Yoga As Therapy: Fascia

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Yoga As Therapy workshop with Doug Keller, the guy who literally wrote the book on the therapeutic benefits of yoga practice.  It was an amazing experience that was quite cross-cultural… not only did yoga teachers attend, but there were a few yoga students as well as nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists too.  Our week together has inspired this and hopefully an on-going series of posts about yoga therapy.  There it is — I put my intention out there.

I have a new fascination: fascia.  (get it?)  Fascianation, one might say.  Doug calls it “organized water.”  Many of my yoga classes earlier this year focused on the five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space — and how they related to our physical bodies, so I am thrilled to see such a direct connection here.  Fascia is the underdog of anatomy.  Traditionally, doctors would dissect a body to pick out  separate muscles, completely ignoring the stuff they were cutting in order to get at these seemingly distinct parts.  Earls and Myers write in Fascial Release for Structural Balance, “While every anatomy lists around six hundred separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing.”

How cool is that?  Everything is connected.  The web of life is reflected in a webbing inside our own bodies.  And as organized water, that just shows that there is a certain fluidity of movement that is (or at least should be) inherent within us.  Think of the earth itself, 75% water and that water is constantly on the move, evaporating, raining down, flowing.  If that cycle gets interrupted, that is serious business for those of us trying to live here.  As Ayurvedic practitioners say, movement is health, stagnation is disease.  Because the connective tissue is distributed within most muscles, when you notice a tight muscle in your body, really it is the fascia that is getting stuck.

The majority of nerve endings in the body are found in the fascia.  As you know, nerve endings send electrical impulses to your brain so you can know stuff and respond to stuff; therefore, it would seem to me that the fascia is the key to the mind-body connection.  Yogis have been integrating consciousness on the physical plane for eons.  They seem to have been on to something here, especially when you look at the way the fascia is woven throughout the body.  There are longitudinal lines of fascia that connect from your feet to your tongue… head to toe… these various vertical lines assist your body with movement.  And there are latitudinal lines that provide structure and stability as well.  Where these horizontal bands cross the spine actually correspond to where the yogis intuited that the chakras are placed.  Chakras are considered wheels of energy, centers where different physical, mental, and emotional awarenesses can be processed.  With corresponding fascia and therefore nerve endings, there is a physical manifestation of this more subtle energetic flow.  Your mind blown yet?

The weaving of these different longitudinal and latitudinal lines of fascia create internal integrity.  If you stand on your hands or do a backflip (like the lovely Gaby Douglas), your body will not collapse or fall apart.  The weaving also helps distribute any sort of strain or trauma that your body might sustain.  Think of whiplash.  For a few days it is a problem of your neck, then it becomes a problem of your spine, and after a while, the strain is distributed throughout your entire body.  Not fun if you do not catch and correct the imbalance quickly.

In my own personal experience, I used to really hate virasana.  Hate is a strong word, let’s say gravely disliked virasana, to the point of just not practicing it at all.  (This is not necessarily a path I recommend for you however.)  When I was going through my yoga teacher training, I avoided it like it was okra.  There was pain in my knees and no room for my thighs to fit between my hips and calves, just not fun.  Then, one day a few years ago, I thought I would try it again for kicks.  And what do you know, over time, and having practiced a lot of yoga during that time, the overall level of tension in my body had reduced to the point that virasana was no longer painful in my knees and the pose actually became enjoyable.  Gods be praised, my fascia had released.

Staying hydrated is a big key to healthy fascia.  Eat okra if you like (I will pass, thanks)… but drink a mug or two of water every morning upon waking.  The hotter the better — to improve digestion, hydration, and fluidity of movement.  Healthy fascia will strengthen your nervous system and improve immunity.  And of course, a little yoga everyday will help too.


Next up: Hot, Clear Water

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