Our bodies react to the stress of life events through well established patterns of
tension holding. Our issues are then habitually deposited in our tissues resulting in symptoms such as neck and back pain, tight hips and shoulders or general feelings of "dis-ease". These emotional artifacts may be combined with physical trauma to further complicate our physical equilibrium; decrease our flexibility; and cause pain. What is the source of these pathologies and how can Yoga combined with massage improve our quality of life?
Emotional trauma, poor posture, physical injuries, inflammation, and various illnesses can throw the body out of alignment and cause the intricate web of the body's fascia to become restricted. When muscle fibers are injured, the fascia that surrounds muscles becomes short and tight. This uneven amount of pressure on the fascia can bind the fascia to underlying tissues causing adhesions or scar tissue to develop. These adhesions are caused by collagen fibers that build up even when we sleep or sit in one position. Stress and injury accelerates this process. This is why habitual tension holding or movement patterns based on the mind can also be reflected in the fascia. Flexibility is reduced by causing friction between what should be smoothly sliding muscle surfaces. Over time, this results in a limited range of motion across joints and compartments of the body. These Myofascial restrictions can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch which affect the structural alignment of the body and puts pressure on pain sensitive areas. It is thought that an extremely high percentage of people suffering with pain and/or lack of motion may be having fascial restrictions, but most go undiagnosed.
Our Fascia is like an internal skin. It is a specialized system of connective
tissue that has an appearance similar to a spider's web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater. If one part of the fascia is dysfunctional it will affect some other part of the body or its bio-mechanical movement.
From a Yoga point of view the bodies fascia affects every pose. It wraps the muscles separating them and permitting them to slide smoothly over each other. This is very important when we are trying to increase flexibility through Yoga asana because the myofascia may limit range of motion more than the muscle itself. The word myofascia is derived from the Latin word “myo,” meaning muscle, and “fascia,” meaning band. You can see this effect by trying to stretch forward to touch your toes. Note your level of flexibility. Then massage the bottom of your foot with a tennis or golf ball. Try the stretch again. Most people find a noticeable increase in their range of motion. We are connected with one band of fascia from our feet through our backs to our forehead. So anything that affects the fascia along that chain will change our level of flexibility. If it is asymmetrical it will also throw our bodies out of alignment and may produce bio-mechanical abnormalities and pain.
The fascia also is very integrated into how we feel our bodies when we practice
Yoga asana. When we talk about mind-body activities what we are often talking about is the fascia. It is a mind body matrix. The vast majority of our senses are located in the fascia and since the stream of sensory information coming from our fascia is the greatest in the body that makes fascia our number one sensory organ. The fascia may actually act a whole body communication system. If we learn to listen to this information it can give us great clues that we can use to deepen our Yoga practice; practice more safely; and uncover those habitual unconscious tension holding patterns that lead to restrictions,
imbalance and pain.
Yoga poses affect muscles and the fascia. The muscles will stretch more quickly than the fascia which is much more dense than muscle. If the muscle has adhesions of the myofascia then they too may stretch irregularly or not at all. In may require longer holds as in Yin Yoga, or targeted repetitive stretching of the same area to get the adhesions to release. In many cases these adhesions
can only be released through manual means called myofascial release. Myofascial release, often referred to as MFR, is specialized subset of deep tissue massage. It uses physical manipulation of the muscles and stretching techniques to release tension and realign the body. In a sense, Yoga asana is one form of MFR. Thus the two complement each other.
Our minds and bodies are deeply connected. When we have a thought that has particular significance for us it is reflected as a biochemical reaction in the body. This is the definition of an emotion. The body's reaction to a thought. The number of sensory neurons in the general senses is many more times that of the special senses. Most of these senses lie in the fascial matrix. Yoga and massage complement each other in this more subtle way as well. On one hand as we practice Yoga asana we pay attention to the body's reactivity to those problem areas that are being stretched. This allows us to let go of emotional trauma
that has built up over time. Often people cry or laugh when tight areas of their bodies are deeply stretched indicating they have connected to active areas within the fascia. These same reactions occur when a massage therapist breaks up myofascial adhesions or releases trigger points. In both cases the Yoga practitioner can learn from the fascial matrix if she listens carefully.
Ever wonder what intuition actually is? Well look no further than your fascial
matrix. Here’s an interesting exercise, bring to mind an image of someone you know, and as their face and body start to appear in your mind and you remember interacting with them, be interested in how your body responds. Notice what takes place through the length and breadth of your body as well as the superficial and deep layers of the body. What’s your body response? What is your fascia telling you? You can learn to listen better to it through practice. In the modern world we aren’t taught to listen to this part of us and the more we become fixated on our special senses the more our fascial intelligence becomes buried within our unconscious so that we lose the ability to listen to our instincts.
While many view yoga as an alternative way to exercise, most long-time practitioners realize that yoga is not just physical -- it creates balance in mind, emotions and body as well. As one practices Yoga one starts to realize that it offers so much more than just physical conditioning--one through experience sees that physical health is directly tied to emotional health. More importantly this emotional health is directly reflected in the "ease" or "dis-ease" of the body's
fascial matrix. Massage is a fantastic tool for the Yoga practitioner that help her to connect to the intelligence represented in the fascia and assist in the release of deeply held myofascial tensions thereby increasing flexability, balance and quality of life.
North Shore Yoga offers Yoga classes for all levels and many massage types through the integrated healing center. If you schedule a massage before or after your Yoga class the class is free.