Yoga, Fascia, and Your Place in the World

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By Justin Casteel

 

Fascia has recently become the focus of scientific study and interest.  Fascia, for those who are not familiar, is connective tissue.  Ligaments and tendons are probably the form of fascia that most people would recognize but there are many types of fascia, and, taken as a whole, they are extremely important.  Fascia, we are finding out, is what gives us our shape in this world.

The current conception of anatomy and physiology is reductionist in nature.  Anatomy books represent individual muscles and their attachment and origin via tendon to the bone.  Muscles are seen as a system of levers and pulleys that mechanically act to reposition bone in relationship to a joint, or else reflexively stabilize based on local stresses (like how the core stabilizers contract when carrying a suitcase on one side).  This is easily observable, and generally makes logical sense to the average individual.  My bicep contracts and I lift the weight.  End of story.

But one muscle contracting to move a joint is analogous to the *middle* of the story.  Taken out of context so we don’t know where it began or where it will end- a picture frozen in time full of faces we don’t recognize.  Here’s why: Fascia.

Let me start over.  Fascia, as I mentioned before, consists of ligaments and tendons that bind, respectively, bone to bone and muscle to bone.  But on top of that, fascia invests everything in our system and connects it as one unified matrix; one whole from core to periphery.  There is periosteum which surrounds the bone, continuous with the epimesium that surrounds the muscle belly.  The tendon of the diaphragm connects to the pericardium, the pleura around the lungs, and the connective tissue “sacs” around all of the organs in the abdominal cavity.  This means that breathing directly influences the heart and the organs!  Since fascia connects and invests everything, pulls on one area of the body have an effect throughout the system.  This is a fascinating concept.

Think of it this way: everything in your system is connected to something else.  Instead of the original model where muscle connects to bone one at a time, imagine that there is just one long muscle that tacks down at different bony points and covers a large area of the body.  This is not a scientifically accurate model, but can be a useful one nonetheless.  Rolfer and anatomy pioneer Tom Myers calls this concept “Anatomy Trains” and uses the image of a steam train on its tracks to help convey the impression of how force (train car) is transmitted (through railway lines) along the fascia.  Try this exercise out to see what I mean: stand with your feet flat on the floor and lean your body weight toward your toes.  Be sure to keep the heels on the floor and the hips in line with the shoulders.  You should feel, among other things, that the entire back of the body (calves, hamstrings, spinal erector muscles, etc) stiffens or contracts slightly to help you keep your balance.

Without going into too much detail, this is also how your body responds with yoga practice!  In yoga, the asanas or various positions we put the body in create various tensional pulls through the fascial web in opposite directions.  Through these tensional pulls, we seek balance.  Balance in lifting versus sinking, balance in reaching left versus reaching right, and balance in the core to stabilize the opposing forces.  In yoga, we learn to breathe so that the stresses on the heart and the organs are helpful instead of harmful, and also how to “massage” them internally to reduce congestion or stagnation.  Various yoga poses use twisting movements or flowing sequences to bring fluidity and heat into tissue that may have become stiff, and the core is strengthened and lengthened.  Having the core strong, long, and efficient can help reverse stiff necks that sometimes tighten as a compensation- trying to hold up areas of the arms and head not supported from the inside.

So, why is yoga so effective?  Fascia is the representation of how we exist in relationship to the world.  Fascia shows shortness and tightenings that correspond to how we use and hold our bodies.  The soft tissues are physical crystallizations of our habits of use, our fears, and places in our bodies that we take for granted.  It displays where we are weak, and how we try to hide that weakness.  Yoga simply puts us up against those boundaries.  In yoga, we are asked to stand up tall, to stretch places that might be tight, to balance on one leg.  Sometimes one leg isn’t as stable as the other!  Yoga can show us how to impartially address movement, compensation, and habit.  I’ll give you an anecdote: today I was doing my yoga practice, doing an asana that I perform very regularly.  Today, somehow, I noticed that on the right side my weight was over one hip bone, but when I did the asana on the left the weight was somewhere else!  That seems like a simple thing to notice, but my push to complete the pose, I had missed that point before.   I was being haughty in trying to stretch deep into a form, but yoga taught me the humility to listen to my body and make an adjustment.  Fascia and yoga came together and something cool happened.  So listen to your body, try some yoga to push yourself against your boundaries, and learn for yourself about your fascia- your place in this world!

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Inspiration Corner

  • When our only reality becomes emerged within an “exaggerated importance “of material wealth we feel a certain lack and so, we desire more and more to fill this void.  In truth the material riches of this illusive reality we have created cannot fulfill a spirit robbed of the unseen treasures that are life’s true gifts.  May Peace, Light and Love surround you and yours always, D

  • Sometimes it is our fear and need to know the outcome that keeps us from stepping outside of our comfort zone and grabbing hold of the opportunities that offer us the greatest potential for growth.

  • The cycle of life begins with the innocence of pure acceptance, becomes entangled within the insecurity of doubt only to rise from the mire blossoming into the radiance of knowing and wisdom.

  • Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.

    Saint Francis de Sales

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Life offers us many opportunities.  However, to truly experience the potential we must first be willing to choose and embrace the possibilities.

  • The color of one’s skin and the beliefs they hold are simply the cloak one wears and the staff they carry as they travel life’s journey.  What connects us all like family is not found in the outside appearance but rather in the light from within, which is the brilliancy of our individual Beings.

  • How often have you asked, and then when the very thing you have desired is offered you hesitate to grab it?  Perhaps the time has come for you to recognize the abundance that is within your grasp.

  • It is important that you take responsibility for your life.  After all, it is you who created your experiences.

  • Be happy, be healthy and be whole, for your tomorrows are created by the choices you make today.

  • Learn from the past, hope for the future, but always live in the now.

  • The only real obstacle in your life is the one you believe you cannot overcome.

     

  • Learning to love unconditionally is the key that will unlock the door to understanding your true life’s purpose.

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