Françoise Mézières (1909-1991), a physiotherapist and teacher of anatomy was teaching and practising classical physiotherapy until the year 1947 when, whilst treating a patient crippled by pain and distortions, she made an empirical discovery that was to completely change her understanding of body mechanics and revolutionise the world of physical therapy and fitness.
The gravity of her patient’s distortions allowed Mézières to see, with disbelief, some very important body mechanics in action.
Incredibly, they have been overlooked by generations of bodyworkers. Puzzled by her disconcerting discoveries and observations, she spent 2 years testing the validity of her primary observation. She then went back to the study of anatomy and came up with a new anatomical concept. A new, truly original and unique method of bodywork was born. Its basic tenet is that, far from suffering from weakness, we are the victims of excessive strength to be found in groups of muscles Mézières called ‘muscular chains’. These muscles are banded together in a chain-like manner, overlapping like tiles on a roof. There are 4 muscular chains in our bodies, the main one being situated at the back, running from head to feet.
Although made of several muscles, muscular chains always behave like a single muscle. They always end up too tight and too short, in other words they harbour too much tone. The shortening of the muscular chains pulls us out of shape and distorts us in any number of ways. Now, since any departure from the ideal shape will inevitably cause pain and malfunction, restoring ideal shape has a powerful therapeutic value as it addresses the primary cause of our musculo-skeletal ills. The normalisation of morphology is the most efficient way, the only lasting way, to ‘cure’ back and related pains.
Mézières used to say that we make wheels round because square ones don’t work.
This is a concise way to illustrate the intimate relationship that exists between function and shape. The perfect fulfilment of function goes hand in hand with perfect shape which we call beauty. ‘Beauty’ is ‘fitness expressed’. When we say that someone is in a good shape we refer unknowingly to a natural law which states that form (shape) conditions function.
A sense of beauty is innate in human beings but sadly it has been seriously neglected in our culture. As a result, many distortions are believed to be normal by both the layperson and the physical therapist and only major deformities are thought to be worthy of treatment. Worse, some distortions – an outrageously curved lower spine for example – are cultivated under the delusion that they are elegant, charming or sexy. Or else, they are ignored and forgotten simply because they don’t yet hurt us directly, and we can hide them, like our feet which are a good case in point.
Other distortions are believed to run in the family when in fact they are acquired – the result of a constant tightening of our muscular chains. As W. R. Inge, a British churchman and writer, wrote: “We tolerate shapes in human beings that would horrify us if we saw them in a horse.”
Are you in good shape?
The therapeutic goal of the Mézièrist is to remodel or ‘sculpt’ the body towards the ideal morphology. Generally speaking, it requires the outlines of the body to be symmetrical, made up of straight and oblique lines.
See how far you measure up to this ideal shape as follows:
Using a mirror, wearing only your underclothes, observe yourself in a standing position with feet together from heels to big toes.
the nape of the neck should be long and full, i.e., it should not show three grooves and two prominent muscular cylindrical masses
the shoulders, shoulder-blades and hips should be symmetrical and level
the shoulder-blades should not stick out but should just be discernible
the heels and the head should aligned vertically
the nipple should be the anatomical point which is furthest forward
the breast bone should be straight and in a forward and downward oblique direction from its upper to its lower ends. It should form a 45° angle with the long axis of the body
below the nipple, the outline of the thorax and abdomen should be straight down to the pubic bone and slightly inwardly oblique
the outline of the back should be visible, the arm dividing the thorax one third in the back and two thirds in the front
the middle finger should fall in the middle of the lateral side of the thigh
the head and neck should be in line with the torso. The feet should be at right angles with the lower leg and the thighs should be in line with the lower legs
Any departure from this ideal shape is a potential source of pain and malfunction.