Five Things you want to know about Fascia in Yoga!May 30, 2023
Five Things you want to know about Fascia in Yoga!
1. Fascia is a communication system
Fascia is the “connective tissue” that creates the structure for muscles, the framework for organs and that connects every element of the body, as well as creating the sheaths that separate distinct organs. However the whole multilayered web of fascia is woven through with nerve endings that gather information within the peripheral nervous system and convey the information to the central nervous system- the spine and brain. These nerve endings vary in form and function- one type you may already be aware of are the muscle spindles. These convey information about movement and body posture for example, so they are a type of “receptor” described as “mechanoreceptors”.
2. Yoga Fascia has a role in the experience pain
Pain is a really complex and fascinating phenomenon. It’s not simply, as scientists used to think, that tissues are damaged and this causes the pain. But rather that the threat of pain or of damaged tissues is interpreted by the nervous system and then the brain decides what the outcome is ie convey no pain, or less pain or more pain based on a whole array of factors. E.g. more stressed or tired, or afraid.
Yoga Fascia is the site of many of the receptors that are responsible for gathering information about the threat of pain. These receptors are called nociceptors, so fascial tissue is a part of the pain communication system also.
3. You can't "release" Fascia (nor would you want to!)
There is a lot of information on how to release the myofascia which is the architecture of the muscle tissue (muscle- myo and fascia). This is often described as using balls, rollers etc. to move the superficial layers of fascia, just beneath the skin; or “massage” the deeper layers. Research has shown that while this can have a role in helping the body and mind relax, this response is a part of the communication system. The message of safety and ease creates short term change and therefore the “release” does not “heal” pain. Although anything that helps us “reset” a stress response is valid. It can be helpful to be clear what we are describing. Hence the name of my yoga teacher training classes & 300hr yoga instructor teacher training Intensive being Fascia in Focus, rather than fascia release.
Moving to the next point- we can’t “release fascia” as such, and nor would we want to because….
4. Fascia transfers force
Fascia helps the body move efficiently and effectively. Rather than thinking of the muscles as the “actors” and the fascia as the passive “holders” or container for the muscle. The fascia actively transmutes any force (movement/ speed/ weight bearing) through the body.
Research shows that the fascia is capable of “capturing” the energy of movement and transferring it on. This might be from the foot- the plantar fascia to the calf through the achilles tendon. Or when we bend down to pick up a bag the visco-elasticity (both viscous- like honey & it can rebound a bit like elastic) of the lumb-dorsal fascia across the back rebounds to support movement as we stand up again.
From this perspective we don’t want fascia which is “released” and extra pliable because it would not support movement efficiently.
5. Fascia can become stronger
Just as you’s suspect- a tissue that has such am integral role in our movement is also responsive to force, so as we strengthen the muscles we also strengthen the tendons and ligaments. These “soft tissues” - ligaments and tendons, all come under the massive category of “fascia”. They all have “collagenous components” ie they are made up of collagen amongst other tissues. Collagen has incredible strength- research shows its ability to resist force is equivalent to steel!
Questions & Conclusions
Putting all of this together gives us so many questions as movement practitioners, yogis and yoga teachers. In terms of optimal movement and to avoid hypermobility, should we or do we need to adapt the asana to maintain the health of fascia?
When we understand fascia in teaching yoga it becomes disingenuous to say we can release it, but we can explore movements in a new way & expand the movement vocabulary, to support the health of the fascial complex along with other tissues.
In terms of the full body mind communication system- how does this relate to what yogis describe as prana? How does pranayama affect the fascial systems, locally around the diaphragm and through the nervous system?
The research is ongoing and continues to fascinate!
Fascia & Hypermobility freebie! Get the video from our recent masterclass on fascia - discover how fascia revises our understanding of the whole body. Sign up to download.
I share more on this in my Fascia in Focus classes in the Yoga Hub. If you would like to explore movements that relate to adaptability of the tissues of the body and the need for fascia to strengthen and glide then come join us - take a 10 day trial.
If you just need to understand way more, the 300 hour yoga training teacher course starts with the Fascia in Focus yoga teacher training intensive in September. I can promise you up to date research, creative movement with intention, class plans based on our current understanding and supporting the health of body and mind. We explore how our current understanding of fascia highlights the incredible work of the yogis- once again!
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