Carlos’s Comments on “Biotensegrity”

“Don’t fight forces, use them.” Buckminster Fuller

There exists a certain subtle mystery and wonder inherent in the art of human movement. For hundreds of years, the prevailing theories of human kinetics have explored the stasis and motion of the body via mechanical principles, arriving at often unsatisfactory interpretations. Graham Scarr clearly summarizes the often murky new theories of biomechanics in his book Biotensegrity. Drawing from the work of Buckminster Fuller, Stephen Levin and many others, biotensegrity encourages us to see human kinesiology as geometrical in structure and as employing an ever-changing dance of tension and compression. It also offers a clear model depicting the manner by which our bones, muscles, and ligaments operate and the way the body’s fascia enables all of the parts to interact smoothly. And even though Scarr concedes that biotensegrity has not yet accounted for all of the magic that makes up human movement, he claims that this perspective does offer “a better means to visualize the mechanics of the body.” As a student of yoga, I am fascinated by the ways biotensegrity can help me understand movement, but I find myself even more inspired to apply some of the tenets of biotensegrity to social systems and the tensions found within them.

Langston Hughes wondered what happens when a dream is deferred: when promising optimism is extinguished by cruel realism. The fitful sleep and frequent nightmares that have disrupted Dr. King’s dream of a more peaceful society seem unending. Violence in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Charlotte and Tulsa are recent reminders that we as a society need to re-evaluate the ways we react to stress, tension and force. The use of force is problematic when it takes the form of authoritarian coercion or violent rebellion. Without casting blame or finding fault, it is possible to discuss using force in the way Buckminster Fuller intended: not as a fight but rather as a means by which we can adjust the structure of society so as to release tension and find a kind of harmonious equilibrium. This type of social tensegrity, tension with integrity, can then influence our attitudes toward each other whenever conflict arises.

Biotensegrity is a relatively new lens through which we can view the structure and motion of the human organism. And although the ideas set forth by Fuller and Levin might be an interesting way to change how we perceive social stresses and conflicts, Graham Scarr reminds us that “tensegrity is not a particular type of treatment.” Yet, maybe we can still ask ourselves: what is the social fascia that best links us together? Centuries ago, the social fascia of a society may have been a religion, a type of economic structure or a form of political organization. But faith, money and power only seem to divide us more and more. And although I am tempted to say that our present-day social media unites everyone, often internet forums allow anonymous users to spread vitriol and for bullying and divisiveness to grow unchecked. Perhaps the strongest, most resilient social fascia of all are the arts. When the members of a community create and celebrate artistic expression, stress and tension may abate and become easier to manage. A social movement can take place in a voting booth, during a protest march or on a battlefield. But a far more powerful and long lasting change can be realized when we join forces and use our power and energy artistically in activities that link us together creatively.  We can then be more tolerant and flexible when we find ourselves under pressure. And we can discover the beauty of sharing the social dance, even when the music isn’t playing.

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