You've probably heard us talk about the fascia in class, but what exactly is it? Why is it so important and how does it connect to yoga? Read on to find out!
What is Fascia?
Fascia is the intelligent, aqueous, adaptable connective tissue that surrounds and supports muscles, organs, and other structures within the body. It is made up of collagen and other proteins, and is found throughout the body in a three-dimensional web-like structure. The fascia helps to provide structure and support to the body. It aids movement and coordination. It also helps to distribute force and pressure throughout the body.
There are different types of fascia in the body, including superficial fascia, which is found just beneath the skin, and deep fascia, which is found surrounding muscles and other organs. Additionally, there are specialized types of fascia.
The fascia is a deeply important force in our body’s immune system as it houses our lymphatic system. When the fascia is healthy and hydrated, it facilitates the movement of lymph throughout the body which helps clear out waste and toxins in the body.
Fascia and the Nervous System
The fascia is highly sensitive. Recent studies have estimated the fascia contains nearly 250 million nerve endings (Shliep, 2020). The sensitive nature of the fascia allows it to adapt to demands and respond to stimulus. Moreover, the fascia sends signals directly to the brain that inform our proprioception (awareness of our body in space) and interoception (awareness of our internal state).
As a highly sensitive tissue, the fascia can also trigger feelings of pain. For example, new research has suggested that the fascia may be the “missing link” for understanding immunological conditions like fibromyalgia. Inflammation of the fascia “may be better described as a dysfunctional healing response” which “may explain why NSAIDs and oral steroids have not been found effective in fibromyalgia.” (Liptan 2010)
Yoga & Fascia
The practice of yoga–which includes the postures (asanas) and practices of mindfulness (pranayama, meditation)–have been shown to improve fascial health.
Yoga postures or asanas can help stretch and lengthen the fascia, which can increase its flexibility and range of motion. This can help to reduce stiffness and pain, as well as improve overall movement and posture.
Moving mindfully during a yoga practice helps to hydrate the tissues and challenge it in new ways without putting too much stress or force on the tissue. This can help with overall range of motion or pain while reducing the chance of injury.
Yoga can help to release tension and stress from the body. Tension or stress often leads to tightness of the body, which in turn can cause fibrosis or adhesions in the fascia. Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation can help reduce inflammation and enhance fascial health.
Long-held passive stretches, like those in Yin or Restorative Yoga, target specific muscle groups in supported stretches which are held from 1-5 minutes. The long-held, passive nature of these stretches can help stimulate the fascia and encourage growth of new collagen fibers, which in turn, improves the overall strength and resilience of the fascia.
Overall, yoga can be a powerful tool for influencing the fascia of the body in a positive way, leading to increased flexibility, better movement and posture, and improved overall health and well-being.