Form and Function

by Wayne Still
siIn the  fall of 1970 the great love of my life, Kathleen, joined me in Istanbul, Turkey. We were on our way to India and the adventures that lay in store for us. We spent our days in Istanbul wandering the streets, exploring the museums and markets of that ancient city. One day we came upon a group of old men who were hanging around a large building. What made this group of old men remarkable was that they were all permanently bent forward at the waist at about a sixty degree angle, their backs were flat.

The mystery of why this should be so was solved when one of them emerged from the building  carrying a long wooden box of lead printing slugs used when type was set by hand. Evidently the building was a foundry where the slugs were made and the men were couriers who delivered them. The form of their bodies had been permanently altered to accommodate their function of carrying the heavy weight of the boxes. One can only imagine the pain they must have experienced in their permanent fight with gravity. This was an extreme example of form being altered for the sake of function but lesser examples abound in our culture.

The form our bodies have at this time is that of a hunter gatherer. It is optimized for running long distances to hunt for game and gather food stuffs. It can also carry heavy loads back to the family camp site. It is a form not well suited to what has become a sedentary life style. Interestingly enough there are those who are actively using the bodies capacity to run long distances and participate in other endurance activities. Only now they do it for sport rather than survival. Usually their form is more akin to that of our hunter gatherer ancestors than those who do not exercise. The epidemic of obesity which plagues our culture is an example of how function can be negatively affected by form. The obese body would not do well running down game as our forebears did. Body form being altered by an amputation is another example of how form and function are connected.
Dr. Ida P Rolf observed that when we look at the human body we are seeing the relationship between flexors and extensors, the two muscle groups which work together in a reciprocal fashion to create movement. In turn these muscle groups are composed of fascia which is one form of connective tissue, the organ of form, of which our bodies are made. Connective tissue is plastic in nature and has a memory akin to that of an elastic band so once its form has been determined it will always return to that form.
It is a curious thing that the body will stubbornly continue to return to a dysfunctional form and negatively affected function even when it is obviously not in its best interests to do so. Why this should be so has no easy answer but it does create a dynamic which makes work for bodyworkers like me.
There is one other constant in the world besides death and taxes and that is that when connective tissue is stressed it gets shorter to support itself. Even when the stressor is gone the tissue stays short, its form has been altered. This often leads to discomfort in the function related to the area so affected. What a bodyworker does is to restore length to the tissue so that its function can return to normal. Essentially we are giving the tissue a new memory. So when you find your function being impaired don’t hesitate to see a bodyworker to restore your form.