Biographies de neurologues
Nouvelle Iconographie de La Salpêtrière
 L'histoire des neurosciences à La Pitié et à La Salpêtrière J Poirier
The history of neurosciences at La Pitié and La Salpêtrière J Poirier 

mise à jour du
 17 février 2005
Henrietta Russell
The Delsarte Series No. I
U.S. Book Company, New York
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Rubbing their sleepy eyes with lacy wrists,
And doubling overhead their little fists
In backward yawns. KEATS.
DELICIOUS, isn't it ? The rosy little fellows, doubling up their tiny fists and stretching out their little arms and legs, one this way, one that, as gracefully said unconsciously as gods or animals. Enjoying it, too, no doubt, as the sympathetic poet must have felt, to put such a sense of simple delight into the lines. We also enjoy it, when we are willing to yield ourselves lazily to the impulse, making no effort to hurry through with it or to choke it in its inception.
Nothing man does in life is more perfectly instinctive and natural than yawning. Although but a temporary tendency, the impulse is, for the time being, almost as irresistible as the desire to breathe. Yet in the economy of nature it has but one use and one purpose: it is a gymnastic. When the body has lain motionless for some time, as in sleep, or when the powers are at low ebb through fatigue, drowsiness, or ennui, and something is required to restore the system to a state of general activity, nature provides this involuntary inclination, with its graduated series of movements, called yawning. Nature's gymnastic, it embodies all the laws of growth needed for movements that are to give physical growth and refreshment, and some of the laws which are necessary to the higher growth, so-called, of the emotions and the intellect.
A good yawn is always slow, and the best uses every articulation in the body probably every muscle-possibly refreshes every nerve. Not all at once or in jerks, but slowly, in perfect successions and rhythms, with the best possible breathing. Certainly no gymnast, with the single exception of Francois Delsarte, ever so arranged the same expenditure of force, nervous and muscular, as to result in an equal amount of invigorating effect upon the system.
Succession, opposition, and parallelism these are the three orders of motion used in yawning. The primary motion is probably that moving or pulling against the motionless, which results in the stimulation of the motionless and its consequent antagonistic action. This we call opposition. But since this primary activity takes place in the internal organs, and is thus concealed from the casual or unpractised observer, we can best begin in the present study with those successions which it generates.
Now, what does the ordinary onlooker see in the progress of a yawn?
At the same time that the muscles of the throat are stretched, the upper eyelid begins to droop, but not as in sleep, for the eyeball wishes to roll upward, rousing the lower lid to action and making it present some opposition to the downward pull of the muscles of the cheek when the jaw drops. Similarly, the contracted eyebrow presents something for the upper lid to pull against when it begins to close upon the eye. The whole face seems now to be struggling to prevent the shutting of the eyes, one set of muscles acting in opposition to another. In this way a perfect means of refreshment has been supplied to the face by the muscular activities passing over it in succession. The blood has been brought to the surface, and a reactionary stimulant sent back to that intimate friend of the face, the brain.
So far, at least, the movement has conformed to the definition of a perfect gymnastic, viz., the greatest motion with the least motive. For the better the gymnastic, the more perfectly at rest are the higher orders of nervous activity, and the motive force the more completely supplied by the automatic processes of the mind, rather than the voluntary.
All parts of the body axe alike refreshed by a perfect gymnastic. We have seen the face moving one muscle alter another ; previous to this, however, the throat was stretched, and even before this all the breathing muscles, especially the internal ones; and, now the increased activity of the circulation furnishes a stimulant to the brain, making the automatic impulse still stronger than before and the yawn is either repeated or continued.
If continued, we notice that the head begins to roll on its most habituai and instinctive lines of motion, sometimes pulled back in opposition to the opening of the jaw. The muscles of the neck having by this means been used, another stimulating wave of circulation is sent back to the brain, and the ganglia that govern the muscles of the neck and chest are aroused. And now the chest muscles contract and we see the ribs raised, sometimes to such an extent as to stimulate the diaphragm and other interior muscles of breathing, which are so attached as to fix or move alternately the ribs or arms. By this time still further automatic stimulus has arisen by means of increased circulation, and motion is communicated to the entire frame. The arms rise slowly and rhythmically and are stretched above the head, or sometimes waved in the air. At this point we must have readied the "going-on-all-fours" stage of nervous excitation, for legs and arms now stretch and pull, first in succession (the legs last), then in opposition, each pulling against the other. A tendency to do as one's neighbors do causes each new muscle to combine in action with one of those already moving, and then another with this, and so on over the whole body.
Observe that the external manifestation of this succession of motion originates always in the face and extends itself over the whole body like a wave, reaching the feet last. We shall afterward find that this law of sequence is trie of all natural and beautiful on.
Observe also that the time is always slow and soothing, and without having a positive recurrent beat, there is still something rhythmic in the action. There is never anything that in the remotest degree resembles a jerk. On the contrary, the time is measured (metre), and the motion of all the parts harmonic. Contrast the restful movement of the yawn with the ungraceful and fatiguing jerkiness of the mind-directed motions often used in work, gesture, and gymnastics. The order of succession in which each muscle takes up its part of the work, is one element in the perfect harmony which should prevail. Another is that the work be proportionally di vicled among all the muscles, so that each has only a pleasurable amount and knows just when to begin, and acts only in its own turn and in its own time.
How does each muscle know its own time?
How does each pendulum know its own time?
For the purpose of the present paper, it may be sufficient to say that the laws of vibration are common to all physical objects that the wave current which incites the muscle to activity, and the chemical changes in the nerves that transmit that current, are vibratory. The application of force from the muscles to tue bones, making each bone a lever or a pendulum, is still all in obedience to the laws of gravitation.
Hence, every bone and mus1e has a time ratio peculiar to itself. This is the natural, automatic period of motion most easy, most expressive, and most economical. And wonderful as it makes the structure of the human body appear (though it may readily be shown how by natural selection this state of things would come about), all the different time-ratios are harmonic that is to say, so intricately inter-dependent that each (when in automatic or other perfect use) is in relation to every other. All breaks in this harmony are caused by the interference of ignorant mentality or of abnormal (sinful) motives. Unnatural habits, produced in the first place by a false social environment, cause injury to some organs by over action, while others sink into decay through idleness or ennui.
One of the simplest, because most purely physical and automatic, of the harmonies of the body is seen in the yawn. If the step from its simplicity of purpose to the complexity of the possible mental and emotional uses of the body, appears a great one, the construction of an intermediary scientific gymnastic may prove the existent connection.
Why not adopt yawning itself as our gymnastic, since it so perfectly ifiustrates the laws of the body? There are several reasons why other movements are better. For one, the yawn is too catching; it would too readily become a it, and might appear on inconvenient occasions. Doubtless, within limits, it could be encouraged usefully. It would be funny, at least, to see fifty boys in a school, or a thousand soldiers in a regiment, all taking exercise in this manner!
If we examine many accepted systems of gymnastics, we shall find in most that the rhythms of the body are wholly disregarded, and the conventionalized rhythm of a musical instrument is substituted. Further, that the orderly and graceful arrangements, successions, and oppositions of the movements and attitudes of the members, are either neglected or subordinated to the relations of individuals to each other, and of all the class to the floor!
For example, in teaching walking to our boys or soldiers, all must, for the sake of the uniformity of the whole, take steps of the same length, regardless of the different development of the inchvidual leg-pendulums; so that while the mass moves well, only a few individuals are able to do so. This may be a necessity in armies; but it is a poor standard for personal culture. Yet the teaching of marching is about the only teaching that exists, of that superb gymnastic and accomplishment graceful walking.
A gymnastic, while stimulative and developing to the body, might also be educational. Then why spend time and effort merely to accelerate the circulation and increase the bulk, when at the same time bulk of better shape could be obtained by means of a gymnastic that, starting with the laws of the body's growth, would end in those of the soul's, including development in all forms of grace and charm, of motion and expression, through all the varied acts and relations of social existence.
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