial balance of santosha and viveka, actualized through wisdom and love, will be the most reliable guide to our process. With regular practice, continuity of experience develops. The relationship that we establish with inner comfort becomes an emotionally and spiritually tangible support in yoga, in movement, in stillness, and in life. We feel it as a unified and comfortable state that penetrates body, mind, and spirit…even in the most challenging and difficult times.

11 thoughts on “Embodied Tensegrity—Fascia and Yoga

  1. a lifelong (many lifetimes?) study in a few paragraphs. so beautifully written, shown, and shared. thank you, Patty for the reminders, the nudges, and your teachings.


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  7. This is just so beautiful and resonates so deeply with where I am in my explorations. Thank you for your exquisite eloquence and isight…. Paula


  8. I absolutely love this blog and what you have written about the Fascia. There is new post modern yoga system called Bowspring that works with the Fascia in a uniform way. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore this further.


  9. To paraphrase the author, ‘liquid brilliance: the finer the fluid, the finer the expression of consciousness’
    I will return to this post many times to immerse myself in the sea of light where I float with ease.
    Thank you


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