Tension & Integrity
As part of my preparations for the upcoming Mentorship program that I am offering in January, I have been diving back in to some of my favorite textbooks. My current reading has re-inspired my interest in the concept of Tensegrity.
Tensegrity is a term coined by renowned architect Buckminster Fuller to describe a design principle in which a discontinuous set of compression elements is opposed and balanced by a continuous tensile force, thereby creating an internal pre-stress that stabilizes the entire structure. Source: http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Tensegrity
OK. That’s a bit heady. It makes more sense to me when I understand that the term Tensegrity is a contraction of the two words “tension” and “integrity”. And, the principle can apply to the architecture of our bodies.
It is the right amount of tension that helps us maintain integrity in our body architecture. Tension provides us with the feedback we need to move in an integrated and controlled way. It allows us to be truly mobile.
Tension allows us to change shape, withstand outside forces with resilience, and “bounce back” after we have undertaken a shape or movement. How this all works is easy to see with my Tensegrity toy.
This children’s toy has been a favorite gift to give to my loved ones upon the arrival of a new family member. When I realized that it was also the perfect way to demonstrate tensegrity, I got one for myself! The toy has wooden dowels (= bones) connected to balls (= joints) and to each other with elastics (= muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia). None of the dowels actually touches each other and yet the toy holds its shape. And in a similar way, this is true for us, too!
Tension on the elastic elements of our bodies connect into our joints and provides feedback that allows us to move with integrity. The balance of tension and integrity is directly linked to our mobility. And mobility can be defined as your ability to actively choose the position you want to be in.
So, what does this have to do with yoga? Tension and integrity are key aspects of asana practice. Ultimately, we want to move well and do our poses with enough integrity so that our asana practice is sustainable over the long term. Sustainable practice also invites us to listen to the interplay of tension and integrity in our bodies. Where might we be “hanging out” in a pose? Are we pushing too hard and going past the point of integrity? Where are we too tense and where are we able to create more support?
Lately, I have been asking participants in my classes to flow between positions, like downward dog and plank, as slowly and smoothly as possible. This is just one way to explore Tensegrity on the mat. When practicing, I invite you to notice when you feel like you are in control of your movements, when they might feel jerky, and when your poses move into a place of strain. When the movement is truly fluid, it is because of a harmonious interplay of integrity and tension.
Wishing you a sustainable and joyful practice!
If you are curious about how the concept of Tensegrity can support you as a yoga teacher, please check out my Mentorship program and connect with my if you have any questions!