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Ace of Elements

Written for the Shaw Method Newsletter (

Ace of Elements

Water, the ace of elements. Water dives from the clouds without parachute, wings or safety net. Water runs over the steepest precipice and blinks not a lash. Water is buried and rises again, water walks on fire and fire gets the blisters. Stylishly composed in any situation – solid, gas or liquid – speaking in penetrating dialects understood by all things – animal vegetable or mineral – water travels intrepidly through four dimensions.  Tom Robbins.

Fluidity of normal human structuring: hydraulics.

All life is watery. Every living cell has a water content essential to its functioning. In overall terms, human beings turn out to be about 60% water. Even bones in our living bodies are 50% water, with of course organs and blood at much higher levels. Human structure could be described as fluid hydraulic rather than solid mechanical. Part of the economy of construction and flexible strength of the human body is due to the incompressibility of fluids.

Strength of a tree

The power of water is elegantly demonstrated by the way that living trees can support their own weight. In a big tree, a bough growing out of the main trunk might weigh 5or more tons. You try holding a weight out at arms length all day, and this tree has been doing it for hundreds of years, and its relatives for millions of years before we even showed up on the planet!

Enormous amounts of water are continuously elevated through the one-way, antigravity, capillary valving systems…the tree’s high tensile, fiber cell sacs are everywhere full of liquid… Liquids are noncompressible, yet distribute their local stress loadings evenly in all directions… sometimes in an ice storm the tree freezes, the liquids cannot distribute their loads, and the branches break off and fall to the ground…This high-tension sac’s web design with its hydraulic-compression coping and pneumatic shock absorbing is much the same structural system nature employs in the design of humans Buckminster Fuller

Tensional Integrity

Hydraulics, together with the concept of Tensional Integrity (tensegrity), goes a long way towards explaining the remarkable properties of our bodies to absorb and distribute stress evenly. You could say that a Man is water’s way of colonising the land; we are systems of water bags – a bit like the air balloons twisted into animal shapes by the conjuror at a children’s party. Tensegrity, as discovered by Ken Snelson in 1948 and developed and named by Bucky Fuller, has recently been shown experimentally by Ken Ingber at Harvard to be a good “fit” in terms of explaining how individual cells adapt to structural stress. It also works at the macro level to describe the interaction of the bones and the soft tissues. Without the soft tissues, and especially the branch known as the fasciae, we are literally a pile of bones on the ground. See and


It is the enveloping network of the fasciae, or wrappings, that both connect and animates us. Muscles are the power units that move the system, but the fascial network is a pre-tensioned structure the integrity of which is maintained by continuous tension – a more elusive concept harder to see in structures – not surprising when you remember that gravity itself is a tensional force, invisibly operating to hold you onto the Earth, the Earth in it’s orbit around the Sun and the sun in orbit around the galaxy!!!

This shift to looking at the tensionally organised fascial network requires a shift to looking at the body through fluid rather than solid mechanics.  There’s been a seemingly inevitable tendency to apply a Victorian iron bridge model of struts and beams like a Brunel bridge to our conception of the human structure. Your body is more like a finely spun suspension bridge without the massive end supports – harder to visualise at this point in time perhaps – tensegrity models being so thin on the ground.

Fuller’s geodesic domes have many tensional elements – but it’s hard to see which of the triangulated struts are pulling tensionally and which are pressing compressionally. In the Fuller/Snelson tensegrity structure the forces are separated out for all to see, the bones are floating in the network of cables, and keeping them from coalescing into a big knot.

To understand the role of the fascial system think about looking at a photographic negative – what you see is the opposite of what shows up in the photograph proper. Now think of your conception of the body – bones and muscles, organs, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Let these, the contents of the body recede into the background and highlight the system of bags, the fasciae which wrap, envelop, separate and at the same time connect every part of these contents. These fasciae are the context for the content.


“When you take a system apart, it’s no longer a system”                                                   Russell Ackoff

The study of anatomy began with the public dissection of executed criminals at the beginning of the Renaissance. In many ways anatomy was the first science, the epitome of the analytical method – literally cutting bodies up to see how they worked. Putting them back together in terms of understanding has taken about 500 years so far. There’s a big difference between the massive amount of data & information yielded by analysis of the parts, and the understanding and knowledge that arises from an overview to see the true relationships between the parts of the body in context. Ackoff says there are 5 kinds of content in the human mind; data, information, understanding, knowledge and wisdom. It’s a hierarchy. Given the complexity of life, human structure and indeed the human being, it’s hardly surprising that this is ‘work in progress’

Aquatic ape hypothesis

Human shed salt-water tears in common with water-dwelling mammals such as whales and dolphin, and unlike all other primates. Similarly we have relatively hairless bodies and abundant sebaceous glands like hippos that spend most of their time in the water. The hair we do have is streamlined. Stand a chimpanzee under a shower and you’ll see what I am getting at – its hair does not flow with the water direction but sticks out in all directions. Deprive most animals of water and they can survive 25% dehydration. Human beings die with 15% dehydration. Even the unique faculty of the human voice is connected with our relationship with water. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we have an extraordinary affinity with H20. It was Elaine Morgan who wrote up and brought to popular attention Sir Alister Hardy’s extraordinary 1960 theory that stunned paleoarchaeologists into a silence that continues to this day. Best introduction to the AAH is via Algis Kuliukas It’s easy to think that those early bones dug out of the parched and arid Olduvai Gorge by the Leakeys belonged to desert-dwelling hominids. In fact they lived on the shores of a huge lake, which filled the great African rift valley at the time they were living. This evidence suggests that humanity had a semiaquatic stage in its evolution. We almost went back into the water like the true aquatic mammals seen today, the cetaceans.

Dr. Batman “you are not sick, you are thirsty!”

Dr Feyredoon Batmatghelidj, one of Alexander Fleming’s last students at medical school (St. Mary’s, Paddington) went home to Iran and got caught up in the Ayatollahs revolution, so caught up in fact that he was imprisoned and only avoided execution by agreeing to work as prison doctor. Over a 5-year period, through desperation and an absence of any medicines, he started prescribing water to his fellow

inmates. Gradually he realised that many conditions could be alleviated with an intake of this wonderful colourless fluid.  By fortunate coincidence I first heard about Dr. Batman’s work in Mt. Shasta, the little known Pacific Rim volcano at the head of the central valley of California. From here the Sacramento River arises and flows south to meet the Fresno River and form

the San Francisco bay. The water here is so good that Mt. Shasta city water department pumps it straight to the municipal supply without treatment or chlorination, and people drive from miles around to fill their bottles from the spring. So if you want to taste water like nectar, water so good that it’s all you want to drink, visit Mt. Shasta, where, incidentally, my teacher Joseph Heller lives and works these days.

Research in Germany concluded that children between the ages on one and four often drink too little. 1-4 years olds are especially sensitive to dehydration and should drink almost one quart a day, besides what they get at meals. On average, they drink a third less than this – and not always by choice. The researchers found that in 1 case out of 5, a child’s request for something to drink was refused by the parents!

Swimming in chlorinated water for long periods is unpleasant and drinking it isn’t a very good idea either. There are also problems inherent in mineral water, distilled water, and the popular jug filters. The best solution to the drinking water problem is reverse osmosis, a technology that arose out of the need in the electronics industry for pure water. If you do drink tap water, run it into an open top jug and let it stand for an hour before drinking. Because Chlorine is a gas at room temperature, it will boil off and the water will taste sweeter.

Water in Universe.

Earth is the only place in the Universe with substantial quantities (oceans) of water in liquid form. Anywhere else except inside this biosphere this water, and that includes us, as we are watery creatures, would either be boiling, evaporated, frozen or incandescent. In fact even here on the home planet, the actual amount of water is surprisingly little, compared, for instance with the mass of the Earth itself. Imagine a steel ball 12″ in diameter to represent the Earth. Now breathe onto the ball, and imagine the water condensing from your breath onto the surface of the ball. That, proportionately, is the relative quantity of water compared to the size of the planet. The Earth is 8,000 miles in diameter; the deepest ocean is as deep as Mt. Everest is high (about 5 miles). On that steel ball the proportionate depth is three one-thousandths of an inch – far less than the depth of the ink on this page.

The extraordinary fact that the solid form of water floats, ice that is, is not just important for your iced drink. Think about it: if ice sank, then long ago all the available water on the planet would have been locked up at the bottom of a frozen ocean.

There is so much that is fascinating and important about water. I hope this short article gives you food for thought, or should I say water for thought, and that you follow up by looking at the web links and doing your own research. Other topics could include water birth, Michel Odent’s research on the importance of seafood and EFAs for brain development, the recent world water report, Dr. Emoto’s work on the memory of water, Johann Grander’s work on the revitalisation of water and more about the unique chemistry of water, the universal solvent.

My own book The Owners Guide to the Body has a section on water and more information about the tensegrity & fluidity of the human structure.

Roger Golten drinks 4L of pure water every day (during the day so he doesn’t have to get up in the night). As well as an accomplished frisbee player (World Championships 1982) he recently compled.

The Shaw Method swimming diploma course and is a Hellerwork Structural Integration Practitioner, in which he trained in 1983 in California and has been practising ever since.

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1 Comment

  1. labuelvis on June 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Do not look at the body as 600 individual muscles but as 1 fascial system with 600 compartments. – Thomas Myers

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