In Western science, the approach has long been to cut the body starting with a scalpel, in order to understand its functions. Scalpels were slipped around the muscles, which were lifted out and cleaned, away from the connective tissues — that were in turn disregarded — and given names like biceps and triceps.
Up until recently, we were satisfied with the notion that we have muscles, tendons, bones and that muscles attach to tendons that cross joints between bones to produce movement (or stop it). This idea gave us a purely mechanical model of movement, it fails to give a picture of the seamless integration seen in a living body, when one part moves, the body as a whole responds and functionally the only tissue that can mediate such responsiveness is the connective tissue — the stuff that we cut away and dismissed for so many years.
Isolating areas of the body for investigation is useful: it gives us a starting place, it helps in understanding medical terminology, it helps when referring to text books plus providing clarity when communicating with others. While an anatomy book is a great tool for learning, the error comes when we start thinking that humans are actually built that way without the connective tissue. The connective tissue in fact binds everything together.
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PATANJALI ON ASANA
AESTHETIC VS FUNCTIONAL
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o BUSINESS OF YOGA
Our body wide complex of connective tissue webbing can be referred to as fascia or the fascial net.
Fascia permeates the human body, forming a continuous, whole-body, three-dimensional matrix of structural support. It interpenetrates and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones, and nerve fibres, creating a unique environment for body systems functioning. The scope of our definition of and interest in fascia extends to all fibrous connective tissues, including aponeuroses, ligaments, tendons, retinaculae, joint capsules, organ and vessel tunics, the epineurium, the meninges, the periosteal, and all the endomysial and intermuscular fibres of the myofasciae. - Findley and Schleip
New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. ..Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously. - John F. Barnes
Thomas Myers wrote a pivotal book in the understanding of fascia as it affects movement, called Anatomy Trains. In it he explained how the web of fascia forms specific trains of stress — which he calls myofascial meridians — that run all over the body, aiding movement and providing stability. These lines of pull affect the structure and function of the body in question.
The myofascial meridian lines are not energy channels, but lines of pull, based on standard Western anatomy. While many lines of pull may be defined and individuals may set up unique strains and connections through developmental abnormality, injury, adhesion or attitude, Myers identifies 12 distinct lines commonly employed around the human frame.
Rather than us looking purely at the local effects of muscles in a narrow region of the body, considering these myofascial meridians offers us a longitudinal awareness — We can understand how constrictions in one area of the body can cause restrictions to movement around a distant joint.
Fascia keeps all our cells in proper relationship with each other. It builds, maintains and adjusts our body, meeting the mechanical needs of gravity and the other forces that come in from the outside, as well as the forces we generate inside with our muscles. Fascia can bear weight, withstand stretching, and other abuses that no other tissue could withstand, meeting the combined need of flexibility and stability, transmitting and accommodating the forces not in a way of just the tendons going from bone to bone but a whole system of a cobweb, a 3D cobweb pulling in on a bone system that’s pushing out.
We can use the tensegrity model as a tool for understanding the integrity of the whole as we look at the potential for movement and posture. Tensegrity was coined from the phrase ‘tension integrity’ it refers to structures that maintain their integrity due to a balance of tensile forces.
In the tensegrity model, you will notice that the sticks aren’t touching one another. What supports the structures shape is the tension of the elastic bands vs the resisting of compressive forces from the sticks. The compression members, sticks, push outwards against the tension members, bands, that pull inwards. Compression members keep a structure from collapsing in on itself tensional members keep the compression struts relating to each other in specific ways. If you change the tension in any of the bands, the tension around the entire model will change. This isn’t the only effect. The change in tension would also make the compression members move in space. The tension and compression members are intimately connected if one changes in anyway the entire structure must compensate for that change.
We can see the musculoskeletal system as one of these models. Without the elastic bands of ligaments, tendons, fascia and muscle, the bones would neither support our body or give it shape. The bones would clatter to the floor. When we practice yoga, we change the dynamics between the tensional and compression members in our body.
This fine network of intelligence is creating, receiving, and expressing information and sensation constantly. Not only does Fascia have more sensory nerve endings within it than muscle tissue does, impulses of communication flow through fascia faster than the speed of impulses flowing through the nervous system. Fascia’s underlying fluidity and connectivity forms an inner communication system that is nearly immediate. The entire system perceives instantaneously. As a system of proprioception, fascia is constantly communicating to the body where it is in space.
How we live in our fascia affects everything about how we feel. Equally, how we feel affects our fascial system. Fascial sensitivity can be a window into a more complete comprehension and direct experience of individual and Universal Self. Our state of mind fully penetrates the body through the fascia. Fascia will harden if we try too hard or become too serious in our approach. Attitudes of perfectionism in life, spirituality, or yoga, as well as harsh self-evaluations, will always create tension in the fascial network. A key is to continue diving underneath restriction. Restrictions in body and mind are by their very nature not as comfortable or enjoyable as freedom. There is freedom and ease underneath all discomfort. If we can accept that greater comfort may be more desirable than discomfort, we can follow the yogic pathway through and under these limiting patterns into deep, abiding, restful ease. Yoga postures help us reach down into the body and gently stimulate the flow of prana through the connective tissues. As we learn to feel life force flowing within the facial weave, we open to a different initiation of movement; one that begins as a gesture of consciousness and intention. Profound self-acceptance is not just necessary for this process, but self-acceptance grows fuller as we perceive the inner world more clearly. Follow your experience inward through the layers of consciousness and form, opening to newness
The integrity of our muscles relies entirely on the fascia that surrounds it and holds it in place.
Fascia facilitates muscular movement, providing surfaces that slide and glide easily on each other. This gives us full range of movement and easy coordination of our movement. For muscle to contract or stretch it needs to be free to change its shape.
Lack of movement causes our body to think it wants lack of movement, forming limiting trains of tension in the body. Fascia can dry out and lose its fluidity. Over use and injury also a problem. Fascia can become unhealthy; can stick together become clumpy, tight, and flaky, forming restrictions, adhesions, and distortions. Normal tissue fibers line up parallel to one another, scar tissue develops in a haphazard way, limiting movement. Yoga and other myofascial therapies work by reopening the tissues in question, restoring muscle function, connection with the sensory motor system and an easing of the biomechanics pull that caused the increased stress on that tissue in the first place.
All the circulation in your body has to pass through these fibrous webs. Generally speaking, the denser the fibers and the drier the mucous, the less the fascial web allows molecules to flow through it: nourishment in one direction and waste in the other. Yoga helps both stretch and ease the fiber webbing, as well as hydrate the gel, making it more permeable.
Gives muscles their ability to transmit force to the tendons and thus to the bones resulting in a movement around the joints.
Makes the body more efficient in maintaining tension. As the muscle fascia swells during contraction and presses against nearby muscles, these neighbouring muscle groups are pre-tensed, making them more effective and efficient. Tension is created and maintained not only by individual muscles doing their thing, but by the whole system of fascia.
Fascia comes in all different viscosities, densities, strengths, and resiliencies. From super strong and stable, to gooey, and highly viscous. What allows for the vast contrast in materials is the different proportions of ingredients in the cell. Its qualitative differences are based on function and how it is embodied and used. Fascia has 4 properties; (viscosity, elasticity, plasticity, remodelling) These are key in understanding how fascia can be worked in yoga to know what’s happening so we can do the best training for best results.
VISCOSITY - FRACTIONS OF A SECOND
In the moment you have a shock, or in impact exercise, your body initially hardens. For example catching a ball, the hand goes from soft (to be able to move into position) to hard (adaptation to stop the ball) to soft (to be able to throw the ball): The joint fluid becomes solid right away, then back to fluid again, avoiding friction and sliding in the joints. Ways of training viscosity would be through sudden movements, i.e the initial landing in jump backs, or tumbling.
ELASTICITY - ABOUT A SECOND
Elastic properties allow a brief storage, about a second, of significant energy in extension and a recoil shortening as the energy is given back ie the Achilles’ tendon in running. Elasticity in fascia can be trained by storing and releasing energy quickly via plyometrics, bouncing, ballistic stretching, fore-foot running.
PLASTICITY - MINUTES
Viscosity + elasticity = viscoelasticity (plasticity). Past elasticity, fascia can be lengthened slowly, and it will deform, keeping its new length. Just like a plastic bag, with a slow sustained stretch, the plastic (fascia) opens without tearing. Pull too fast and you tear or get injured. Plasticity training can be used to encourage postural changes required to eliminate dysfunction, discomfort or pain for the client or student.
REMODELLING - DAYS, MONTHS, YEARS
The elements in fascia rearrange (remodel) themselves/ and their properties - within limits of course, in response to the various demands placed on them by individual activity or lack of, injury or illness, over both the short and long term. Bone breaks, ligament sprains, sometimes tendon tears.. fascia puts us back together very strongly one bond at a time. Movement then organises fascia, building itself more coherently, which is why, once new bonds are made, encourage movement back in.
Amar Bharati provides a perfect demonstration of remodelling, how continued movement leads to continued ability to move and how stillness leads to stiffness.
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Most of the time the muscle’s fascia becomes a tendon which becomes a bone. Theres no sharp beginning or end to these tissues in our body. As the muscles fascia experiences stress of activation, it transmits that stress through the tendon to the bone, which then moves or resists movement, depending on the intention and situation. Tendons provide fine control over our movements.
If a tendon is overstretched it becomes strained. Due to the lack of blood flow to these tissues, an injury may take weeks, moths and sometimes years to resolve if the student doesn’t properly rehab.
LIGAMENTS & JOINT CAPSULES :
Ligaments join bone to bone and like muscle, which becomes the tendon, there is no hard cutoff point between the muscle and our ligaments either. Van der Wal discovered; muscle contractions, which tense the muscle and its myofascia also tense associated ligaments because they are part of a same series of fascia in which the muscle was contracting, not a separate underlying layer, as we had previously believed.
This means that ligaments don’t just become tense at extreme range of the joint’s movement; ligaments are dynamically active in stabilising the joint all through the movement, during both concentric and eccentric contraction. This muscle-ligament combination Van der Wal termed a dynament. When the muscle tenses, the tendon and the ligaments both undergo stress. This stress may restrict our full range of movement long before the joint has reached its limits.
Ligaments don’t have a direct blood supply, the sheath of tissue encasing the ligaments delivers the necessary nutrients for function and healing which again is usually slow. A ligament can become sprained if over stretched.