Fascia is a common word heard in massage, physical therapy, yoga and even exercise, however many people are still unsure about what this word actually means. Fascia is the connective material in the body that holds everything together, weaving in and out to create a three dimensional web-like structure that shapes, connects and separates the different areas of the body and helps to aid in easing the friction created by muscular force. Fascia creates compartments that wrap the blood vessels and nerves so they may pass with ease through the body; all the muscles and organs in the body are wrapped or encased in fascia from superficial to deep. Fascia has been defined as all of the soft fibrous connective tissues that permeate the human body (Findley and Schleip 2007). Fascia can allow function and can also inhibit function by the nature of its form, recent studies are finding that fascia is the underlying cause of many neurological, muscular and other health problems that are found in the soft tissue of the body. One property of fascia is plasticity, it can create form, and form follows function. One good example of form following function is the tightness people feel in the back from sitting at their computers all day. The muscles of the chest and front of the shoulders become shortened by continuous contraction, this, in turn pulls, on the opposite muscle group, this causes pain; the fascia over time begins to reinforce this posture and hardens, in the form of the misalignment. When fascia hardens, it impedes blood flow, movement, balance and so on.
Ida P Rolf Ph.D., who created a myofascial technique called “Rolfing” is quoted saying “Fascia is the organ of posture. Nobody ever says this; all the talk is about muscles. Yet this is a very important concept, and because this is so important we as Rolfers must understand both the anatomy and physiology, but especially the anatomy of fascia. The body is a web of fascia. A spider web is in a plane. This web is in a sphere. We can trace the lines of that web to get and understanding of how what we see in a body works. For example, why, when we work with the superficial fascia does this change the tone of the fascia as a whole?” I believe it is equally important as yoga teachers to understand how this system affects the human experience.
Examining and exploring fascia helps us to understand how the body can be flexible, strong and stable at the same time. Aligning the bones, muscles and fascia can bring our bodies into balance and create a body free of dis-ease and pain. Fascia gives us the necessary insight to see the body; one connected beautiful network of trillions of cells working together to create our structure, function and unique quality of existence.
When fascia becomes hardened, it sticks to itself as well as other structures in the body. This hardening and binding can cause weakness, dehydrated and stiffness, not just in the fascia, but within the body in general.
Going back to the example of the person sitting at the desk and having fascia reinforce negative posture patterns; asana can help to counter these effects of hardened fascia, and re-soften the tissue. Simple poses like chest openers and supported backbends can help the back muscles to shorten and the chest muscles to open, helping to balance the postural deviation, in persons where such poses are not contraindicated. Yoga asana works with the agonist and antagonist groups and helps to bring the muscle groups into alignment, creating a class that is sequenced with this concept in mind will be the most structurally relevant, and can transform one’s postural habits.
Fascia is directly affected by our habits, daily activities, emotions and experiences. For example, when stressed we have a posture that may have lifted or slumped shoulders. Overtime this creates fascia binding and pain patterns. This can also happen with activities we love such as playing a musical instrument or dancing. By doing yoga poses in a mindful, and anatomically informed way, one can help the fascia in the body stay unbound, flexible, hydrated, stable and thereby function in a way that is optimal for our daily life.