Connective Tissue as an Energetic and Informational Continuum

Pages: 5-15
Year: 2003
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute – Summer / August 2003 – Vol 31 nº 03

Volume: 31


Those who are interested in fascia and connective tissue occasionally get glimpses of remarkable phenomena that are at the edge of perception and that seem inexplicable in terms of science. This article looks at a number of such phenomena that give us insights into the role of the connective tissue/ living matrix as a whole-person medium for energy flows and non-neural communication and “consciousness.” Examples from peak experiences in therapeutics and human performance in general, the martial arts, continuum movement, and recent research on acupuncture are used to develop a plausible explanation for phenomena that have been elusive in the past. The emerging concepts have practical implications for all therapists and performers, and for understanding trauma.


We have all been fascinated by the experience of working with fascia and other parts of the connective tissue system. Those who look for explanations of what is happening when they interact with connective tissue can find much valuable information in the scientific literature, for this is a topic that has engaged generations of scientists. Over the years I have attempted to bring some of this information to the bodywork community through various articles and books (see Appendix). But when we look more closely, we get a sense that something vital is missing, that there are deeper levels of wisdom that lie just beyond our perception and beyond our usual analytical tools. In this article I would like to explore some of these deeper levels from several different perspectives.


The Rolfing®/Structural Integration community has played a key role in this inquiry. For me, the process began when Peter Melchior summarized the research of Harold Saxton Burr, a Professor at Yale School of Medicine. Between the 1930’s and 1950’s, Burr published a series of important papers on biological electricity and its implications for diagnosis and treatment. But even more interesting than the research itself was the fact that his findings were virtually ignored by the scientific and medical community. A few critiques of Burr’s work were published, and one group was unable to replicate some of Burr’s findings. But his work was never given the treatment appropriate for its importance. I found the lack of academic interest to be as remarkable as the results themselves. I had naively assumed that other scientists shared my thirst for innovative concepts and data that could lead to new avenues of exploration. Since then I have learned that:

“There are several ways the scientific community treats new scientific concepts. A breakthrough may be embraced and quickly developed into a new and productive avenue of exploration. This happens very rarely. A second process involves careful intellectual analysis of the concept and its acceptance or rejection on logical grounds. While we might expect this procedure to be the hallmark of good science, sadly it happens rarely. A third, and very common treatment, well suited to the lazy and unprepared mind, is simply to ignore the new work.”

Several recent discussions precipitated the picture that I shall summarize here. In June of 1999, Emmett Hutchins asked a question about the results of Valerie Hunt’s studies of various dancers, including Emilie Conrad. Dr. Hunt had a telemetric electromyographic system that she used in her famous studies on the effects of Rolfing (Hunt and Massey 1977a). This system uses electrodes to detect the electrical activity at the muscle points on the body. These are the points on the skin just above the myoneural junctions where the motor nerves synapse on the muscles. By picking up these electrical activities and sending them via radio to a recording system, Dr. Hunt was able to determine which muscles were being used as subjects moved about. The subjects, before and after Rolfing, were asked to climb stairs, throw balls, etc. Among other things, the recorded myographic patterns documented changes in efficiency of movement after the Rolf work had been done. This study was published in Psychoenergetic Systems (Hunt and Massey 1977b).


The results with the dancers were reported in Dr. Hunt’s book, Infinite Mind, The Science of Human Vibrations (Hunt 1989). Apparently Dr. Hunt had observed a kind of movement that was very different from the neuromuscular phenomena that are so well described in the physiological literature. Among other things, this different kind of movement seems effortless, appears to defy our normal concepts of “range of motion,” and does not involve the usual neuromuscular activation at the motor end plates, as measured by electromyography. The patterns of movement are under little if any conscious control. One has to relax into a different state of consciousness to experience them. Some kind of non-neural activation of the musculature seems to be involved.

Emilie Conrad has applied these discoveries in a remarkable process that helps individuals with spinal cord injuries to begin to move again, even when the spinal cord has been severed. Her success demonstrates that there is another communication system in the body. This system may involve the nerves to some extent, but is probably primarily in the connective tissue.

Hunt’s findings were so extraordinary that they had to be wrong. Scientists had no interest in following up on them. As far as I know, there have been no efforts to replicate Hunt’s fascinating electromyographic studies. It took over a year to research Emmett’s question. Gradually I pieced together a logical explanation that might give a basis for further exploration and discussion. This article is intended to stimulate such discussion.

Key to the exploration was the experience of Emilie Conrad’s evolutionary movement work, called Continuum Movement. Emilie’s approach arose in part from experiences she and Dr. Hunt had in an isolation chamber at UCLA. The chamber walls shielded all of the normal electromagnetic fields that are found in our environment. Without these fields, it was very difficult for them to move their bodies.

From Emilie’s work and her understandings of what is taking place, one has the impression that the rhythmically changing energies in the environment, such as the geomagnetic, geoelectric, solar, and gravitational fields, are capable of initiating and energizing rhythmic movement. This movement is usually not controlled consciously. It does not seem to be regulated by the nervous system, at least not in the ways we have learned to think about the nervous system. It is not energized by the classical biochemical pathways involving the splitting of high-energy chemical bonds in adenosine tri phosphate (ATP) or creative phosphate (CP).


In what follows I will be describing two kinds of “consciousness.” One is our “ordinary” neurological consciousness. We build up (or select) a picture of the world and our place within it by analyzing the patterns of nerve impulses coming from our various sensory organs. Our sensors, in turn, are continually monitoring our internal and external environments.

Note that words such as “sense” and “consciousness” are usually used to describe neurological processes. I am using these words to describe the qualities and operations of a different system that is not neurological and that is therefore not “consciously sensed” in the way we usually “think” of sensation. We become neurologically “conscious” of this different system in rare moments of extraordinary perception and movement. With some preparation, though, we can become more aware of this system and utilize it in all activities.

The concepts being discussed here can be elusive because of the way we ordinarily perceive and think about the world. Our primary mode of conscious thought is neurological. Scientists design and conduct their experiments on the basis of a world they build up from their sensory inputs and their logical, thoughtful, analysis of those inputs. Or at least they “think” they are doing this. But the experienced scientist will acknowledge the importance of intuition and insight in their process. Intuition and insight are thought to originate in the “subconscious,” whatever that is. I believe the system we are discussing is the place where the subconscious resides. I believe that we have now found the site of the elusive “subconscious” residing in the living matrix. It is not just in the nervous system.

It is challenging to relate to another kind of “consciousness” that is only experienced at the fleeting edges of perception or during extraordinary actions. Nonetheless, I believe that there is such consciousness, and that we can comprehend our world much more clearly if we explore it.

This second kind of “consciousness” is much faster than neurological consciousness. It is therefore capable of analyzing and interpreting aspects of our internal and external environment before we are consciously “aware” of them. In other words, there is a world of experience that lies just before we have formed a mental picture of the world, and just before we consciously initiate movements in response to that mental picture.

Having not settled on a name for this phenomenon, I refer to it descriptively as “connective tissue” or “matrix” or “continuum” consciousness. This is a form of “awareness” that arises within the continuous living matrix system, which includes the connective tissues and the cytoskeletons and nuclear matrices of cells throughout the body (Figure 1).

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Hypothesis: Connective tissue or matrix or continuum consciousness arises because the living matrix is a high-speed semiconductor communication network. The living matrix is an excitable medium, capable of generating and propagating signals. It is a whole-body integrated circuit of vast sophistication; it can accept and process and store far more information than the nervous system can possibly cope with. The living matrix is an energetic system, capable of taking in energy and information from the environment, storing that energy, and releasing it at any point (or at all points, see below) in time or space.

In fact, the living matrix sustains a multitude of living cycles of energy and information. This is illustrated in Figure 2, which is from an essay by Mae-Wan Ho, “The Biology of Free Will” (Ho, 1996).

Mae-Wan Ho’s fine articles, all available on the Internet, summarize the properties of the system from the perspective of liquid crystallinity:

“Liquid crystallinity gives organisms their characteristic flexibility, exquisite sensitivity and responsiveness, thus optimizing therapid, noiseless intercommunication that enables the organism to function as a coherent, coordinated whole.” – Ho, 1999

The ways connective tissue or continuum consciousness relate to the nervous system are summarized in Figure 3.

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The illustration shows three pathways connecting sensations with actions. The most familiar is the classical mechanism in which a stimulus activates a sensory receptor, triggering an impulse to flow through an afferent sensory neuron to the brain. If appropriate, the brain then initiates a signal that is sent via a motor neuron to a specific muscle or set of muscles to produce a response, or an action. A shortcut is the spinal reflex that can trigger a muscle contraction before one is consciously aware of the stimulus, such as when the hand is pulled back from a hot surface. Of these reflex arcs, the fastest is the monosynaptic reflex arc, in which there is a single synapse between the sensory and the motor nerve. The proposed continuum pathway is even faster, involving conduction through the excitable medium of the living matrix. The signal is propagated from the cytoskeleton of the sensory cell directly through the connective tissue to the myofascia and thence into the cytoskeleton of the muscle cells.

The cytoskeleton of the muscle cell is the myofilament array, composed of actin, myosin, and a few other proteins. When energy and information from sensory inputs reaches the myofilaments, a contraction can be generated by a fascinating mechanism called “reptation.” This is an undulating motion of the same kind that snakes and earthworms use when they move through tunnels in the earth. It is described in Gerald Pollack’s book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life (Pollack 2001)*. For more information on this alternative mechanism of activation, see Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance(Oschman 2003).

I suggest that matrix consciousness is involved in the extraordinary sensations and actions that take place in life-threatening situations. I think it is also the key to peak or extraordinary performances of all kinds. In both of these examples, the nervous system is simply too slow to cope with the information coming in, too slow to cope with the processing of that information, and too slow to initiate movements. In other words, the matrix can sense the environment, process information, and initiate actions before neurological consciousness has developed any “conscious” awareness that something has happened.

All actions arise from a combination of these two kinds of movement. For most of us, our movements are primarily initiated by our neurology. We consciously decide what to do, and we do it. Our movements are energized by metabolic processes, and if we do a lot of moving we get tired.`

With some preparation, one can shift the balance in the direction of continuum movement. Much of the energy and information initiating movement comes from the environment. Such movement is easy, natural, and effortless. And it can be much faster than movement initiated by neurology.


I suggest that matrix consciousness is evolutionarily far older than the nervous system. It involves integrated sensation-movement mechanisms that are present in the “simplest” organisms, the bacteria and protozoa, and in all of the cells that have descended from those “simple” forms of life, including our own cells and tissues. I put “simple” in quotation marks because these forms of life are fully capable of sensing their environment and responding appropriately, even though they have no nerves as such.

Here is a relevant quotation from Stuart Hameroff’s fascinating paper, “The Neuron Doctrine Is an Insult to Neurons:

“Consider a single-cell paramecium, which swims gracefully, avoids predators, finds food, mates, and has sex, all without a single synapse. Remarking on the complex behavior of motile protozoa, C.S. Sherrington (1951) said, “of nerve there is no trace. But the cell framework, the cytoskeleton might serve.” If the cytoskeleton can be so useful in protozoa, what might it be doing in massive parallel arrays (of microtubules) within neurons? Are neurons stupid in comparison to protozoa?” (Hameroff 1999)

I suggest that the first step in the evolution of the nervous system was the development, in single-celled organisms, of a means of sensing and responding to the environment. The second step probably took place in the simple colonial organisms. At first, these colonies were occasional assemblies of protozoa that retained their capacity for independent living. Gradually some of these colonies became more permanent, as there were advantages to life in a cooperative group. Implicit in the term “cooperative” is the emergence of some sort of rudimentary communication system that allowed the cells to function as a collective whole. As larger colonies developed, certain cells lost their independence and became specialized in various key functions, such as reproduction, ingestion, digestion, circulation, and communication. The nervous system evolved from such specialized cells as an extension of the matrix communication that had existed before.

There is no reason to assume that matrix communication dropped out of the picture when the cells specializing in communication evolved the action potential as a means of propagating signals from cell to cell. In other words, I see the nervous system as a place where both kinds of consciousness are taking place, with the matrix system conveying information in the neurons ahead of the action potentials. The pattern of light registered by the retina, for example, is rapidly communicated to the visual cortex via the cellular and extracellular matrices. We do not “see” an image until the action potentials have arrived. But the cells in the visual cortex already know what is coming and have already begun analyzing and processing the image. I suggest that this processing takes place at the sub-cellular level, within the living matrix.


Blind-sight demonstrates that we are able to sense and act on the basis of information that has not reached conscious awareness. The phenomenon was documented during the First World War. Some soldiers were injured in a way that damaged or destroyed their visual cortex, so that they were “blind” in the usual sense. Remarkably, they were able to continue to avoid danger and move about without injuring themselves further, even though their normal sight was not working at all. This came to be called “blind-sight.”

The phenomenon was confirmed in the 1970’s. Patients with damage to brain areas that process visual stimuli, who were unable to see anything in large regions of their visual fields, were still able to point at objects, grasp them, manipulate them, and describe their orientation. But they could not see these objects. Asked what was going on, the subjects said they could definitely not see anything, so they guessed. What is remarkable is that they guessed correctly virtually 100% of the time (Weiskrantz 1986).

We can now offer a simple explanation for this phenomenon. The living matrix is able to sense the environment, process the information, and generate actions. In some cases, this can happen so quickly that the whole process is complete before a single nerve impulse has reached the cortex. Classic examples of this occur in the martial arts, as I shall describe below.

We can visualize two types of circuits in the brain. One is the intricate neurological map, so carefully worked out by generations of neuro anatomists. Another is an even more intricate cytoskeletal matrix within all of those neurons. I like Hameroff’s accurate and humorous insight on the situation:

As presently implemented, the neuron doctrine portrays the brain’s neurons and chemical synapses as fundamental components in a computer-like switching circuit, supporting a view of brain= mind=computer. However, close examination reveals individual neurons to be far more complex than simple switches, with enormous capacity for intracellular information processing (e.g., in the internal cytoskeleton). The neuron doctrine, currently in vogue, is too watered-down to explain how the brain gives rise to mental life. Neuroscience is not being applied deeply enough. The neuron doctrine considers only certain activity at neuronal surfaces, ignoring internal features, including the fact that neurons are living cells. Each neuron is treated as a “black box,” a skin-deep portrayal that simulates a real neuron much as an inflatable doll simulates a real person.” (Hameroff 1999)

I am suggesting that the cellular neural web work, along with the rest of the fabric of the body, is processing subtle information all the time, whether or not nerve impulses have been produced. The communication process involves “conformational waves” that travel through the microscopic protein fabric of the cells. (For further details of what is meant by “conformational waves,” see Oschman 2003.)


We are developing a picture of a “pre-conscious consciousness” (perhaps what has been termed the “subconscious”) that has its own “image” of the world and our place within it. This continuum consciousness “senses” events taking place in our environment that are happening too fast or that are too subtle for the nervous system to acknowledge. This has been nicely summarized by Tor Nerretranders in The User Illusion:

“Each second, our consciousness reveals to us a tiny fraction of the eleven million bits of information our senses pass on to our brains. Most of the information from our senses goes to our unconscious. Trust your hunches and intuitions – they are closer to reality than your perceived reality, as they are based on far more information.” (Nerretranders 1998)

Emilie Conrad and I concluded that our nervous system does not give us an accurate picture of what our sensory systems are doing. In neuroscience we have a concept of threshold: the minimal strength of a stimulus required to evoke an action potential in a sensory neuron. A related psychophysical concept is the just noticeable difference, the “Unterschiedschwelle” or threshold for distinction between two different intensities of sensation. It is our impression that the actual thresholds to perception, if there are any, are far below the levels needed to perturb the nervous system. As with the retina, which can detect a single photon or wave of light, the range of all of our sensory systems goes down to the smallest measurable unit of energy, to the quantum level.

It turns out that research done over a hundred years ago revealed that this is so. On 17 October 1884, Charles Sanders Peirce and Joseph Jastrow reported to the National Academy of Sciences that humans can discriminate between two sensations that consciousness cannot tell apart. Their studies involved placing tiny weights on the skin. As with blind-sight, the subjects were able to correctly “guess” which stimulus was the stronger one, even though they could not consciously detect any difference (Peirce and Jastrow 1884).


In analogy with a computer, the living matrix is the body’s “operating system,” running quietly and invisibly in the background of all of the organism’s activities. Among other things, this “operating system” coordinates and integrates the healing of injuries and diseases. The living matrix extends into every part of the nervous system, and it therefore regulates the nervous system, and not the other way around. The nervous system does not reach into every part of the living matrix, but the living matrix does reach into every part of every neuron.

The living matrix is a well-documented material substrate within the body, being the focus of many modern researchers, including cell and molecular biologists, membrane biologists, and cell physiologists. Conceptually the living matrix connects Western science with the various complementary and alternative therapies. Without an understanding of the living matrix, many wonderful therapies are left floating in a sort of limbo, with few if any logical ways of being grounded by modern science; the connections with modern scientific medicine seem tenuous. Through study of communication in the living matrix we add a significant bridge that can open up new understandings and opportunities for patients, researchers, therapists, and performers of all kinds. Recent research on acupuncture, to be described below, has provided a substantial basis for the continuum concept.

The living matrix also gives us a substrate for spontaneous healing, the topic of Andrew Weil’s best-selling book (Weil 1995). Physicians have noticed that severely injured or diseased individuals occasionally recover completely, nearly instantaneously. Weil’s conclusion:

“[A]ll of the circuitry and machinery is there; the problem is simply to discover how to turn on the right switches to activate the process.” (Weil 1995)

An understanding of the circuitry and switches is emerging at the interface between conventional biomedical research and complementary and alternative therapies.

The idea that the organism is a living energetic circuit is fundamental to acupuncture theory, and scientific validation of the concept began to appear in the 1970’s. Virtually every therapist has had experiences in which the key switches in this circuitry have been activated by tiny amounts of energy. Science is discerning the appropriate intensity, frequency, and other characteristics needed to activate the healing response. These discoveries are vital for the development of new therapeutic device technologies and for understanding the basis for the various complementary and alternative therapies.


Valuable clues come from the martial arts. In looking at the various practices, a huge question opened up. Why has science avoided exploring these remarkable phenomena, which appear to be telling us something profound about human perception and movement? There must be some new and fascinating physiology and biophysics to explain what is going on in the martial arts.

Stanley Rosenberg in Denmark kindly helped me have a direct experience of some of the martial arts techniques by introducing me to a skilled practitioner, Thor Philipsen. This experience was indispensable in putting together the concepts that I shall summarize.

An example from the martial arts illustrates the phenomenon I am discussing. The master stands quietly; he almost looks like he might be ready to fall asleep. Certainly he is relaxed. His student sneaks up from behind to initiate an attack. As described in Aikido and the Harmony of Nature (Saotome 1986, 1993) and in other works on the martial arts, it is common for the student to attack the master in order to have the rather delicious and utterly transcendent experience of flying through eternity.

Our master is unable to see, hear or smell his attacker. But then something remarkable happens. The attacker is suddenly flying across the room. Asked about this event, the master reports that he was not aware of the challenge, or of his response, until he saw his assailant flying through space. In other words, the whole process of “sensing” the attack and responding to it took place before neurological consciousness had a chance to register that anything was happening.

My interpretation of this story is that the master has meditated and practiced certain movements that have gradually activated what I call his “connective tissue consciousness.” His connective tissue system, acting as a sensitive “antenna” for detecting the energies present in his environment, has detected the attacker, processed the information, and taken the appropriate action (a movement) before the master has become consciously aware (in the neurological sense of the term “aware”) that anything has happened. The movement does not involve thought, it is not activated by neuromuscular pathways, and it is effortless (does not drain metabolic reserves).

Asked about his abilities, the master might say, “I can always touch you, but you can never touch me, because I have control of time.” With this statement, the master is trying to wake us to the concept of a temporal world that is ahead of normal neurological consciousness. This world is closer to “reality” than neurological consciousness:

“Consciousness lags behind what we call reality. It takes half a second to become conscious of something, though this is not how we perceive it. Outside of our conscious awareness, an advanced illusion rearranges events in time.” (Nerretranders 1998)

This timeless “other world” is the province of practitioners of various ancient spiritual practices. One name given to this state is “pristine awareness” (see, for example, Guenther 1976). For the clairvoyant and the mystic and the shaman, among others, it is a place where one can find the palpable roots or the sources of the things and events that are about to appear in the emerging world. Most of us live in a world that has already emerged, and have little experience of, or control over, its genesis.

Another kind of martial arts practice, practiced by Thor Philipsen, involves very rapid and close-in combat. As with the previous example, thought is not involved. The action is far too rapid for conscious decisionmaking. Should one of the combatants indulge in even a fleeting thought, his opponent quickly and automatically takes advantage of his split-second advantage.


A major influence in this inquiry happened when I met Jeff Spencer, DC, who is an expert on peak athletic performance and the prevention and repair of sports injuries. Jeff has many famous athletes as clients, including Lance Armstrong, who is racing for his fifth Tour de France victory as I write this.

What I learned from Jeff was that athletes, coaches, trainers, and therapists who work with sports injuries have a deep and abiding interest in energy medicine. According to Jeff, my first book on this subject, Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, has become a major source of new insights into how to improve performance and how to speed recovery from injuries.

Eventually it occurred to me that the peak athletic performance has something in common with the peak therapeutic experience. While it is not easy to put words on these special moments, I shall try anyway. Athletes often describe being “in the zone.” One athlete, teenage archery prodigy Denise Parker, described it, “It’s like thinking how the world began” (quoted in Shainberg 1989). And therapists have moments when time seems to stop, boundaries melt, the light changes, and anything becomes possible.

A common denominator to these experiences, whether termed peak, or subtle, or sublime, or transcendent, is what I refer to as “systemic cooperation.” This is a state of consciousness and a state of the body in which all parts are interconnected and participating in whatever actions are taking place. From the picture we are developing, one might say that conscious, subconscious, and actions have become coherent.

The term “structural integration” inspires a picture of an organism that is fully interconnected, so that every tissue, cell, molecule, atom, subatomic particle, and the spaces between them can participate in whatever the organism is doing. Not only is everything connected to everything else, but remarkable emergent properties called integration and coherence arise. The parts of the structural continuum cease to be parts; they work together smoothly and efficiently. And the organism and its environment become fully entangled:

“The coherent self couples to the environment so that one becomes as much in control of the environment as one is responsive.” (Ho 1996)

I believe that Rolfing / Structural Integration and many other connective tissue techniques organize and integrate the “coherent self” Mae-Wan is referring to. She refers to this ideal as a molecular democracy.

The living matrix is organized and empowered by coherent touch and by regular practice, including “mental rehearsals” in which one thinks of movements but does not actually move. In essence, the living matrix is “paying attention” to the virtual practice, and adjusting its energetic and information pathways accordingly. What triggers these adjustments are the pre-motor potentials set up by thinking about a movement. These are called pre-potentials and readiness potentials or “Bereitschafts potentials.” They occur a second or more before an action potential is produced.

Stated differently, connective tissue or continuum consciousness can prepare the organism for what lies ahead, through creative imagination. When the “subconscious” is operating coherently, it gives rise to accurate and spontaneous insights and intuitions. These moments usually come about in periods of “no thought.”

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Until recently, the links between acupuncture and modern science have been elusive. Thanks to the work of a number of individuals, some of whom I shall mention shortly, we are getting a much clearer picture of the acupuncture/meridian system, its relationship to the connective tissue, and its roles in a wide variety of therapies. The living matrix concept provides a unifying theme for the discussion. The results of these studies verify and document some of the concepts being discussed here.

Validation of the living matrix and continuum pathway concepts has come from research of Dr. Joie Jones and his colleagues at Irvine, California. They have discovered that stimulation of vision-related acupoints on the lateral aspect of the foot rapidly activates neural circuits in the occipital lobes of the brain (Figure 4). This activation is measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Cho, et al., 1998; Jones 2001). Stimulation of non-points does not produce neural activation.

Recent studies by Dr. Jones have shown that the signal from the feet to the brain travels far faster than nerve impulses (Jones 2003). Specifically, it takes 250 milliseconds (1/4 second) for a light stimulus to activate neurons in the visual cortex, which is only a few inches behind the retina. In contrast, it only takes seven microseconds to record a signal that has gone from the feet to the cortex, a distance of over a meter, depending on the height of the person. The delay of seven microseconds sets an upper limit for the velocity of transmission; it is actually the limit of resolution of the fMRI instrumentation. The transfer might be as fast as the speed of light, since there is evidence that the meridians have fiber-optic properties. Or the transfer could be instantaneous. Neither case violates any laws of physics. Natural selection undoubtedly adopted the best mechanism. In any case, I suspect that the living matrix is the medium of information transmission. The approach Dr. Jones has developed is opening up studies of the nature and velocity of non-neural communication in the body.

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Recently, Helene Langevin and her colleagues at Vermont Medical College have begun a series of careful studies on the biophysical aspects of acupuncture needling (Langevin, et al., 2001). The research is providing important clues about the living material into which the needle is inserted: the continuous connective tissue/ cytoskeletal system, collectively called the living matrix.

A phenomenon that is reported again and again during acupuncture treatments is called “De Qi.” It consists of a characteristic sensation, an ache or heaviness in the surrounding area, perceived by the patient, and a “needle grasp” perceived by the acupuncturist.

The “needle grasp” is particularly noticeable when the acupuncturist manipulates the needle to obtain maximum effect. The needle is either twisted in different directions or moved up and down. For thousands of years, classical texts have described a sort of “tug” on the well-placed needle. The effect is particularly noticeable as a “tenting” of the tissue that takes place when the needle is withdrawn. Langevin and colleagues reported histological studies that show that needling produces a marked thickening of the subcutaneous connective tissue layer in the area around the needle (Langevin, et al., 2001). Electron microscope studies of the debris found on needles after insertion, manipulation, and removal, reveal elastic and collagen fibers entwined around the needle (Kimura, et al., 1992). Quantitative studies using a computer-controlled needling instrument confirmed that the “pullout force” is significantly greater after needle rotation compared with insertion without rotation (Langevin, et al., 2001).

A consistent observation is that the torque needed to rotate the needle increased continuously as rotation proceeded. It therefore appears that the needle catches on the connective tissue fibers, which then become wrapped around the needle as it is twisted (Figure 5). Histological studies confirmed that nearby collagen bundles become straighter and more nearly parallel to each other after needle rotation. At the same time, fibroblasts become aligned with the collagen fibers, and fibroblast cells change shape from a rounded to a spindle-like form. One minute after rotation, the cells show an increased staining for polymerized filamentous actin, confirming that a cellular response has taken place.

The mechanism by which tension on the living matrix activates cellular processes has been carefully worked out by Ingber and his colleagues in their studies relating architectural changes to biochemical events (e.g., Chicurel, et al., 1998). The signaling cascade involved in the effects of acupuncture needling and twisting is therefore as follows:

– needle insertion
– needle rotation
– winding of collagen and elastin fibers around the needle
– mechanical tugging on the extracellular matrix
– tugging on cell surface linkages on the fibroblast cells
– activation of focal adhesion kinase (a receptor)
– activation of intracellular signaling pathways
– activation of a variety of cellular activities

The research of others, cited in the papers by Langevin and colleagues, has shown a variety of cellular responses to mechanical stimulation, including cell contraction, migration, protein synthesis, and the formation of myofibroblasts (e.g., Desmouliere and Gabbiani 1994). Responses include synthesis and release of growth factors, cytokines, vasoactive substances, degradative enzymes, and structural matrix molecules.

Myofibroblasts are contractile cells that can pull the edges of a wound together. Hence we now have a plausible scientific explanation for the effects of acupuncture needling on the milieu in which wound healing and tissue repair take place. A single needle can influence the tensional pattern all along in fascial plane. Large numbers of nearby fibroblasts are activated. A wave of matrix deformation, protein conformational changes, and cell contraction spreads at a distance through the interstitial connective tissue. Patients often describe a slow spreading of De Qi sensation along the meridians during needling.

Further work by Langevin, et al. (2002) involved looking at the actual pattern of the connective tissue after needling. They used ultrasound scanning acoustic microscopy and light microscopy of fixed, embedded, sectioned, and stained blocks of tissue that had been needled and the needle rotated.

The micrographs show a vortical pattern, indicative of the tension lines set up in the tissue by rotating the needle.

The significance of these observations for those who work with connective tissue is that pressure or stretching along the fascial planes is also likely to stretch cells and activate their internal machinery. The steps in this process are now well documented.

Finally, Langevin and Yandow (2002) have reported on the relationship of acupuncture points and meridians to planes of connective tissue. Their study, “Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Points,” was reported in The Anatomical Record. The research involved marking the location of acupuncture points and meridians in cross-sections through the human arm. They used images from the National Library of Medicine’s Visible Human Project. Using classical acupuncture charts, they located 24 points along six meridians on the upper arm.

“These findings suggest that the location of acupuncture points, determined empirically by the ancient Chinese, was based on the palpation of discrete locations or “holes” where the needle can access greater amounts of connective tissue. We propose that acupuncture points may correspond to sites of convergence in a network of connective tissue permeating the entire body, analogous to highway intersections in a network of primary and secondary roads … We propose that acupuncture needle manipulation produces cellular changes that propagate along connective tissue planes.” (Langevin and Yandow 2002)

These concepts tie in nicely with the ideas described in the present essay. What is even more exciting to me is that they also converge with observations Rolfer Stanley Rosenberg has been discussing for a number of years. Stanley describes the feel of the acupuncture points:

“The acupoints feel like depressions that enable me to contact several fascial layers at once. It feels like putting your finger into a cone. Initially there is more tension in the tissue when you try to twist in one direction compared to the opposite direction. After the tissue has released, the resistance to twisting is the same in both directions.” (Rosenberg, Personal Communication)

It is satisfying when concepts from different disciplines converge like this. Langeviri s work has brought acupuncture and biophysics together, and Stanley Rosenberg’s observations tie these together with osteopathic medicine and tensegrity.


The ancient acupuncture maps of points and meridians may therefore correspond to the tracts within the fascia that are particularly conductive for the waves of deformation and activation Langevin has described A macroscopic picture of the way acupuncture stimulation spreads through the body can be obtained from study of the so-called “anatomy trains,” or myofascial meridians, many of which follow the classic musculo tendinous meridians (Myers 2001). As described by Myers and by Deane Juhari foreword to this book, the anatomy trains are linkages of fascia and bone that wind through the body, connecting head to toe and core to periphery. These are the major lines within the living matrix that orchestrate the gravitational and muscular force,, involved in all movements.

From years of hands-on work and anatomical study, Myers has distilled an enormous amount of structural detail into a simple lattice of tensional bands that are involved in every posture and movement and emotion, and that are also the places where musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction arise What we are doing now is expanding or these concepts to detail the energetic and informational processes taking place.


Taken together, the images Langevin and her colleagues have developed to account for the immediate effects of acupuncture needling on connective tissue and fibro blasts, the connection between tissue and cell architecture and biochemistry developed by Ingber’s group, Stanley Rosenberg’s descriptions of what acupointh feel like, and the global inter connectednes’ illustrated by Myers give us a powerful se of conceptual tools for the analysis of human form and function and motion and emotion in health and disease. Of equal importance is the significance of all of this new insight for those who wish to take their lives into new or more fully realized realm of human activity, whether as therapy, art sport, dance, or occupation.

Even vaster possibilities arise when one considers the ways these images can contribute to our inner senses of ourselves as integrated beings capable of miracles of adaptation, function, and self-repair. It is through the conscious and subconscious experience of this network that we are able to contact the full reach and range and potential of the kinesthetic intelligence that is our birthright.

Before we can fully claim this birthright, before we can fully attain pristine awareness, serious action (see below), systemic cooperation, coherence in thought and action, the “zone,” or any other goal, our matrix must be cleared of old trauma and abuse, which impacts every conscious moment.

In Jason Brown’s microgenesis concept, the meaning of the moment is selected before a visual image is formed. Brown’s world is not created by synthesizing sensations. Instead, sensation constrains, sculpts, or selects the developing world from deep “preobjects” formed from the personality structure. The personality structure includes traumatic memories and attitudes developed from past experiences. Meaning is actually determined prior to awareness (Brown 2000).

We continually ask where and how the nervous system stores traumatic memories. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Asking this question confines our search for memory to the brain. I propose that the nervous system actually has little, if anything, to do with stored traumatic memories. Instead, the brain orchestrates or manages consciousness, and the whole body is referenced in this process.

This model is based on observations of many different kinds of therapists as well as recent biophysical studies of Mae-Wan Ho and others (Oschman 2003). Patterns of trauma are held mainly in the non-neural tissues throughout the body, and are referenced in a holographic manner, many times per second. The “laser beam” reading the hologram operates throughout the body and is generated by quantum coherence. The coherence arises in part from organized spins of water molecules associated with the fabric of the body, the living matrix. To be specific, the patterns of energy flow through the body (illustrated in Figure 2; combine with the spin fields of water molecules closely associated with the living matrix. These coherent patterns and processes are the formative sources of both consciousness and living structure.

When tissue is traumatized the first part of the body that is affected is the connective tissue. Sometime later, perhaps half a second or more, the information reaches consciousness. In Trauma Energetics, Redpath (1975) noted that the trauma of an event is set in place in the’ fraction of a second before our self-awareness can notice it. Years later, the body continues to scan this section of “held energy” or traumatic memory roughly ten times per second, probably with each brain wave. What Redpath calls serious action is impossible. Serious action is defined as movement and experience that are not referenced to, or motivated by, traumatic patterns, either within ourselves or within the culture around us.

Since the energetic “signature” of a trauma is recorded prior to conscious awareness of the event, the signature resides outside of the thought and speech centers of the brain and, possibly, entirely outside of the nervous system. While working with the nervous system can indirectly access traumatic memories held in non-neural tissues, methods that reference the whole body will probably be more efficient and effective. There is evidence from several different approaches supporting this.


I thank those mentioned in the article who contributed ideas and experiences that are part of this inquiry: Peter Melchior, Emmett Hutchins, Valerie Hunt, Emilie Conrad, Stanley Rosenberg, Joie Jones, Mae-Wan Ho, Helene Langevin, Tor Nerretranders, Stuart Hameroff, Andrew Weil, Tom Myers, Thor Philipsen, and Herbert Guenther. I thank Lorin Kiely for introducing me to the work of Dr. Guenther and the Buddhist concept of pristine awareness. Finally, I thank Katherine Leigh for valuable discussions and for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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