Fascia. What’s that?
The moment I wake up, before I put on my make-up, I do a little downward dog.
I do this not only because it’s such a nice way to stretch first thing, I do it to get my juices flowing, and by juices flowing, I’m talking lymph, collagen and blood. I’m stretching and elongating to enliven my fascia, my connective tissues.
What are connective tissues (aka fascia)? Many think of fascia as a glorified body stocking - a seamless web of tissue that wraps you just underneath the skin.
While this is true of your superficial fascia, it’s important to understand that your fascia is multi-dimensional and forms your soft tissue architecture.
From the superficial (“body stocking”) fascia, dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. Imagine what it looks like when you bite into a wedge of an orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice.
We’re just like that! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.
So imagine for a moment you could remove every part of you that is not fascia. You would have a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like. Not just in recognisable ways like your posture or facial features, but also the position of your liver, and the zig-zig your clavicle takes from that break you had as a kid, and how your colon wraps.
To say it’s everywhere is far from over-stating things.
In fact, it turns out fascia’s everywhere-ness is one of the reasons it was overlooked for so long. Until recently it was viewed as a filler. Fortunately research is catching up to what turns out to be a remarkably communicative sensory and proprioceptive tissue, there is even talk of fascia being the elusive meridians or nadis matrix (acupuncture, and yoga life lines) – this is tres cool for many reasons.
Keeping your soft tissues hydrated and supple will keep you from seizing up and drying out, essentially you’ll stay younger, happier and healthier when your fascia is at it’s optimum.
You can stay juicy, by doing yoga (yes, I had to mention it) yoga kicks ass when it comes to working your connective tissue.
Happy fascia is fluid. It’s springy and strong.
When we run or walk, happy fascia will return the force we emit right back at us, making us feel lighter and softer. We will need to use less energy to do things and our muscles and body will work less and move with greater efficiency. We will discover new strength and flexibility and space.
While moving through yoga poses begins to hydrate and free the superficial layers of the fascia, it’s often not enough to undo the deeper damage done the other 23 or so hours of our day. Many factors in our daily life, including poor postural habits, stress-induced muscular tension, limited movement, injury and dehydration, can cause velcro-like adhesions to form within the fascia sticking muscles together and restricting their ability to perform their individual functions.
Forced to move and work as a team, the muscles become less efficient.
The deeper layers of the tissue, where adhesions and scar tissue are common, can be stubborn, requiring more than your typical vinyasa flow to affect change.
Healthy fascia relies on movement and hydration, so any targeted technique used to manipulate the muscles (myo) and surrounding tissues (fascia) can be helpful. Massage, rolfing, foam rolling and myofascial release are some of the most common ways to target this system of tissues.
By using pinpointed release techniques in our practice, we can help jumpstart the fascial repair and remodelling process to free up the tissues and increase their range of motion both during and after yoga practice.
I recently read a great article an interview with Tom Myers, it really helped me to fully realise how deeply our fascia is connected with our neurological system - how not only our postural habits and environmental factors affect our form, but our thoughts, emotions and our brain chemistry too!
Fascia has been with us from the very beginning... in fact it’s our fascia that guided our form when we were a tiny embryo in our mother’s womb.
“In the development of the embryo, it’s actually the connective tissue cells that are organising the brain.
The brain cells of the neo-cortex are originally born in the ventricles in the middle of the brain. And they have to migrate out to the surface of the brain. That’s not very far in a little tiny little embryo, but it’s incredibly long, as far as the cell is concerned…………..So how do the cells which get born in the middle of the brain know where to go on the surface of the brain? The answer is that they put their little ‘arms’ around a connective tissue fibre and ride that connective tissue fibre out to the surface of the brain and are deposited in just the right spot.” - Tom Myers
The central part of our nervous system is our brain. This is where our thoughts are generated and where our hormones (regulates our body and mood) are created. This provides incredible insight into the importance of fascia. It shows just how intimately connected it is not only to our physical form, but also our mental and emotional form.
Our fascia and connective tissue (collagen) provide the body with an information super highway. Pathways of intelligence are continually informing our awareness, our movement and our physical form. Fascia is your web of intelligence!
Information exchange via the connective tissue and fascia help create an open system where all function is informed and integrated. This connectivity, quite literally, is what binds or holds our body together – more so than our skeleton in fact. On a more subtle level, it is the energetic synchronization where frequency of thought, emotion and memory harmonize so a fluid expression may support our total health and vitality.
When our connective tissue is functioning properly we live in a state of coherence to create harmonious outcomes in the fulfillment of our lives.
We can even consider our organs and muscles as specialized connective tissue, where the fibrous layers of all aspects of our body are one continuum of conscious intelligence. The integrins (transmembrane receptors that are the bridges for cell to cell interaction) link the cellular matrix with the extra cellular matrix and with all of the connective tissue. The extracellular matrix is then “hard-wired” both mechanically and energetically to the cytoskeleton (network of fibers composed of proteins contained within the cell’s cytoplasm) and nuclear matrix.
The flow of electricity or information in the body creates a corresponding energy field which has a cascading effect on hormonal balance and endocrine function. This affects our behaviour and cognitive function and how we relate to stress.
This web of interconnectivity, is also where we store unprocessed emotion, memory and trauma. Just like we can wear the past on our face – masking our true nature, we can also wear an entire costume of unresolved or stagnant energy within the connective tissue and fascia. This reflects itself in our posture and the associated beliefs and attitudes we hold about ourselves and the world around us. This inhibits the natural flow and circulation of our life force which can compromise all aspects of our health.
When it comes to food, basically eating a diet high in protein from good quality (ideally organic grass fed) meats and eggs, loads of veggies, fermented veggies, kombucha (I’m running a fermented foods workshop this Friday, if you want to learn how to prepare good pro biotic foods and drinks) loads of berries, fruit, healthy fats (fish, grass fed beef, extra virgin cold pressed flaxseed oil, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, coconut oil, butter, ghee, and make sure you’re low in grains and sugar – this is the way to eat your way to healthy connective tissue.
Additional information from Brooke Thomas @ breakingmuscle.com
Rachel Laulu is a local yoga teacher who offers fermenting workshops, private meditation and yoga classes to corporate groups, schools, retreats and individuals. If you have any inquiries please feel free to contact Rachel via email at [email protected] or add her on facebook through her Yoga Juice Samoa group page.