What Is Fascia? What are the Benefits of Fascia Release in Yoga?
We often read or hear about the importance of popular organs and systems like the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain, etc. When we talk about movement, we hear about the muscles and joints. What we don’t hear so much about is fascia, the connective fabric or tissue that binds us together.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is slowly and steadily becoming an integral part of yoga anatomy. The adult human body consists of approximately 70 trillion cells. These cells are all surrounded by the all-important fluid, a network of fascia. Fascia is a sticky, greasy fabric and gel that holds the body together firmly. It is elastic such that it constantly adjusts itself based on every movement we make.
Let’s understand a little bit about fascia anatomy. The common understanding is that tendons attach muscles to bones across joints and pull bones toward each other to form a structure, with ligaments attaching bone to bone. However, ligaments do not exist on their own. They blend into a dense layer of vascular connective tissue around the bones, called the periosteum. Ligaments also take the support of the muscles and fascia sheets by blending into them. So, while we can separate, study and analyze different parts of the human body individually, the fact is that all these parts exist and grow together within the fascia network.
Cord-like fibers, fascia is mostly made up of collagen, including reticulin and elastin. This makes it tough and strong. They are denser in areas like the tendons and cartilage and looser in areas like the pancreas. There is also a gel-like web consisting of mucopolysaccharides, known as mucus in simple terms. This mucus or glue exists everywhere, holding cells together. Since this fibrous web is everywhere, all circulation has to pass through it. It allows organs and muscles to glide over each other without friction. The denser the fibers (like in tendons and cartilage), the less possibility of the fascial web to allow molecules to flow through.
Fascia and Yoga Anatomy
Like every other part of the body, yoga postures have a strong, positive impact on fascia. Let’s look at a few scenarios and fascia anatomy benefits.
Release of Metabolites:
An unhealthy posture and holding tension in the body prompts something called fibroblasts, the most common cells in the connective tissue, to create a line of fibers. They arrange themselves along the areas of stress. Now, cells exist close to the capillaries, which excrete food, oxygen and messenger molecules, among others. They get blocked off by the bulked up fibers caused by stress. This will slow down or drastically reduce capillary-sourced food from reaching the cells. Normally functioning will also be impaired by the thickening of the glue in the fascial network.
This is where the benefits of fascia release come in. Deep stretches that strengthen and squeeze the fascia network encourage the metabolites trapped in the mucus to rush to the capillaries and bloodstream. Think of how you feel when you are releasing tension from your body. Let’s say, you are doing the Cobra Pose after sitting hunched over your laptop for hours. As soon as you release the posture, you feel a deep sense of relaxation. That’s your bloodstream, and subsequently liver, receiving the required metabolites that have been squeezed out of the tissues.
Less pain and resistance:
With regular yoga practice, the fascial fibers will become thinner. The mucus can change to a liquid state. This will allow more sliding, better range of motion and movement, less pain and resistance, among others. Fluids will start flowing to a maximum capacity. There will be more availability of the synovial fluid in places like the knee joint, leading to better mobility and reduced pain. So, any time you feel a restriction, it means your fascia is dehydrated, stiff or stuck in a certain way.
Fascia anatomy and movement:
You would have heard yoga teachers constantly saying ‘become aware of your body’ or ‘pay attention to sensation in the back’, and so on. Awareness in yoga posture is key to understanding the benefits. This is because a release in your shoulder can affect your entire arm and upper back. For example, if you are doing the Plank Pose, contracting the triceps will engage the abdominal muscles, the back and shoulders. And, a change in your palm position can impact your shoulder and neck. The various parts are connected by the fascial network, and yoga helps stretch and ease the webbing as well as hydrate the gel, making it more permeable.
Similarly, tension in one area can wreak havoc in the entire fascial network. Let’s take the example of sitting at your laptop for hours. This could develop something called ‘fascial bunching’ in your chest area, leading to a weaker back (due to a forward hunched position). Sitting for long hours can also lead to tight hip flexors, and ultimately a fascial restriction of the hips. This can cause an impact on the neck, all the way down to the core. All because the fascia is connected throughout the body.
Fascia and yoga postures:
Awareness in yoga postures can help you feel your fascial web and the release of tension. Let’s take Upward Facing Dog Pose as an example. Here, you are stretching the entire frontline of the fascia, from the top of your feet all the way to the sides of the neck and back of the skull. With practice when you strike the right balance, you will realize tension and stability, effort and ease. Take the Downward Facing Dog Pose as another example. In this posture you often hear that the reason your feet are not flat on the mat is because of tight hamstrings. But look at your body as a whole, and not in parts. Keep your attention throughout the body. Your tight areas might be calves, back or shoulders too. In the posture, take deep breaths. Feel your breath in your ribs. Are your ribs moving under your shoulder blades? Are your lower ribs behind the kidneys? Move your weight around your feet. If your heels are off the ground, try to move slowly in a lateral direction. Be aware of how this changes the feeling in various parts of the body. Try to feel where the tightness is and work on that.
Final Fascia Thoughts
Fascia enhances and evolves systems like the musculoskeletal and nervous system. It creates a dynamic system of communication. It provides us with strength and support in movements and for our organs and systems to function in a healthy and efficient way. A healthy fascia will return the force we emit when we do any activity, whether it is yoga, walking, running, etc. We don’t have to use as much energy and we develop better strength.
Practices like yin yoga work strongly on the connective tissue. They keep the joints healthy, ligaments and tendons happy and strong. As relaxation and release happens with every movement, space is created, taking us to a better place of health. There is a deeper understanding of how the human body is like a plant, and not a machine. How every part is connected, and a restriction in one place can cause an impact in a different place. Even our nervous system works together with the musculoskeletal and fascial system to shape and form better postures and a healthy body.
Contact us if you are interested in learning more about the functional anatomy and discover how it can make you a better yoga teacher. At Sampoorna Yoga Online Academy, you will find specialized help focusing on your well-being and expanding your knowledge of yoga, no matter where you are.