Book Review: Muscles and Meridians by Phillip Beach

Osteopath and Acupuncturist Phillip Beach has written a paradigm changing book because he skilfully challenges many of the assumptions we have about the living body, the organisation of movement, and what is important to function at our biomechanical potential as we age, move and live.

Beach looks at modelling theory, embryology and the vertebrate body plan to outline a model of the underlying patterns of contractility on a whole living system scale. The Contractile Field model he proposes is novel in many ways. Each field of contractility has a sense organ embedded in it. This is an attempt to place in the model the primacy of our nose/eyes, ears, mouth, tongue, hands feet, genitals, and anus to how and why we employ contractile elements to move ourselves. The sub-occipital region is given great importance. The model creates conceptual space for the visceral musculature, the kidneys and blood which are all mesodermal structures. If we develop this way in-utero, why wouldn’t this view guide us as we continue to develop in the world?  Beach outlines each of the fields and explains how they interact and interdepend.  I particularly enjoyed his introduction of the term ‘biomechanical tune’ as a metaphor for a living harmonious body.

Beach discusses how we can maintain our biomechanical tune by embracing the floor as a place to live from.  He introduces archetypal postures of repose from different cultural contexts as essential self tuning mechanisms that our modern lifestyle neglects. It makes sense when you consider that when we live from chair height, that we would slowly but surely erode approximately one third of our dynamic and functional basis for movement through loss of length-tension relationships and the full opening and closing of joint articulations.

Another important practical aspect of this book is the role and importance of the feet.  Beach explains that feet are as biologically important as the eyes, ears, nose and hands from a sensory perspective, and he points out important links between the feet and low back through feedback/feedforward neural loops.

“Shoes… are sensory deprivation chambers that cut down the raw information we need to stand and walk in our precarious upright manner.”  Beach recommends walking on pebbles and other tactile surfaces to retain good balance and reduce musculoskeletal pains.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in manual therapy, developmental movement, physical preparation, exercise and ways of restoring the body for full function through a lifespan.  The book is available from Phillip’s web-site;  www.phillipbeach.com

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