Standing on your own two feet

Art meets Anatomy

I have been experimenting with various felting techniques building towards a bigger project. Last month it was smaller faces and so I made a model of a small girl. Usually when making felt models a wire armature is used. This gives a frame to build around and enables the structure to stand easily when finished.

The other option is to make it anatomically correct.

When humans became bipedal it had an effect on the spine, causing it to become a series of gentle curves. If you image an foetus curled into a ball then all of the spine curves towards the back – this is the shape of the primary curves, described as kyphotic. The curves that can be seen at the back and the neck, where the curve is towards the front of the body are described as secondary curves or lordotic. Between them they document your development.

As a foetus you have just the one kyphotic curve. Once born you spend most of your time lying on your back. Around 3 months you develop the ability to lift your head. The head is a large weight balanced on top of a narrow support structure called the neck. To be able to balance it the neck arches forward so that the mass of the head can be centred over the support. This gives you the first secondary curve at the neck. Imagine how big your neck muscles would have to be if you didn’t have this curve and you relied on the muscles to hold your head up!

At this point you have a child who can sit up with a beautiful straight back. Despite what you might have heard in exercise classes that this is the posture you should be aiming for – it is unobtainable as a bipedal human.

The next stage of development requires you to balance the weight of your body over two small feet. This is not possible unless your body arches forward to recentralise the centre of mass of the torso. This gives you the secondary curve in your lower back. Only with these curves in place can a human body be easily balanced over two feet. Apes lack these curves and so they can only walk a short distance on two feet and it looks ungainly. Despite what people say about the drawings of Di Vinci showing a J shaped spine – they don’t – he drew bipedal people – they would have had the same curves as you and I.

To get a felt model to balance these same curves had to be in place. It’s only when you are trying to shape a small body that you appreciate how pronounced these curves can be. The bottom has to stick out quite a way and you need to make sure the shoulders are pulled back. Placing one foot in front of the other made it easier to ensure the balance was obtained.

The feet and ankle joint also had to be correct. When you look at the ankle from behind it is trapezoid shaped and behind the lower leg. This structure needs to be the same to offer a counter to the balance of the body; an ankle that sits behind the leg and a forefoot that spreads out.

Once you have all these in place, it will stand.

What has this taught me?

To balance not only do I need the curves in my back, I also need my head to be on top of my neck and my shoulders back. No more head forward posture or slouching shoulders because these are postures that are causing muscles all over my body to work more.

I balance best when my feet are flat and my forefoot spread – remember that when you are wearing shoes that alter the shape of your foot.

Only when all of those things are in alignment will I be able to balance without extra muscular effort.

It amazing what you can learn from felt.

p.s. – I managed the small face

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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