THE GYMNAST AND THE CITIZEN The Ideal Type and Muscle Tone
Physical therapists have tried to establish rules to analyze the functioning of a healthy body that are close to the definitions used as guides in yoga poses orthopedics to repair a broken body. The reference body is the one described in yoga poses an atlas of anatomy. The spinal columns are impeccable, the tones of each muscle are organized like the strings of a violin at the start of a concert. No deformity comes to trouble the idea that the human body has been planned by an engineer-god. This state of the body is often proposed by the schools of gymnastics.11 I use the concept of Max Weber’s ideal type12 to indicate this way of thinking about a healthy body.
Vignette on muscle tone. So Buddha went to the new monk and told him:
I have heard that when you were a king you were a great musician, you used to play the sitar. Yes, but that is finished now, I have forgotten about it. That was my only hobby, I used to practice at least eight hours per day and I had become famous for that.
Buddha said: I have to ask you one question: if the strings of your sitar are too tight, what will happen? He said: What will happen? It is simple! The strings will break when you will attempt to play. Another question, Buddha said.
If they are too loose, what will happen then? If they are too loose, no music can be produced on them, because there is no tension, the answer came.
After this Buddha said: You are an intelligent person I need not say anything more to you. Remember, life is also a musical instrument. It needs a certain tension, but only a certain one. Less than that and your life is too loose and there is no music. If the tension is too much, you start breaking down, you start going mad. First you lived a very loose life and you missed the inner music; now you are living a very uptight life you are still missing the music!
This anecdote is a good way to introduce the notion of muscular tone. Each muscle would have its own degree of appropriate tension, called tone. The tone, like the well-tuned sitar, implies a certain stretching of the muscle. The muscles can become hypertonic (too hard too short) or hypotonic (flaccid and deformed).
Physiotherapists have a full array of models that describe body movements that are automatically (orthopedically) healthy and can be assimilated into ideal types of relations between physiology, body, and behavior. in yoga poses the appendix dedicated to postures, I give some examples of sitting correctly on the ischia bones of the pelvis and the alignment of the body segments of a person standing according to the plumb-line rule.14