Yoga and Myofascial
by Sandra Helpsmeet
Our birthright is one of free and expansive breathing and free and easy movement. Look at any baby to see this. So what happens to us? We begin to do things, and not do things, so that we are moving less. And we begin to experience emotional and physical reactions to situations that cause us to tense our bodies. We sit for long hours, and not with good posture. We learn to inhibit our expression. All of these things serve to inhibit our breath and make movement more constrained and uncomfortable. Internally what is happening is that muscles, especially core muscles, lose their tone, so we begin to hold ourselves up ‘from the outside in’ with muscles that are not designed for the job. Tension creates areas of hardness. And loss of free breathing does not provide the internal massage that can keep the body supple and moving. Our bones are still quite capable of doing their part of the job in moving us, but our muscles are affected by tension and weakness. However, there is an even bigger factor: what is happening to our fascia.
Fascia is a kind of all-over internal body suit that covers every structure inside our bodies, but one with pockets that contain each of those structures. Living fascia is tough but supple, and smooth and slippery on its surface so that it can glide easily over adjacent fascia. It is like an internal protection and lubricant at the same time. Since fascia covers everything internally, it is, in a sense, all connected; some areas of fascia are more directly connected to adjacent ones and some are less so. When one follows the connected areas, one can begin on the head and end up moving around and down the body to the sole of the foot. So a tug in the neck, for example, can have an effect anywhere along that line.
“Fascia is a kind of all-over internal body suit that covers every structure inside our bodies, but one with pockets that contain each of those structures.”
When fascia is interrupted by scar tissue or stuck because of a lack of movement of the fascia through tension, absence of full breathing, or absence of movement, it loses its ability to glide across surrounding fascia. The adhesions that form where things are stuck pull on surrounding structures the way pulling on one corner of a tablecloth distorts the whole cloth. This eventually inhibits body movement, causes asymmetry in posture, and/or produces pain.
The practice of yoga postures, movements, and breathing has a helpful affect on fascia. Many people think that yoga is about stretching, but that is only a very small part of yoga, and not a very important one. Yoga also strengthens muscles, especially in the core, creates more authentic breathing that moves more freely through the body, and teaches movement in parts of the body that are out of awareness and practice. The movement of breath, the support and grounding developed, and the increased awareness of the body, mean that more areas of the body are moved, which moves the fascia of more areas, breaking up adhesions and helping the fascia return to a state of gliding, creating greater freedom for the whole body. In addition, places of stuckness can be identified by a teacher and then can be worked with intentionally until greater movement is possible. One learns how to work with some areas of the body while relaxing those that don’t need to be involved. Freedom of movement develops as support muscles strengthen, tension lessens, and fascia glides freely.
Yoga’s teachings about observing oneself without judgment is another aspect of yoga that is helpful to our fascia because we are less likely to create tension with our negative thoughts. For example, if I notice that I have made a mistake, without observation I may well castigate myself for some time. If I observe this happening, I can notice the mistake, the castigating thought, the thoughts I think about the castigating thought, and hold them all lightly as phenomenon that are happening and do not require a response. The result is that little or no bodily tension is created, and the mistake recedes into the past more quickly. And my fascia are not subjected to any further tugging via tension.
Practitioners of yoga have the opportunity to experience greater and greater freedom from the tension, pain, and difficulty with movement related to fascial stuckness. For many, it is a great relief. Ahhh, yogaaaahh.
Sandra Helpsmeet, MS, RYT-500, teaches classes and workshops, and guides clients in private lessons at theYoga Center of Eau Claire LLC.