What is all this about gravity?

This is the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. It started going off its plumbline soon after it was built and it has continued to tilt more and more over time – until 2001, when a structural overhaul was completed and the tower was brought closer to its plumb-line. The Leaning Tower of Pisa can lean only as long as it does not exceed a certain critical angle. In the long run (ok, with a building like this, it is a very long run) every structure has to be brought into alignment with gravity or it will topple.


A crooked tree is in a comparatively better position; it can change the direction in which it grows and thus adapt to gravity. Have you ever thought about how the human body structure achieves or loses stability?

The human body is subject to the influence of gravity just like any other three-dimensional structure. However, we are rarely aware of this simple but fundamental fact. Gravity is energy that we cannot
see or hear, we cannot smell or touch.

Perhaps you know someone with a shorter leg. If you take a closer look, you may be able to see that this person’s spine has bent to the other side in order to compensate for the uneven support. After all,
the body’s weight cannot be distributed evenly on uneven legs.

The elderly lady with the hunched back, who passed you in the street the other day, has the same problem: She is constantly struggling with gravity to be able to stand upright.

Extreme examples like these help us realize what is true for everybody: No matter what we are doing, whether we are moving, standing or sitting, we must deal with gravity. In fact, we are constantly dealing with it. In general, we do that unconsciously with subtle changes of position. We are never really still. Adapting to the demands of gravity can be a more or less successful, more or less economical enterprise, depending upon the degree of balance we have attained in our body-structure.

Being Upright And Letting Gravity Help You With It

Do you remember stacking up building blocks when you were a kid? You quickly discovered how to stack the blocks so that the pile would not collapse. You also realized that the more precisely you put the blocks right on top of each other, the more stable the stack was going to be. And as you were a curious little person, you tested how far the individual blocks could be off the centerline of the pile without crashing it.
The simple example of a pile of building blocks illustrates a very important point: If all segments are precisely aligned on top of each other the resulting structure will be stable and perfectly balanced.

Of course the human body is not a stack of building blocks. In many ways, it rather resembles Buckminster Fuller’s tensegrity structures, which are composed of solid struts connected by tensional webbing. In such a structure, the tensional web holds the struts in place, while the struts act as “spacers” spreading out the web. This has the advantage of being much lighter than a stack of blocks (not to speak of being more mobile.)
Together, solid spacers and “soft” tensional elements form a stable structure if the tension in the web is just right. (Old fashioned tents work the same way.)
In the upright human being, most of the muscle mass of the body is in more or less vertical alignment. When a human being stands up, the force of gravity puts a certain amount of tension into the soft tissue network, simply by pulling on the weight of the muscles. Because muscles are interwoven with the fascial web, that tension is distributed all throughout the body. Gravity (weight) creates the shape-giving tension in the tensional network of the body. You do not have to do anything, you do not have to contract anything to get this kind of structural stability.
Like a tensegrity structure, the human body can stand without a lot of muscular effort. The connective tissue’s elastic bounce can be used to make movement easier and more efficient. Its shock-absorption qualities protect joints, discs and internal organs from damage.

Gravity in Motion

Unlike tensegrity structures, however, humans move. And while half of our muscular system (the phasic half) is there to move the body into big, sweeping motion, the other half (called tonic) is in charge of making those subtle changes in posture, which are necessary to balance the body in motion and keep it upright.
Adapting to the demands of gravity can be a more or less successful, more or less economical enterprise, depending upon the degree of balance we have attained in our body-structure. When the “natural” tensions in the web are not quite perfect, tonic musculature can compensate. However, the associated struggles and thickenings in the fascia decrease adaptability. The tonic system is so busy keeping us upright that it has no capacities left for subtler postural adaptations. As the phasic muscles increasingly have to overcome the tonic muscles’ postural efforts, dancing, exercise, even everyday motions become more difficult. Movement is not as smooth and graceful as it could be, the odd back-, neck – or other pain may appear. Over a lifetime, such compensations take their toll – disc prolapses, back-pain, lack of flexibility, feeling tired, burnt-out, “getting old.”
Movement is at its best when the body “knows” its line, when the perfect stack of building blocks is its natural, easy position. Then, in order to start a movement, your muscles will only need to let go a little to disturb the stack and allow gravity to add momentum. Rather than working against the muscles which are locked into holding you upright, the phasic muscles will be free to powerfully enhance the motion’s force or speed. At the end of the movement, your body won’t have to struggle to return to upright. Instead, it can approximate and leave the finishing touches to the fascial tensional structure. Your body will return to equilibrium by itself.
Movement with gravity is initiated by a tiny release, a letting go of tension. It is more graceful, more controlled, and more powerful. It also subjects the body to much less injury and pain. Last but not least, it can be a lot more fun. Personally, I find the experience of gravity-aided motion absolutely exhilarating.