One of the most impactful continuing education courses I have attended was from an Osteopath in Wellington, New Zealand named Phillip Beach. He presented his contractile field model of movement, thru that model he introduced the archetypal postures of repose and erectorcises, which assess the skills of rest and movement. These skills are the fundamental basis of keeping the contractile fields balanced and the body in optimal biomechanical tune.
For me, I was fascinated by his model, which took the fields of embryology, vertebrate evolutionary biology, and the Chinese meridian maps and combined them to understand the human body and human movement. Combining history and science is one of my favorite topics so I was completely engaged. I also quickly learned the actual reasons behind some of the connections of the body and movement I have anecdotally noticed for my 16 years as an athletic trainer and movement practitioner. These connections, which I used to reach for explaining under the anatomy train model, or fascial connection model came alive as I learned the contractile field model and especially the embryology and evolutionary biology part of it. Understanding the contractile field model allows you to notice patterns and quickly address primary restrictions in the model to aid in optimizing the function of the human body, especially locomotion.
The practical application of this model of movement really lies in the understanding of biomechanical tune. What it is, how we can assess it, and how we can improve it. Biomechanical tune, is referring to how resilient the body is in terms of basic mobility, stability, and strength. Just like a car or musical instrument, when it is out of tune it does not perform well and is more likely to break down. Dr. Beach describes an assessment of biomechanical tune through identifying the ability to access the 12 common rest postures that are common to all mankind across all time frames including evolution of the species and development of each individual. They are emergent patterns of the biological system, meaning the cellular intelligence has remembered these positions of postures of rest and the ability or inability to tap into this biological memory is what allows your body to truly rest and recover allow homeostasis to occur.
There are two primary patterns of rest postures, linear and turned out positions. Typically there is a preferred pattern for each individual though both need to be accessible to be in tune. These postures require foot and ankle mobility, hip mobility, spine mobility, and shoulder mobility.
The postures are: supine lying with arms overhead, prone lying with arms overhead, and side lying with arm under head in a straight or bent position, Japanese sitting, toe sitting, drinking position, long sit, neanderthal sitting, cross legged, half lotus, side siting, and full squat.
Supine- Head, neck and spine in good alignment without excessive flaring of ribs. Legs straight, extended and abducted, arms straight in shoulder abduction.
Prone- Head, neck and spine in good alignment without excessive flaring of ribs. Legs straight, extended and abducted, arms straight in shoulder abduction. Head turned to either side. Check both sides.
Side lying- Legs may be bent or straight, underneath arm should support head in either an elbow flexed or straight position. Check both sides.
Japanese sitting- kneeling with feet in plantar flexion, spine upright.
Toe sitting- kneeling with feet in dorsiflexion and toes extended so weight is on the metatarsal heads, heal directly above, foot in neutral, hips on heels, spine upright.
Drinking- from toe sitting posture lean forward without the support of hands to bring forehead to the floor. Must maintain toe sit loaded position throughout posture.
Long sit- sitting with legs straight out in front, may be slightly abducted, spine upright.
Neanderthal- sitting with legs turned out and soles of feet together in diamond shape, spine upright.
Cross-legged- sitting with legs turned out and crossed, crossing at the acupressure point that is 4 fingers proximal to the malleolus. Check both sides.
Half- lotus- sitting with legs turned out and crossed with top leg folded so the sole of foot is on opposite thigh and facing the ceiling. Check both sides.
Side sit- also called a Z-sit, leg in from in turned out position and opposite leg turned in with foot behind hip, sole of foot is facing the ceiling. Check both sides.
Full Squat- feet straight ahead, knees in line with 2nd toe, feet flat on floor, spine in an upright position without arms bracing legs to hold on.
It is important when performing screens of movement or in this case rest to apply an objective measurement to be able to measure progress and possibly research means, outcomes, or correlations to injury, function, and performance. Dr. Beach suggests utilizing the 1-5 scoring in his workshops, and I have also adapted a similar system utilizing a 0-12 score.
1- unable to get into or be in posture
2- just able- quickly painful/uncomfortable
3- able - likely painful/uncomfortable after a few minutes
4- easily able - but with poor form
5- able to rest (about 20min)- with good form
You do not have to test the postures for 20min each, but just ask the athlete if it is a posture they could see them spending 20min in without pain or discomfort.
How many postures are accessible without pain/discomfort out of 12 possible postures.
For example if only the supine, prone, side lying, Neanderthal, and cross leg postures they can do easily then they would score 4/12.
After you have assessed if you are in tune, the work starts to either improve your tune or maintain your tune. It is actually quite simple to do and has very profound results. Simply spend time cycling through postures of rest throughout the day, especially after exercise. The key is little and often and when you are supple/moldable. The key is to make the postures approachable and comfortable. I CANNOT stress the comfortable part, this is where it is likely to go wrong. So often people want to push through the uncomfortable or pain instead of taking the extra step to make the postures more accessible by adding props. Use as many pillows, towel rolls, and blocks as necessary to sit in the postures, or modify the posture by simply working on the process to get in to the posture. Here are a couple examples:
I recommend the “little and often” goal of whenever you are sitting (working on computer, watching TV, eating, talking) choose to grabs some props and use the floor instead of a piece of furniture. It doesn’t have to be for hours, simply take 5-10min and cycle through 3-5 postures. Also, recommended is 10-20min (in utopia 30min) after exercising to cycle through rest postures. This timing is key, when your large muscles of the hip and legs are warm enough to “stretch” out easily and your spine warm and able to adapt. If you finish your workout and sit down on a bench or chair when you finish, or even support yourself on the ground against the wall or leaning on your arms, your body does not know that as rest. The muscles will just shorten and tighten into those positions. When you are in the postures that have emerged over evolution, our biology knows, and really does think “rest” and the recovery process is turned on. If you are skeptical, try taking a 10min nap on the floor and notice how you feel compared to when you take a 10min nap on the couch or a bed. For me, on the floor I wake up and feel as rested as if I slept 8hrs. On furniture, I wake up and feel like I would just rather keep sleeping. Same rules apply though, use props to make sure whichever nap position you choose is comfortable.
It is also suggested that you can speed up this self-tuning process by taking your shoes of and “giving your feet a life”. The nerves that innervate the soles of the feet are the same nerves that innervate the nerves of the lumbar spine and pelvic floor, therefore giving the opportunity for this important sensory organ to sense its environment is key to a healthy spine and pelvis. Also, by stimulating the soles of your feet you provide important sensory input to the entire organism, as the hands and feet are very important sensory organs to the brain as seen in this depiction of the sensory homunculus.
The easiest way to stimulate the soles of your feet with something interesting is to spend at least 30min a day barefoot on an interesting surface. Rocks outside or rock mats work perfect for this. They can be different shapes, sizes, and textures which is very stimulating. I easily make rock mats for around the house, putting them in locations that I am at normally throughout the day so that it does not feel as if I am carving out any specific time throughout the day to “exercise” my sensory organs. I have my mats placed in the bathtub, in front of the kitchen sink, and in front of the oven. They are easy to make with some loose rock, glue, and a mat, or you can simply put some in a shallow tupperware container and keep them loose. Check out my blog post on rock mats called REVitalize Your Sole.
Along with the rock mats, it may also speed the process of bringing the body into tune by adding in manual therapy (self or with a practitioner) to help improve the tissue tolerance and change trigger points from an active phase (painful) to a latent phase (non-painful).
The key to making sure you and your athletes are in tune is understanding that it is imperative to spend time stimulating the sensory organs of the feet and spending time resting on the ground and standing from the ground throughout each day.
Beach, P. Muscles and Meridians- The Manipulation of Shape. London: Elsevier 2010.
Beach, P. Understanding Movement via Contractile Fields at Pilates on Tour Rehabilitation Summit. Tempe, AZ: April 2015
Beach, P. Archetypal Postures and Erectorcises at Pilates on Tour Rehabilitation Summit. Tempe, AZ: April 2015