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.