Your body is tensile!


As the awareness of our breath tends to be uneducated, so too does the awareness of our bodies. Your body is more than a cart for carrying around your head!

Everyone knows that the body is made up of bones and muscles, and many know that it is all held together by connective tissue called fascia. Since our thinking still tends to be mechanical, very often we think of the body as a mechanical structure, in which the bones are levers and the muscles are pulleys. Like when you lift weights.


mechanical model of body

This is not incorrect when you consider the big muscles of the body, but the body is so much more than this. The body is a tensile structure, which means that it has tension, and that it can be stretched and drawn out. Not even our bones are fixed! Bones are made of millions of cells joined together and are designed to flex in three dimensions under pressure.

Our joints are not mechanical either, but composed of a dense web of connections that provide for stretching, twisting, flexing, lengthening and shortening. In fact, if you imagine the body as a computer simulation made up of thousands of lines all crisscrossing each other, you will have a better model of the body than our old mechanical picture.

tension model of body

Why do visuals matter?

Because it is one of the most important ways we consciously explore and interact with our bodies. We certainly have wiring for basic movements dating back to our reptilian ancestry and genes, and many patterns in our bodies are automatic, or nearly so. But our conscious movements depend on our brains. If we see the arm as a lever and pulley, we will only move it as a lever and pulley. If we see it and move it as a tensile structure, which can move like a snake in three dimensions, our range of movement will be much greater.

range of movement

And if we see the body as a tensile structure…

We will have a more accurate map through which we can explore and use our bodies. And also a way to begin to make sense of the connection between our physical bodies and the energy locked into them.

Whoa! What are you saying?

The body is a tensile structure. It is under tension. If it were not, we would be formless blobs on the floor!

What is tension? Muscles contract because of a chemical bond between myosin and actin. When that bond is released, and the muscle relaxes, energy is released. The tighter the body, the more energy we are using to keep it that way.

So releasing tension releases energy?

Yes, it does. The energy we store as tension becomes available for other uses, such as increasing our awareness and perception. Let’s leave that until later, though. For now, let’s focus on releasing tension and making space in the body.

Making space?

If tension is contraction, then releasing tension is expansion. The spine is a set of rings held tightly together. When we begin to release the tension holding the rings together we get more space between them. It’s very useful to think of working with the body this way: making space in it.

Won’t we become formless blobs on the floor if we do that?

Hah! No, not at all. We just aren’t wired that way. If anything, we are wired a little too tightly and need to loosen things up!

So how do we start?

You can start anywhere, but there are a few good ways to release lines of tension in the body that pretty much work for everyone.

Begin by lying on your side in the position shown below. When you get stretched out, you’ll find the tension raises your head a little.

twist position

The position of the legs and arms and whether your knees are bent or not is unimportant. Find a position where the tension is more or less evenly distributed from your foot to your head. It should be a position that has tension but is not painful.

When you are stretched out, you will find a line of tension that runs along the top of the upper leg from the foot to the hip, curls underneath your body at the waist and crosses up and over your chest, shoulder and arm.

line of tension

Breathe in, and breathe down through your pelvis towards your feet. (Remember breathing down?)

It may take a couple breaths, but when you breathe down, it becomes possible to stretch the entire line. Your head will drop and your pelvis will move away from your rib cage. Your spine may sway a bit up to your head; let your body move as it wants to. Presto! Instant space between your hips and ribs.

tension stretch release

Play with the position a bit, stretch a little more, find a little more tension and breathe down. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Try the other side, too!

tension stretch release - other side

A variation that beautifully works the front line of the body is to arc the upper side of the body and then release. As with the twist, the exact position is not important, simply find the tension in your own body in any position that feels right. The point of your hip will be at the top of the arc.

front tension stretch

Breathe in and breathe down. Let your body move from the hip. Repeat on the other side!

This works for everybody?

Maybe, maybe not. Every human body on the planet is unique, with a unique set of patterns of tension and energy. What will be a position of tension for one person may not be tense for someone else.

The important thing to remember is that it is YOUR body, and you are seeking to release tension and make space. What you will find is that there is no end to the possible positions! Have fun!


  1. mikeinqueensland says:

    I’ve just had a laminectomy on several lumbar vertebrae. This series has made a huge difference to my daily effectiveness (not to mention pain management). Thank you. M

    • I’m really delighted to hear that. I believe in modern medicine, but even doctors will admit that the best they can do is give the body a better chance to heal itself.

      A couple years ago, I had a 300 pound Hawaiian man come to my class for about six weeks. He was a Vietnam vet with artificial hips who had spent more than 30 years on serious pain medications. When he arrived the first day, he needed 10 minutes to climb a flight of stairs with a cane, and another five minutes to maneuver himself to a sitting position on the floor. After six weeks, he stopped coming to class because he felt well enough to have sex with his girlfriend every day. Unfortunately for him, that was not quite the relationship she thought she was in!

      It’s a dramatic story, to be sure. But it seems obvious that every point of pain in the body is surrounded by a network of tension trying to support the hurt place. Reduce even the surrounding tension, and both movement and healing will be enhanced. Keep at it, and you may wind up improving everything!

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