Contractile Fields

phillip beachConceptually we need to move away from groups of muscles based on body regions towards a whole organism perspective.

* All content on this page is taken, with all permissions, from Phillip Beach’s website.


Fields precede the formation of specific tissues in the embryo. Cells that specialise in contractility are carried from their source to their destination by fields that cooperatively generate shape and movement. Embryology describes the process from conception until the end of the eighth inter-uterine week. What takes place during those eight weeks is mindboggling. Embryology underpins every aspect of the Contractile Field model. We have all personally experienced this genesis of shape and form. Just as embryology is our individual life experience, evolutionary biology traces our historical experience as a species. Our vertebrate history spans more than 500 million years, therefore a coherent model of human movement must be informed by both our evolutionary and embryological histories as they create the context we live within. This model is relevant to both assessment and treatment.

Phillip’s mentor, Professor Brian Goodwin (1994), states the Whole Organism Perspective is; “…what constitutes biological reality. I take the position that organisms are as real, as fundamental, as irreducible, as the molecules out of which they are made. They are a separate and distinct level of emergent biological order, and the one to which we most immediately relate since we ourselves are organisms”.


“We must keep this perspective central to our quest for understanding movement.”     – Phillip Beach



Below are the contractile fields that interact to change our shape:

We bend to the left and right “like a fish

We bend forwards and backwards “like a dolphin

We twist to walk, run and throw “like a human

We breathe and brace “like all mammals

We are derived from a tetrapod “like a Bonobo chimpanzee

To move needs both a blood and food propulsion system “like a vertebrate

Water “the common mediator to all movement



Archetype, used in the context of human movement, refers to postures that emerge from, or are embedded within, the interaction of many joints and muscles.  

Archetypal Postures provide a quick but profound insight into the ease or dis-ease of one’s biomechanical tune. You can learn what these postures are and how to assess them.

They are profoundly important.



The Contractile Field model helps us to understand movement. The opposite of movement is rest; one without the other is nonsensical. At rest we assume natural Archetypal Postures. The archetype is the original pattern or model from which copies are made; the best example or prototype of that class of objects. Archetype used in the context of human movement refers to postures that emerge from, and are embedded within, the interaction of many joints and many muscles. Losing access to our Archetypal Postures is a biomechanical peril.

We sit on the floor in many postures that are our birthright, postures that our modern society neglects to value, instead preferring chairs and sofas. Rising from these Archetypal Postures to our full upright bipedal posture uses deeply embedded patterns of movement.


To stand up from the floor is a movement sequence we mastered as children. Regrettably, in our busy lives this mastery has lessened over time until the normal act of rising from the floor becomes awkward and uncomfortable. Our musculoskeletal system needs the exercise of erecting to stay in good moving health. I call these the Erectorcises and the ability to relearn and reintroduce these exercises into everyday life provides some protection from degeneration and dis-ease.

Archetypal Postures and the Erectorcises are key insights derived from my work in Contractile Fields. If you want to achieve your sporting ambitions or to age gracefully you need to include this concept in your life. Learning why and how to value floor based rest and erecting from the floor with grace and facility will be of lifelong value to you.

Note: Erectorcises are applicable to all but the most infirm but are not appropriate for those with joint replacements.


Muscles and Meridians

In the words of Leon Chaitow, ND, DO, Osteopathic Practitioner and Honorary Fellow, University of Westminister, London, UK.:

By surveying, investigating and charting the human condition relative to shape, posture, and movement (he describes movement as “˜the coherent changing of shape’)”in the contexts of evolution (how did early life forms move?), embryology (the extraordinary processes of cleavage, folding, compaction and more, of the embryonic disc, to the point where limb buds, arches and the beginnings of sense organs appear), childhood development, physiology and neural function, and what he terms “˜archetypal postures’ “Phillip Beach has advanced our understanding “and has offered a new way of understanding the way the human body works “or fails to work when unbalanced and out of synchronisation (“˜out of tune’) with its optimal patterns.

Beach’s training in osteopathic medicine, his exploration of dance, martial arts, movement therapies (such as Pilates and yoga), and his newfound understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) meridian map, has informed his investigations and findings “for example of movement patterns that he terms “˜contractile fields”˜, which are structurally and functionally connected to sense organs. In building the arguments for the validity of his findings he notes a neurological hierarchy, in which the organs of sense, taste, sight, smell, etc. offer the cues that drive much basic, primitive, movement. He also focuses attention on the adaptative processes involved in our anti-gravity evolutionary struggle to rise from the floor “where sitting, squatting, crawling and wriggling are more appropriate “to the upright where standing and walking become possible.

The way in which his enlightened insights moves from the likelihood that evolutionary and developmental patterns of movement may be strongly associated with organs of sense, to the idea that these very movements, or the contractile elements associated with them, determine the shape and connections that are described as TCMs acupuncture meridians, is both thought provoking and therapeutically exciting.

One way of viewing much musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction is as failed adaptation. What Beach has done is to paint a very big canvas indeed, where adaptation takes on a wider meaning than is commonly conceived “and where potential clinical solutions lie in a greater understanding of these themes emerging from a background of evolution, embryology and patterns of contractility, that may be assessed and modified via appropriate therapeutic interventions.

Among the common-sense approaches suggested by this detailed exploration of the body are some extremely simple and clinically practical suggestions:

  • To spend more time on the floor in “˜archetypal postures of repose’ such as squatting, kneeling, cross-legged, tailor’s position and long-sitting
  • To revisit the processes involved in rising from the floor to upright;
  • to pay attention to the state of our feet (Beach rails repeatedly against shoes, which he describes as “˜sensory deprivation chambers’)

Beach acknowledges that: “Because of the exploratory nature of the book, aspects of the work will prove to be too speculative, for which I take responsibility.” However this should not detract from the potential clinical value of the broad ideas that emerge in this book. I for one have learned a great deal from the ideas explored and synthesised “and believe that the book will take its place as the cornerstone of a branch of manual therapy that detaches itself from modalities, and historical professional allegiances, offering as it does both explanations and new therapeutic directions.


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