Fascianation: Connective Tissue Fitness

It has been a long time since I last posted about fascia, but that does not mean that I am any less interested or excited about it.  In preparing for my upcoming six-week-special at Willow Street Yoga Center, the Fascia Sutras, I’ve had a chance to delve more deeply into the topic and am planning to document the good stuff here.

A brief review on fascia:  it is the connective tissue in the body.  It is what gives your body structure.  Without fascia, you would collapse like a bag of individual bones piled on the floor.  Fascia weaves through the muscles as well as surrounds the muscles and it is what is between your muscles and your skin.  Muscles do not “attach” to bones, yes there are tendons and ligaments that help support the structure, but it is more correct (at least due to current research) to think of it as the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones gliding fluidly along each others’ surfaces.  Fascia is considered “organized water,” in that water is a large component of the connective tissue and the connective tissue organizes in both vertical lines and horizontal bands.  Hence the name Fascia Sutras, because a sutra is a line or a thread.  Instead of thinking of your body as consisting of 600 different muscles, think of your body as one muscle with 600 pockets.  Phew.  That was a lot.

Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains and Fascial Fitness Practitioner Extraordinaire, offers 10 suggestions for fascial fitness on his webinar on Yoga U.  We’ll discuss a couple today…

1. Focus on strengthening and stretching the long neuro-myo-fascial sutras rather than simply isolating muscle groups.  Hooray for yoga!

It is called neuro-myo-fascia because there are many nerve endings in the fascia that surround the muscles, therefore, mind and body are connected within the connective tissue.  Body builders way back in the 70s, and even today, isolate particular muscle groups to build them up and make them prominent.  But as the muscles bulge like that, they lose their flexibility.  A body-builder becomes muscle-bound.  Think of when you feel tight in a particular muscle, first of all it is most likely the fascia that is actually tight, and secondly, we all know it is not comfortable.

Hooray for yoga because instead of repetitive motion in a particular area, yogis practice a wide variety of motions to lengthen muscles as they build strength.  Think of Virabhadrasana I, from the back leg all the way up to your upraised hands, that is a long line of motion.  There is plenty of room to open up space in the connective tissue to allow vital energy in the form of prana, nutrients from food, and lymph to flow.  Parighasana is another good one.  Flexible muscles are naturally strong.

To be clear, it is not that lifting weights is bad, it is just better if exercise that isolates muscle groups is balanced with stretching as well.

2. Engage your muscles before stretching them, and then stretch them in multiple directions.

Before exercise, warm up the muscles with fluid movements of short duration; the body is built to move, and short, deliberate, graceful actions will increase circulation to warm the connective tissue as much as the muscles themselves.  Then engage your muscles, create muscular energy if you will, in order to stretch them in a healthy way.

If you only attempt to stretch the muscles without creating some stability first, then it is more likely that muscle and connective tissue will pull away from the bones.  Create resistance first, and then you may go deeper within a stretch or yoga pose.  Now, I am not an expert, but I do have personal experience on this.  There was a reason Anusara Yoga taught Muscular Energy before Organic Energy (extending outward through the bones in brief), it is an effective and healthy way to practice.

 So, engage your muscles first, and then make sure you move in multiple directions.  We are going for maximum sensation here.  If you practice a yoga posture and notice a muscle you never knew you had before, congratulations!  More body awareness points for you!  Having a kinesthetic sense of your own body is wonderful.  Mainly it just feels good to infuse vital energy to a place that may have been dull or blocked, but in addition your stability, coordination, and balance will improve.  This feeling in the body is totally empowering.  Awesome.
Stay tuned… we’ve got eight more suggestions to go.
Move forward to Fascianation: CTF II.
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