Over the past few Yoga sessions, we have demonstrated quite powerfully how release in one part of the body often powerfully releases another part of the anatomy. Somatic Flows such as the Foot Sliding exercise that releases your neck and the Standing Aeroplane Twists that we did are good examples. The interconnectedness of our body parts and how flexible we are is determined by the elasticity in our connective tissue which is comprised of protein, strong Collagen and flexible, elastic Elastin and can be found all over our body. Fascia, Tendons, Ligaments, Scar Tissue, Cartilage, Muscles and even Bones are all connective tissue. There is more Collagen in stronger tissues such as ligaments and tendons whose role in the body is to both restrict and facilitate movement. Those of you who have knee injuries caused by strained or torn ligaments will understand this well! A trivial fact that may be amusing to note here is that the Romans sometimes made catapults out of horse and camel tendons which demonstrates the elastic properties of the tendons. It’s not surprising that one small movement in the big toe, affects the foot, ankle and knee and even the position of the pelvis. Those of you with dropped arches will know this well. It is rather like a spider’s web according to Keil (2014) who states that when a fly lands on a web, the vibrations are sent through the web where the spider sits and waits. Think of your big toe as the fly and it’s small movement affecting the whole body (the web).
Fascia means “band” or “bundle” and it supports all the structures of the body. Superficial fascia lies just under the skin. It contains fat cells and it helps us to maintain our body temperature. The Gut, Heart and Lungs are covered by Visceral Fascia and the Deep Fascia surrounds all our muscles, rather like the pith on the segment of an orange. It separates the muscles but it also connects them and we call this Myofascia as really the two are inseparable. It also surrounds the arteries, veins and bones. The long hold in a Yin Yoga pose in which you are encouraged to mindfully hang out using props (blocks, bricks, cushions, bolsters) is designed to elasticate connective tissue, ligaments and tendons without using too much stress on the body and allows you to actually experience the change in the Fascia over the period of holding the position required to do so. In Yin and Somatics we are encouraged to experience the posture from the inside (this is our experience of the Soma) and this is far more key that what a Yoga teacher may be telling you is so. Proprioception is our experience of knowing where the limbs are in space, Interperception is our experience of our body. The purpose of the slower movements in Yin and Somatics is to become instrospective – to live in the body for a moment which gives us more access to the present moment and to experiencing the change within ourselves. Just as it is key in the spiritual journey to experience a change in consciousness yourself (with the resultant realisation that you are not your thoughts or your ego identifications) without relying on some outside doctrine to do the work for you. Here is Paul Grilley, the founder of Yin Yoga, talking about Fascia:
The elastic tension and muscular activity act harmoniously to provide smooth and easy movement according to Blackaby (2012) since the Achillies tendon and associated muscles join forces with the hamstring tendon to open and straighten the leg and the medial rotation of the femur on the tibia during the final few degrees of straightening create a stable lock of the joint. This explains why I tell Dancers to straighten the leg at the end of a squat – to make sure the knee cap ends up in the right position and the articular surfaces are snuggly fitted into place. You can well imagine how freeing the connective tissue and Fascia in particular, helps you maintain a much better posture as well as facilitating a better range of movement throughout the body. There is a tendency for all of us to bend forwards (gravity after all is working against us with it’s downwards pressure) and it is the sheets of fascia that run along the spine that pull us back into alignment, rather like a guy rope.
Here is Paul Grilley’s second video on Yin Yoga which gives a good explanation about the different phases the body goes through as we stay in a position for a longer period of time to allow this freeing off of inelastic tissue:
It is essential to maintain this elasticity in the connective tissues, especially as we age as there is a natural loss of collagen (and that’s why we get wrinkles in our faces). So if you have wrinkles on your face, it means you also have the inelasticity elsewhere in the body and this is not only required for freedom of movement but also as a spring that absorbs shock when we spring off against the ground whilst walking, running and dancing. Notice how the body and mind are both release when our practice lends itself to changes in the Fascia by using the strength of some muscles to lengthen others or by using the ground or gravity as resistance so that we actively lengthen our connective tissues and realign the whole skeleton. Very often when injury to the fascia results in pain or stiffness, it can generally be better to move rather than rest the injury. Moving torn tissues will quite often assist in the healing of the tissues and have long term benefits for strength and mobility. A twisted ankle is the perfect example of this. This of course is quite the opposite when the injury involves bone when rest is the order of the day…
If you imagine how easily this young lad will rise up from this position and just how difficult it can be for us now that we are older, you will recognise that something has changed in the elasticity of our connective tissue which gives rise to a big struggle in getting up from the ground for some. Blackaby(2012) emphasises the need to be economical in our movement and I note the similarities with Yin Yoga and Somatic Practices since all of them ask us to be mindful of not allowing unnecessary muscular tension in body parts that aren’t part of the practice. For instance, you might be performing a seated twist and hunching your shoulders, gritting your teeth and doing all manner of other clenching that isn’t part of the movement. We will be trying out a simple stand from crouching movement in which we will be attempting to find our bones and allow them to assume a supporting role in getting us from the ground to standing whilst the muscles relax as much as possible and this offers a much greater ease of movement. Tension comes into the movement when we allow any unnecessary effort into the practice. This is added to some natural tendencies that humans have as we age – the areas in which we naturally become stiff and less mobile. The thoracic spine is and example of this as well as the hip joint. This means that more is asked of the lumbar spine and the cervial spine when we need to go into a backbend, which causes more compression on an already vulnerable area which can easily become injured as a result. This is why our Gentle Somatic Yoga classes emphasise Thoracic movement and release of the Psoas Muscle (which holds tight on to the hip joint) so much!
RECOMMENDED READING THIS WEEK
Blackaby, Peter (2018) Intelligent Yoga
Keil, David (2014) Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers (click to buy)