The Cylinder Model

Sources & References

The inspiration for this article is based on the ‘two way operator’ concept introduced in lectures by Emmett Hutchins and through drawings by John Lodge during a Rolf Institute Advanced Class held in Boulder, CO in about 1980. 


Axis and Circumference:  The Cylindrical Shape of Plants and Animals, S. A. Wainwright, 1988, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA

The source of the artist’s drawing of a human torso: 

Escuela De Dibujo De Anatomia: Humana, Animal, Comparada

Direccion Artistica Peter Feierabend, Impreso en Hungria, 1996


Chaos = Order:  Physicists Make baffling discovery


Scoliosis image by Richard Wheeler with thanks to Dr. Adrian Noe, Director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

All artwork, diagrams & text by Richard Wheeler

Copyright Richard Wheeler October, 2007

a graphic, short treatise on functional anatomy  for students of structural integration


Richard Wheeler

Functional anatomy describes the spatial relationships among body segments, regions & volumes.

The design plan for biological structures may be thought of as based on tubular cylinders.  

When units of anatomy get together, they tend to form oval, cylindrical forms.

Left      Right



When the two sides are wrapped inside a tubular container (the superficial fascia), compartments are created. 

Cylindrical cross-sections may be divided most simply into quadrants with a front, back and two sides. 

Extended into three dimensions, this symmetric pattern resembles the form of the human torso.


Neck & Sternum





Pubes &







There are many cylindrical cross sections -or segments- in vertebrate bodies.  Elongated cylinders contain the long bones associated with the shoulder and pelvic girdles.  Flattened narrow sections may contain a single thoracic vertebra with its associated pair of ribs. 

Although the overall pattern of the vertebrate body is bilaterally symmetric, each individual contains their own unique set of asymmetries.  How many asymmetries can you find in this artist's rendition of a human torso?  The closer and more carefully you look, the more you will find...

Cumulative asymmetries can subtly counterbalance each other or contribute to significant postural asymmetries of the kind the medical profession has named scoliosis. 

In this cross-sectional diagram, the mismatched sides have forced the spinal compartment to migrate right and the sternal compartment has drifted left.





Here is a photograph of a specimen in the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in

Washington DC.  Each segmental cross-section of this extremely scoliotic individual has its own unique twist and warp. 







This next diagram shows how the cylinder model may be applied to the head. 

Here is a schematic depicting how this idea might play out at various levels in the upright axial column of the human body.  Please note that these hand-drawn images are not precisely to size or proportion.  I invite you to morph the idea within your own visual imagination to understand how portions of anatomical structure are proportioned and best fit these functional compartments.

Note how the midline can be distorted and strained by moderately mis-aligned cylindrical units. 

The cylinders of the human body differentiate, becoming more complex towards their ends.  The arms and legs have the same pattern with the arms connecting to the legs through the torso. 



When two sets of cylindrical units become wrapped together, the resulting pattern evokes the basic pattern of the human body. 

For another view of the body's cylindrical organization consider unwrapping the cylinder and making it flat. 

Or, imagine mapping portions of body structure onto a cylinder and then rolling the cylinder over a flat surface.

Back to cylindrical cross-sections

Dr Ida P. Rolf discovered that steady, non-invasive pressure applied systematically to the fascial network caused dramatic changes in the body's overall structural pattern.  Rolf found that she could change the body's shape and function, restore optimal contours, normalize bilateral symmetry and affect postural balance in significantly distorted individuals.  She made these discoveries without a detailed or formal study of anatomy. 

Rolf taught her students to begin releasing the outer, superficial layers of fascia first, then to release the deeper layers and finally to establish normal function at the major joints and regions of biomechanical hinges such as the interface between the lumbar and thoracic regions.

The value of the cylinder model is that for practitioners of Structural Integration, it is much simpler to understand and apply than traditional structurally-oriented  anatomy.  (see my article, 'Third Hour Thoughts')

Pressure applied to these 'quarter lines' deeply affects the form and function of entire cross-sections.

Dr. Rolf spoke often of creating order in the randomly disorganized body.  This was very difficult to understand given that she did not address each and every minute detail of disorder in the body.  An hour's treatment resolved an astonishing number of different, visually apparent problems.  How was this possible?  

Thanks to recent research done by mathematicians at Washington University in St. Louis MO, we can now understand that disorganized chaos is order.  When disorder is introduced to chaotically behaving systems the result is coherence and order.  So the main job of the Structural Integration Practitioner is systematically but simply to disorganize chaos.  The result will be an organized body. 

More of Richard Wheeler’s original illustrated articles on Structural Integration and other subjects are available on-line: