Finding the Fascia

RunningMan“It’s all connected, man…”

Yoga teaches us that everything is connected.  Whether it’s “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone,” or the breath is connected to the mind, or that I am connected to you, everything is united in one way or another.  However, these connections can often times be hard to… connect with. Even when it’s right “under our skin…”

In the body, the unifying substance which holds everything together is called fascia.  The fascia is a web-like layer of collagen and elastin fibers right beneath the skin which encompasses every muscle and bone, maintaining the structure of the human form.  Fascia was first explained to me by my teacher Olivia Barry using a metaphor:  Imagine that every item in your refrigerator was wrapped in cellophane.  The milk, the condiments, the cucumber you should have eaten three weeks ago are all interconnected with this cellophane membrane.  If you pull on the milk, the hummus shifts, the milk tilts and the cucumber all but disintegrates.  This “cellophane wrap” is similar to the fascia in the human body.  Like the items in the refrigerator, when we move one body part, it directly affects the rest along that fascial line.  This is not a perfect analogy, but it is involves hummus… which is nice.

Despite the palpability and significance of fascia, is has been overlooked amongst the medical community up until quite recently.  The ancient practice of yoga, on the other hand, is practically tailor-made  to help stretch and engage the fascia.  Poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Marichyasana III (Seated Twist), and High Lunge are excellent for keeping the fascia oxygenated, supple and free from restriction.  Restrictions in the fascia can pull the body out of its normal alignment.  Establishing a regular asana practice helps prevent this and the resulting factors of pain, loss of motion, and weakness.

The fascia is tremendously interesting.  I encourage you to check out the two articles and video that I have attached below.  The first step towards achieving the unification that yoga seeks is through understanding and awareness.

But before that, try this Fun with Fascia Trick:

  • After warming up the spine with some Cat Cows and Downward Dog, try Uttanasana (Standing forward fold).  Notice how far you can comfortably reach your fingers towards the earth without straining,
  • Come to standing.  Use a tennis ball, or lacrosse ball, or… apple and massage the bottom of your foot by rolling the ball underneath the ball of the foot, the medial arch and the lateral arch.  Spend some quality time with areas you feel significant tension.
  • Try Uttanasana again… Can you bend over a little further?

This is because the massage helps release the Superficial Back Line as a whole.  This facial line runs from the bottoms of your feet all the way to to your head.  It incorporates the hamstrings, which allows most people to reach further on their second try.  Pretty amazing, huh?

 

This is the more comprehensive of the two articles.  Andrew Heffernan does a great job explaining the fascia’s role and also provides some easy exercises aimed at stretching and strengthening the fascia.

Julia Lucas provides an intriguing overview of the fascia and offers some tips on how to care for this incredibly important body part.

A critical step to understanding the fascia.  Something of a classic.

 

Life and “Loss”

Energy
“The soul never takes birth and never dies, nor does it come into being again when the body is created.  The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable, and timeless and is never destroyed when the body is destroyed.”  
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 20, Verse 2

 

Just this week, a fellow yoga teacher trainee of mine died in a tragic plane crash.  She was 28 years old, but she might as well have been double that with the amount of experiences she took with her.  Whether it was travelling across the globe, investigating the potential of natural healing, or becoming a certified yoga teacher Lauren milked life for all it had.  It’s always hard to see someone with such a positive, fearless attitude towards life lose the thing they so well loved and appreciated.  And for her closest friends and family, it’s more than hard.  However, Lauren’s zeal and confidence is not lost.  Her energy lives on. Modern physics tells us this and yoga tells us this.  But most palpably, one sees this “conservation of energy” in the reactions of the friends and family who are “left behind.”  Once news of Lauren’s fatal crash reached the community, there were floods of stories and reflections on Lauren’s glowing personality and positive influence-  People encouraged to live as Lauren lived.  Every vibration and particle that had the pleasure of contacting Lauren has bounced back to us in the form of her glowing, radiant smile.  Below, and above, are two passages which were shared in response to Lauren’s transition (Thanks to Sarah Rains and Oliva Barry).  Lauren, it was a pleasure sharing your fantastic energy.  And it still is.  Thank you.

 

The Physicist’s Eulogy by Aaron Freeman
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

The Power of Pranayama

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“Take five deep breaths through the nose before bed each night…”

As a child, I was diagnosed with chronic asthma (or assmar, as I lovingly referred to it as.)  I took up to three daily medications (Alubuterol, Combivent, Advair, Singulair, etc.) to control my breathing and prevent the dreaded “assmar attack.”  Even given this medication, I consistently found myself low on lung capacity and was subject to bouts of extreme respiratory strain; sometimes leading to hospitalization.

Despite the relative effectiveness of medication, I was constantly trying to avoid it.  I hated being dependent on drugs, and worried about the long term effects. In addition, the $40-60 a month was putting a hurt on the ol’ pocket book..  I took numerous breaks in my medication routine to see if I could manage.  Numerous attempts provided the same results- I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t breath, until I found yoga.

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Ego and Injury

mag-08yoga-t_CA0-articleLarge“We don’t use our bodies to get into these poses.  We use these poses to get into our bodies.” -Sarah Powers

One of the primary goals of yoga is to quiet the dominating ego (asmita).  The ego is the lowercase self that we often falsely identify with (“I am a teacher.  I am a man.  I am absent minded.”) However, it is only a reflection of the true, capital SELF (purusha). The ego is a reflection tainted with smudges of emotion, false knowledge, and fears.  Yoga helps us clean this lens, so as to come in touch with the true, unchanging SELF.

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Finding Perspective

Mist at Tone River

“When we are swimming in a river and cannot see the bank, it is difficult to notice the current.  We are moving so much with the river that we may scarcely see its flow.  But if we go to the bank where we have firm ground it is much easier to see how the river is flowing.” -T.K.V. Desikachar

 

After testing the waters of Newport Beach I’m officially back in Big Bear!  As this is my first blog, I want to address my return to Big Bear and why I’ve come back so completely convinced of the transformational power of yoga.

A primary goal of yoga asana practice (the postures) is to gain new perspective.  For example, most of the things I’ve learned about my imbalanced standing posture have not come from standing.  It was in Headstand (Sirsasana) that I discovered my tendency to sink into my right hip more than my left. In Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) I learned that I externally rotate the right leg and not the left.   When we place the body into different positions and turn our gaze inward, we take ourselves out of our patterns and tunnel vision.  We begin to see.   Read more