Fascia: A short encyclopaedia of the subtle threads of life!
“Feeling good” is one of the most important goals of our yoga practice, our therapy or training. Usually we associate great mental clarity and emotional ease with the state of “being in the flow” – a way of being that allows for mastering challenges harmoniously in a focused way.
What is holistically happening on the physical level when we can live our life from this state? What kind of structures in the body support and influence this form of wellbeing?
What is fascia?
- A MULTITASKING WEB OF LIFE
- FASCIAL TENSION & SOMATIC INFLUENCES
- FASCIA DETERMINES FLEXIBILITY & POWER
- IMPRESSABLE SHAPER OF PHYSICAL FORM
1. A SENSITIVE, “MULTITASKING” WEB OF LIFE
If we never have heard of fascia before in our lives, we usually have already seen it when shopping for groceries: These delicate, yet strong, white membranes cover and weave themselves through the raw meat that we take home in order to prepare the next meal. In our bodies, it pretty much works the same way: fascia covers our muscles in white, slightly shimmering sheaths that not only stay on the surface but dive deep within the muscular structure itself. Fascia weaves itself through the body as it separates muscle tissue, providing surfaces that allow structures to glide over each other while being held in place.
These attribute of SPACIAL SEPARATION WHILE STABILIZING FORM creates the foundational matrix of all life: In fruits like oranges, lemons or grapefruits we also find these compartments that separate structures while holding them in place.
Fascia is sturdy, wet and slippery – an IDEAL COMBINATION PROVIDING STABILITY AND MOVEMENT.
“Fascia can be viewed as an variable that has long been ignored in the equation of stability and movement.” states Tom Myers, author of “Anatomy Trains” who rocked the world of bodywork with his pioneering publications on myofascial pathways. Myers is deeply convinced that we have to focus on fascia and its influence on structures throughout the body when it comes to our holistic perception of our being and health.
Traditional Anatomy classifies approximately 600 separate muscles in the body. “It is essential to understand that these 600 muscles represent potential for movement, and that this potential is embedded into a fine, fascial spiderweb that covers and penetrates throughout the whole physical system.
STRICTLY SEPARATED MUSCLES ARE AN ILLUSION CREATED BY THE USE OF A SCALPEL that cuts tissue along fascial pathways. The perception of our bodies has been distorted by theses images of separate elements within the human body: In reality, we are one unit – we are whole.” says Myers.
Besides separating structures, fascial tissues fulfill another essential function inside our being: they provide PATHWAYS OF TRANSPORTATION. Our lymph flows between the layers of fascia, providing cells with building blocks and nourishment while also channeling away undesirable waste products. Every muscular motion supports this transport, muscular tension will inhibit it. Lymph begins to stagnate and as a consequence, fascial tissues have a harder time gliding over each other.
As they stop moving, over time small bridges will develop in-between their layers, similar to velcro fasteners (“Fuzz”). The stagnation that started the process in the first place translates gradually into a more solid state of immobility between surfaces of fascia. Stimulation of fascial movement allows things to “flow again”: What needs to be taken out of the body can be eliminated – be it physical, emotional or mental – so we can feel “free” again.
Fascia allows us to to get an interconnected, overall sensation for our bodies as sensitive units in space.
These layers, of what has formerly been called “connective tissue”, can manifest themselves as either subtle, gauzy sheaths or grosser structures with a couple of millimeters in width. They have no beginning or end as they dive through the body. A network of interweaving, receptive tiers of tissues in various strength, this stable yet flexible mesh provides space for a HUGE AMOUNT OF RECEPTORS AND NERVE CELLS, feeding back sensual information to our brain. Fascia forms a vital outpost of our autonomic nervous system, which independently regulates vital functions such as breathing or digestion without our conscious control. Hence fascia can be interpreted as an omnipresent sense organ that receives sensual input, transmits it and thereby aids the self-governed intelligence of the body to balance and direct essential processes.
2. Our psyche’s influence on fascial tension
Fascia as an omnipresent sense organ and outpost of our autonomic nervous system: How does this influence our attitude, emotionally as well as structurally? Is it possible for us to experience a physical relationship between mind, our emotions and structure?
Our emotions strongly influence through the autonomic nervous system our muscular and fascial tension: Self-composure and serenity literally relaxes us (and our structures), constant stress puts a lot of tension on our internal “web of life”. IF WE ARE UNABLE TO RELEASE IT, FINDING INNER PEACE BECOMES ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. We start to permanently identify ourselves with this state of elevated stress – That’s just the way “we are”. As a consequence we bear a greater risk of injury on the physical level: constant high tension in different layers of tissues become a dangerous prerequisite for simple movements suddenly turning injurious. We strain our back while we “just” bent down to pick up the keys.
What we tend to forget: Suppressed emotions put a lot of strain on our fascial web and the muscles they hold in place. Emotional stress is not extricated, but instead stored in the body. Yin Yoga offers the quiet space for calm reflexion to release fascial tension and liberate the underlying, frozen emotional states so we can be at peace again.
3. Fascia provides agility and strength
Our emotions influence our fascial web – which is the foundation for our overall flexibility. Besides emotional stress, other factors can cause fascia to lose it’s ability to spring back and glide smoothly: operations, an overall lack of movement or misalignment of physical structures harden the web of life. Healthy fascia normally consists of a larger percentage of elastin – if due to the previously mentioned influences the fascial network becomes more inflexible, the springy elastin fibers within the tissue are being replaced with the less elastic collagen. We become more rigid and inflexible and the risk of injury increases.
For healing to occur, we first need to provide FASCIA AS PART OF THE SELF-REGULATING SYSTEM OF THE BODY with some quiet space in order to kickstart the process. Then, conscious movement, that will subject the tissue to different vectors of force, will have to be introduced. Thereby fascia regains its ability to intelligently “get a grip on” what kind of structures to support with a reinforced bond and where to break them so the body can move freely in space.
Fascia not only determines our flexibility and range of motion, it also plays a major role when it come to STORING ENERGY AND PROVIDING POWER. Just think of kangaroos and the way they can catapult themselves forward! Fascial tissue that has been brought to the outer limit of its range of motion, creates a lot of force that will be transmitted through the fascial network and is reinforced by muscle tissue. The more elastic fascia is, the more energy can be generated, transmitted and stored by movement.
4. Fascia determines our form. We can influence it!
The outer appearance of our physical body is formed by fascia that, over weeks, months and years, adapt to the different stresses our body is being subjected to. If we were to remove all organs, bones and muscles from a human being, we still would be able to see this being’s unique shape.
Gil Hedley has demonstrated in one of his DVDs from the “Integral Anatomy” series how profoundly superficial fascia determines our individual form. Myofascial tissue can be positively influenced by certain techniques such as Yin Yoga, Rolfing or specific forms of fascial release massage.
Collagenous adhesions consist of solidified, gel-like colloids that – under the influence of mechanical force – can be transformed into a liquid (or sol -) state. After subjecting the tissues to healing manipulation, they will solidify again in their reformed state. Receptors in fascia that operate as neurological switch points will relay the new information directly to the nervous system and thereby influence the whole system permanently in a positive way.
Yes, knowledge is power! BUT ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS. Come & practice with us!