Updated: Jun 10, 2019
As we ponder the wonders of human anatomy, it’s always good to stop and remind ourselves that how we are shaped and assembled is entirely the result of one strange force.
Who knows this better than the experts in weightlessness—NASA?
“Gravity is not just a force, it's also a signal—a signal that tells the body how to act. For one thing, it tells muscles and bones how strong they must be. In zero-G, muscles atrophy quickly, because the body perceives it does not need them. The muscles used to fight gravity—like those in the calves and spine, which maintain posture—can lose around 20 per cent of their mass if you don't use them. Muscle mass can vanish at a rate as high as 5% a week.” (Full article here.)
That concept is critical in thinking about human anatomy—that gravity is a “signal” that “tells the body how to act.” When that same signal disappears, in space, the human body system starts processing the data about its new environment and begins immediately to transform itself to adapt to the new surroundings.
In other words, our form is a function of the largest environment factor that all of us human beings share—Earth.
Our movements through this world are possible because our bodies have taken these signals from gravity and figured out how to help us move—an essential quality of mammals who, say, needed to hunt for food back in the Paleolithic times or need to drive an SUV to the grocery store today. If you are moving, you are moving against gravity. Lifting a coffee cup, weeding the garden, shoveling snow all require various degrees of effort based on the fact that gravity exists. Your body has a rough idea of the exertion required for each.
Gravity is the silent boss of all this activity. It’s also the silent boss of how muscles are shaped to hold us upright.
The fact that we don’t have to think about how much force to exert to overcome gravity each time we move is further proof that our “body mind” has already incorporated this awareness into our systems.
We recently came across an old interview with Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle, a pioneer in the Pilates movement. In the interview, LeBlanc-Arbuckle credited her many teachers—among them, Anatomy in Clay® founder Jon Zahourek—for helping her develop an inquisitive approach to her studies. She also talked about the importance of gravity’s role in body movement—a topic that our founder brings up in class after class (after class).
“Professionally, for 20 years I have had a mission to open a dialogue within our Pilates community, encouraging new perceptions of how we can ‘partner with gravity,’ rather than ‘fight gravity.’ In this regard, as I mentor teachers, I am committed to evoking an expanded awareness of our innate biointelligence. I am asking that we consider redefining ‘core’ and that we infuse classical Pilates with a deeper understanding of ‘embodiment’ and ‘tensegrity’—an architectural principle developed by Buckminster Fuller that characterizes the tensional-integrity of life forms.”
LeBlanc-Arbuckle, a former longtime yoga teacher, said she spent four years studying Pilates and began to feel “very held” in her center. “This started me inquiring deeply into what core is from the body’s perspective, beyond a ‘concept’ or ‘belief’ of core. This led me to years of study around the vestibular system, our embryological development and perceptual awareness, and how they are the foundation for our natural human movements of sitting, standing, walking, running, etc.”
In the interview, LeBlanc-Arbuckle noted that the inner ear is the first sense that develops in the womb and that “our relationship with gravity and spatial orientation” is a human being’s true core.
“My elevator pitch would be that ‘the body doesn’t care what we call what we are doing: Pilates, yoga, Alexander, Feldenkrais, personal training, walking, washing the dishes,” said LeBlanc-Arbuckle. “All it wants is conscious movement in relationship with gravity.”
True—the body doesn’t care. It’s only desire is conscious movement in relationship with gravity.
Next time you’re building the Brachialis or Vastus lateralis, take into account our ever-present partner and how it played a role in that muscle’s shape and function.