Jean Fischer has rendered yet another great service to the AT profession by publishing yet another essential volume for the teaching room and training school by reprinting what, in my opinion, is by far the best anatomy book for our purposes. Primarily a visual account of the musculoskeletal system produced by an artist, it is short on words and the anatomy of the other systems, but long on pictures of the musculoskeletal system unequalled in their usefulness to the Alexander Technique teacher, trainee and pupil.
Most anatomy books are word-heavy and picture-light with muscles shown in groups, making it difficult for the reader to identify other than by careful following of the text exactly where the origins and insertions of those muscles are, the text usually describing in detail the exact action of each muscle. In this book, however, origins and insertions are clearly shown, and it is a matter of simple deduction to figure out that shortening that muscle will bring the two ends closer together.
The book is also rich in views of the muscles and bones taken from different angles. Short of dissecting the human body or inspecting the muscles on one of the many apps available, this has to be the best text for a teacher pointing out the connection between structure and function to his pupil.
There are also diagrammatic representations of the embryology of the skull and good diagrams of the foetal muscular development of the head and face, as well as good drawings of the facial muscular structure of the adult (with the unfortunate exception of a really good picture of temporalis). The author also gives numerous mechanical representations of human functioning, such as the hinging of the jaw and mechanics of the muscles of the limbs.
The sense organs of the head are described simply. Another minor quibble is the uninspiring image of the muscles which move the eyeball, and for those who are interested, a very suitable alternative is to be found on page 53 of Atlas of Anatomy by Casey Horton, published by Sunrise Books (ISBN: 0 86307 416 2).
Neck muscles are well represented and, in particular, the drawings on the right hand side of pages 48 and 49, which are approximately the same size, show the contrast between the (many) muscles which pull the skull back and down and those (few) which pull it forward and down and, usefully, show the reason why releasing both sets causes the head to rotate forward (nod) on the atlanto-occipital joint because there are so many more muscles attached behind the pivoting point of the atlanto-occipital joint than there are attached to the front of the skull.
There is a marvellous view of the throat with the jaw removed showing the sling of muscles that carries the larynx (page 51) and simple drawings of the mechanism of swallowing, as well as an amusing, if anatomically incorrect, cartoon of the mouth (page 54).
From the point of view of explaining to pupils about the spine lengthening and the back widening, there is a marvellous series of representations of the five layers of muscle between the skin and the spine, ably illustrating the mainly horizontal components (latissimus dorsi and trapezius as well as supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres and the rhomboids) of the outer layers, diagonal (e.g. serratus muscles) components of the middle layers and vertical components (the paraspinal muscles of the neck and back) of the most intimate layers of the paraspinal muscles. Particularly well illustrated is the overlapping nature of the muscles of the spine, both individually (e.g. multifidus whose components span several vertebrae) and the overlapping of groups of muscles (e.g. semispinalis capitis, semispinalis dorsi and multifidus). There is also an excellent picture of the short, deep spinal muscles (page 70) which allows me to describe lengthening of the spine as a releasing of the tight 'guy ropes' squashing the vertebrae together.
As if that were not enough, there is an excellent illustration of the diaphragm (unfortunately also including transversus abdominis) on page 73, and detailed analysis of the 'six pack' showing the oft neglected fact that it extends up under the pecs to the fifth rib, overlapping with coracobrachialis (page 95), a jolly good muscle for pulling down and slumping and which extends to the sixth rib (overlapping with the 'six pack').
The picture of the diaphragm also ably illustrates the room-like nature of the abdominal cavity with the abdominal muscles as walls, the diaphragm as a domed roof and the pelvic floor muscles (not shown) as the floor. It is easy to explain to a pupil that lengthening the back wall of this room (the paraspinal muscles and hence spine) allows what Roger Kidd calls 'the giblets', to return to their rightful place within the abdomen and not hang out in front of the pubic bone.
There is a nice illustration of shortening and lengthening of the spine with pulley ropes on page 79. Unfortunately, both the images are not shown side by side, but this is another useful illustration for pupils to understand that the effect of tightening the neck and back muscles results in exaggerated 'S' shaped spinal curves.
Another delight of this book is some excellent pictures of the psoas muscles. In one illustration (page 85) the origin and insertion are shown on one side of the body and the whole muscle on the other. The picture on page 86 gives a clear impression that the psoas muscle runs up the centre of one's body and is another vertical paraspinal muscle which, when released, causes lengthening of the lumbar spine. Although this muscle's origin is on the thigh, the pupil can understand how releasing the thigh and buttock muscles to allow the knees to go forward and away also allows the back to lengthen further.
I could go on and on. On page 95 is a seldom-seen view of the outer muscles of the back viewed from the front with the internal organs removed. Images of the limbs are particularly useful because of the great number of different views of the different layers of muscles which are shown, as well as crude mechanical diagrams of the 'pulley mechanisms' normally considered to 'operate' the joints.
Other highlights include a very good diagram of the hamstring muscles, showing their origin from the sit bones (page 138) and multiple views of the adductor muscles of the thighs, which are extremely useful in explaining what to release in order to get the knees to go forward and away. The same applies to the buttock muscles.
The nervous system is explained mostly in words, but the upside-down-tree-like image on page 177 is quite a useful diagram to show to pupils. The cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system and glandular system are mostly described in words and better images of these can be found in a number of anatomy books. A copy of the Körperwelten catalogue from the Body Worlds Exhibition of Gunther von Hagen is a good buy at £17 - £20 online as plastination images of the cardiovascular system and nervous system are beyond wonderful. Please note that muscles in the plastination specimens are quite shrunken compared with the way they look in the living human body.
John Hull Grundy illustrates a number of amusing variations in posture, such as flat back lordosis, sway-back kyphosis, etc (page 200) and most of the rest of the book is taken up with his view of the mechanics of weight-bearing and artistic images of the body in various phases of movement. There is an appendix illustrating the development of the animal body, about which I do not feel qualified to comment.
One of the major inconveniences of the old edition of this book was the lack of an index. Jean has remedied this with a comprehensive index. Unlike its predecessor, the book is presented with a glossy, colourful, hardback cover and good quality paper.
I have been teaching the Alexander Technique for 25 years and have a cupboard full of books and toys to illustrate the concepts I need to convey. So if I were cast away on the proverbial desert island and all but three things were washed away, I would clutch on to my Art Fig, the skeleton and this book.
Copyright © 2015 Miriam Wohl (www.miriamwohl.com). Reproduced with permission.This edition © Mouritz 2015. All rights reserved.