Fascia has been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. For so long fascia was ignored and neglected, overshadowed by muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. In fact, on most scientific anatomy posters fascia isn’t even depicted! In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for a surgeon to cut into the body bulldozing straight through the fascia to get to the important stuff. It’s like a child tearing through the wrapping paper to get straight to the present. But now we’re finding out that the fascia is actually a very important part of the present! In recent years it has indeed become such a big deal, that there is now an annual international gathering called the Fascia Research Congress.
But what is fascia?
Fascia is a type of connective tissue that comes from the Latin word for ‘band’ or ‘bandage.’ It is like a plastic wrap for the body that envelopes the bones, muscles, and organs — helping us to maintain posture, control body position, and make smooth, coordinated movements (often referred to as the ‘slide and glide’ effect).
After conception, fascia is what allows us to transform from a tiny spec of life to a full-grown adult. Every movement we execute is related to the intelligence of the fascial matrix. Without it, we do not move, function, or have a form. Fascia is the great organizer of the body.
How do we ensure that our fascia is healthy?
Circulation is the key to life and longevity. Where there is circulation there is vitality, and where there is a lack of circulation there is deterioration. There are many ways of moving and exercising the body — but nothing beats yoga.
In stronger forms of physical yoga such as power, ashtanga, or vinyasa you are generating oxygenated, nutrient-infused blood and circulating it through the fascia by flowing the body in and out of various postures. This circulation ensures old cellular debris is eliminated and proper nutrients are brought in to feed the cells, creating a healthy fascial system. In yoga, through forward bends, backward bends, sideward bends, twists, and inversions, you are moving your body in all the ways it was built to be moved, and your fascia is loving it! A healthy fascia will allow your tendons to slide more smoothly and help activate muscular contraction, providing more power and strength.
In yin yoga, you hold deep floor stretches for about three to five minutes to access the deep fascia. After holding a static stretch for 90 seconds you move from superficial tissue into the deep fascia. This transition is called a ‘phase change.’ The deep fascia is made up of collagen, which provides tissue resiliency, strength, and elastin. A regular yin yoga practice ensures that on a deep level you are stronger and more durable.
What functions does the deep fascia serve?
Within the deep fascia are sensory receptors that detect pain, changes in vibration and pressure, movement and chemistry, as well as a fluctuation in temperature. Based on sensory input, the deep fascia adapts by contracting, relaxing, or shifting its compositional materials. For example, in the event of a sudden emergency, the body shifts into the ‘fight or flight’ response, which induces strong contractions within the fascia. This series of events is what gives people Herculean strength in the event of an emergency.
It is very important that we keep the deep fascia well hydrated. The older we get, the dryer we become. This dryness contributes to joint stiffness and muscle tightness, which can accelerate the aging process. When we hold the deep poses of yin yoga we stimulate Hyaluronic acid or HA.
HA has been described as nature’s moisturizer. It can attract one thousand times its volume of water. This attraction of water helps the body tissues stay hydrated, lubricated, and spring-like, enabling your body to endure tension, pressure, and stress more efficiently.
What are the benefits of yin yoga specifically?
Without a practice like yin yoga your deep fascia can become dehydrated, stiff, and less elastic. As this occurs fibers in the deep fascia begin to stick to each other, creating adhesions that decrease mobility and increase fatigue and bodily pain. To make matters worse, toxins and waste products get stuck where the adhesions take place, and harmful bacteria can rapidly multiply in these areas. Cellular communication becomes impaired, and the toxins create abnormal electromagnetic impulses that are disruptive to the natural intelligence of the body.
Maintaining a regular power and yin yoga practice will support your fascia to be strong, supple, and healthy, allowing you to continue doing those simple things in life that are often taken for granted — things like bending down to tie your shoes, picking your kids up, and moving through life pain-free. Having a healthy fascia will also increase athletic performance. I know many people who practice yoga just so they can play tennis, go running, lift weights, and do the things they really enjoy well into their senior years. So, unless you want to look and move like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz I suggest getting on your yoga mat today.
Take care of your body and it will take care of you! It is, after all, your home.
Travis Eliot is the CEO of Inner Dimension Media and also a world-renowned yoga instructor, meditation teacher, kirtan musician, and certified Ayurveda practitioner. He teaches his signature Holistic Yoga Flow classes in Los Angeles and in workshops and retreats around the world. His style is intensely dynamic and has inspired many of today’s top athletes, celebrities, and entertainers. He is the co-author of Holistic Flow: The Path of Practice, and the author of the newly released yoga and meditation book, A Journey Into Yin Yoga. Practice with Travis online with Inner Dimension TV.