What is that stuff?
The picture to the right shows fascia, the connective tissue or “glue” that holds everything together within our body. Fascia also communicates information across the entire body.
According to Tom Myers, a pioneer in the study and understanding of fascia, “You are about 70 trillion cells – neurons, muscle cells, epithelia – all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that binds them all together in their proper placement.” It is a “fluid, self-regulating network.”
Fascia creates distinct pockets and walls, but it does more to connect every cell in the body to the cells nearby than to separate them. Every pressure or tension change on the fascia stretches the bonds between the molecules which creates bioelectrical signals. These signals tell the connective tissue how it needs to respond: by increasing, decreasing or changing the intercellular elements in the area.
For instance, when someone habitually rounds their shoulders, connective tissue creates supports within the tissue and the shoulder muscles to hold the muscles in those positions (because the body assumes that is what you want to do since you keep doing it). Muscle is elastic and will try to come back to its original shape, but fascia is plastic. That means that it can be slowly stretched but it will retain that stretched shape; it doesn’t “bounce back” to its original shape.
In order for the person to learn how to hold their shoulders correctly, they will need to break down the fascial struts holding the position. The muscular strain can be relieved through movement training and the fascia can be broken down and reabsorbed through that movement to return the person to alignment and full movement.
One of the things I find most fascinating about fascia is that it is confirmation that everything indeed is connected. It’s all yoga.
A useful way to think of your body in connection to your fascia is that you have one muscle in 640 pockets instead of 640 distinct muscles. Because of the way the fascia moves within and between the muscles, as well as how tension or pull in one area is spread through the whole, our body acts as if we have one muscle. This is especially apparent when we create a change in a muscle along the same line of fascial pull.
Although everything is connected, some parts are more closely connected than others. In the following exercise, you’ll see how lengthening any part of the “back line,” the fascial connection that runs from the back of the toes up the back of the leg to the sacrum and up the spine to the top of the skull, allows you to bring your head further back in space.
Explore Your Fascial Back Line
Sit at the front edge of a chair seat with both feet on the floor and the knees over the ankles. Look up at the ceiling as far back as you comfortably can. Mentally mark that spot on the ceiling.
Now slide your right foot forward and back eight times on the floor. You are using your leg muscles, especially your hamstring (the four muscles on the back of the upper leg) to create this movement. Bring your leg back in place with the knee bent and knee over the ankle. Look up at the ceiling again. Most people are able to look much further back than they had originally. You can look back even further by then sliding your left leg forward and back several times and looking up again.
This exercise is an example of how working one part of a fascial line effects the whole, and it explains why pain or restriction in one area of your body can actually be improved by opening up or gently moving another area. If your low back is uncomfortable, try stretching your legs to feel better. Our body is pretty amazing!