Tensegrity in Bodywork

Adaptive tensegrity structures can model dynamic homeostasis. A complex (enough) tensegrity map of the body could be superposed on top of a 3D scan of a person. Such a method would be systematic and replicable and thus would move the field of bodywork towards a more objective and scientific approach. Something along this line could be utilized to create a diagnostic method and then an intervention strategy to correct imbalances.

Context: Tom Flemons Archive

Tensegrity body map superposed on a 3D scan of a person

(Sept 26, 2015) As to your ideas regarding modelling dynamic homeostasis and its use in clinical applications, I have an idea of how this might work.

Tensegrity is, I believe, a sufficiently complex enough methodology to usefully explicate the dynamic features of structural anatomy. The map is never the territory but still must incorporate enough detail to help navigate a complex terrain. Ideally, I envision a method whereby a complex (enough) tensegrity map of the body could be superposed on top of a 3D scan of an actual person.

Subtle distortions and imbalances in the body would transfer to the model and using force vector analysis would disclose a global map of the tension matrix. Thirty years of building and balancing complex tensegrity models have suggested to me the possibility that a similar approach might apply to clinical interventions to correct restrictions and dysfunction in the body.

When I build for example a simple 6 strut model inevitably it is a bit out of balance. In an ideal balanced model the three pairs of struts are oriented at 90 degrees to one another and each pair are parallel to one another. Moving any one strut’s position by shortening or lengthening adjacent tension members inevitably changes all the other components simultaneously and it can be amazingly hard to know what needs tightening and what needs loosening. In fact the overall configuration can get worse at first on its way to being balanced and symmetrical. When I wrote the assembly manual for building the Skwish it ran to over 30 pages with diagrams. But the adjustment section was longer than the assembly section!

I think it’s possible to design a system that does something similar for the vastly more complicated tensegrity model of the body. Such a method would be systematic and replicable and thus would move the field of bodywork towards a more objective and scientific approach. I can simulate this idea crudely in my models but I realize that a computer simulation would be far superior because it could be complex enough to derive useful information to suggest effective interventions.

I saw something out of a lab in Japan that has the beginnings of a similar idea. A researcher showed how to fine tune a tensegrity by superimposing a real time scan of it upon a 3D computer simulation of the ideal state. As it approached the ideal required, the nodes of the model and the simulation would coincide and light up to denote a successful match. Something along this line could be utilized to create a diagnostic method and then an intervention strategy to correct imbalances. I think the key here is to build a model complex enough but not so complex that it defeats useful analysis. We are assuming of course that tensegrity is a complex enough system that useful predictions could emerge from such an analysis.

At the moment (for example) rote structural integration approaches (the 10 treatment sessions) are I feel too crude and generalized to be effective for specific cases. I think this idea I’m proposing is close to what you are talking about. I can see how over time with the use of effective computer simulations of tensegrity mapping of the body, such a system could be very useful in treating structural dysfunction. It would require the contributions of knowledgeable people such as Chaitow or Myers but if a modelling system was built that they could use and fine tune we could be satisfied that we have created something useful to the field.


In order to act on Tom’s suggestion of superposing a tensegrity map on a 3D scan of an actual person, we must first create a reconfigurable full-body tensegrity model by building on the ideas in Tensegrity Biomimicry of an Entire Organism, Layered Design for a Full-Body Tensegrity Model, and Tensegrity biped design from 2015.


How tensegrity can help with bodywork

(Oct 8, 2017) As for how tensegrity approaches can help with the bodywork I have many ideas which are not completely developed but I think have great promise. Structural anatomy raises so many problems that aren’t being addressed that I think our approach which is tangential is still the best.  So I hope we can continue with this and continue to collaborate.

Scientific precision is needed; a series of stretches based on tensegrity principles

(May 8, 2016) I get google alerts on tensegrity and biotensegrity daily and from the results that pop up can clearly see where this is headed. Rather than being a scientific endeavor, it has become an almost meaningless piece of jargon used freely by every clinician, yoga teacher, massage therapist etc. for whatever use they can devise. It has assumed the same degree of meaning as nebulous concepts like energy medicine, karma, wellness, balance, spirit etc. Without a definition there is no way to grasp the concept or use it productively.

For example, I have devised a series of stretches that are derived directly from my work with tensegrities. I can explain the theory behind them and how they work at restoring integrity to the body based on actual examples from tensegrity and geometrical models. I suppose if I wanted to I could start my own school of tensegrity biomechanics and kinesiology and at least they would be based on a deep understanding of the underlying principle behind tensegrity as it applies to vertebrate life.

(Nov 22, 2016) Everybody uses tensegrity to improve their brand of clinical intervention but their use is very superficial. I showed him my series of exercises I’ve devised based on how I adjust the balance in a tensegrity I’ve built and how it could form the basis of a science that explicates the efficacy of yoga, structural integration etc.

Above Tom mentions that he has many  ideas about using tensegrity to help with bodywork. Sadly we do not have details of his ideas in writing. Instead we have the following comments about the use of evolving tensegrity structures to model changes in body shape across generations. This might be relevant to bodywork, where evolving tensegrity structures can be used to model changes in body shape within a lifetime.

Tensegrity organisms to study models of evolution

(Oct 24, 2017) Briefly though, I like your idea and can see where it could lead. As you know tensegrity structures reveal and respond to forces acting upon them in a unique way unlike any other structure. It would of course be possible to use some stick mannequin figure as a template to test evolutionary algorithms, but the whole point as I see it is to show evolutionary adaptation through morphology over time in response to environmental demands whether cumulative and/or stochastic and nothing could demonstrate this better than a tensegrity matrix.   I envision beginning with a tensegrity sphere representing a prokaryotic cell that morphs into eukaryotic forms over time.  This could be represented by individual tensegrity modules connecting according to the rules we’ve already established and again over time morphing and changing by the addition of appendages, tails, legs etc. elongating or thickening as needed to respond to an evolutionary challenge. If an algorithm could be written that codifies simple basic rules of assembly and transformation as we have already discussed in our paper and then set free in a simulated environment I suspect that we would find fantastic and fabulous creatures spontaneously assembling through an iterative process – evolutionary machine learning… what a terrific project this could turn into! But what a challenge. Rules would have to be developed whereby actuator ‘muscles’ could spontaneously attach and extend to the tensegrity framework as required. Again, I think some of the preliminary work has already been done with my tensegrity aggregates…

(Nov 21, 2017) Here is my suggestions for how tensegrity constructions could help with the simulation.  To begin with, if as you propose, we can dispense with prokaryote life forms, and begin our evolutionary drama at some point well into the history of life in an environment planet –  with complex lifeforms say at the equivalent of an epic transition like the Cambrian explosion,  then we would begin with a modular form that had a fixed number of struts and a variety of facets that could accept attachments In the form of appendages, tails, wings, fins…  The best candidate for that is of course the expanded octahedron tensegrity with six struts, 8 tension triangles, and six dihedral diamonds. The reasoning is: that it is symmetrical,  and has multiple facets that can be opened up and mast-like appendages knitted onto it. This gets you only so far though because the resolution would be rather crude.  The next step would be to define  rules by which a simple tensegrity structure could become a complex one.

One way would be to consider the struts dividing like mitosis.   A six strut expanded octahedron when doubled to 12 struts turns into a snub cube  which then has square facets as well as triangular facets to attach other modules to.

Another way is to play this out like a video game where under certain conditions a simple tensegrity magically morphs into it more complicated one based on some forcing rules which stand-in for evolutionary pressures.   Like in video games you have to have at your disposal certain attributes or powers which allows you to advance to the next level. We could say that amore complex being with prototype appendages could crawl out of a simulated ocean for example and get on to dry land. The hub sin qua non that would give you a much higher resolution is the Rhombicicosadecahedron  which has 60 struts, 30 rhombic faces, 20 triangular faces, and 12 pentagonal faces. Any one of these faces or facets could be opened up to receive a mast-like module or another spheroid module.  This is the simplest complex form which has all three basic types of facets, triangular, square, pentagonal. i.e. it gives you the most versatility to build from.

More complex shapes can be built as well…  for example a 60 strut icosahedron-based sphere, if halved, can be knitted back together to form an ovoid shape much like a football.

This raises another question though, if the goal is to simulate and do a good job of mimicking actual evolutionary processes on this planet then high-resolution structures akin to Tomohiro Tachi’s tensegrity bunny would be required.  However at this point we are only modelling envelopes and not actual physiological processes in the body. How to account for such evolutionary advantages as sensory apparatus needed to allow for vision, hearing, touch, taste etc. I suppose you could just assume these features but surely an evolutionary process has to take them into account somehow… One suggestion would be to assign different colours to struts or tension members which denote sensory organs. Another is to allow for fractal tensegrities of smaller dimensions to be added to basic structures which would be equivalent to sensory organs.

Anyway this is a basic thinking I’ve been doing for the past several weeks and hopefully this will spark further conversations.

Tensegrity model of cytoskeleton

(June 25, 2016) I understand the cytoskeleton to be a rather chaotic system – myriads of tubules and filaments attached in anything but ordered symmetry – everything vibrating and changing in very short periods of time. Mechanotransduction as a communication system between cells must be a very complex process which would test the tensegrity model to its limits. But then a model only has to be complex enough to be useful. Too complex and the map approaches the territory and confuses rather than clarifies. I think it’s quite possible to expand the definitions of tensegrities to include structures that radically change their form through altering the lengths of components and the kinds and locations of attachments between tension and compression components. Compression members can also accept tensile forces and under some circumstances tensile meshes (such as fascial wrappings) can assume compressive duties.