Are there really six hundred muscles in our body? Or only one muscle in 600 pockets. Is our skeleton’s function to provide a frame for the muscles to be attached? Or perhaps the bones float in the matrix of soft tissue?
I came across these fascinating enquiries while digging a little deeper into one of the most under studied and under appreciated aspects of the make-up of our bodies: fascia.
So what is this fascia talk all about, and why suddenly do various massage techniques, Pilates and yoga classes (mine too of course) seem to be filled with fascia-inspired references? Up until recently it was thought as a rather lifeless, inflexible and not very interesting substance in the body. So what has changed?
The easiest way of attempting to understand what fascia is and how it works is looking at a halved orange and inspecting the white sheet of tissue that separates the fruit in segments, and then each segment into a tiny pocket that holds the substance and the juice of an orange.
The fascia in the human body is a little like that, just a lot stronger whilst being more jelly-like.
Understanding fascia within yoga
So where does it all fit into yoga world, if it fits at all?
In yoga postures we talk a lot about “stretching” the muscles, which is really just a poetic/practical expression and material for a whole different article! What we are affecting (amongst many aspects of the body) is muscular structures wrapped in fascia. These units are intimately interconnected with each other to create a unified, synchronised being!
One of the main principles of yoga is the idea that an individual is connected to a bigger greater concept or being (here beautifully illustrated by fascia). The true representation of yoga philosophy in a human body… or an orange.
As a leading specialist in fascia, Tom Myers says sustained stretches have the ability to relax muscles and fascia and to release chronic holdings and tension patterns. Myers also says that changing the issues in the tissues can change the person you are*.
It is a sign of the times changing, when modern science begins to catch up with the ancient concept of mind and body connection. And the idea of dislodging and shifting “issues in the tissues”, that may be potentially holding us back from unfolding into the best version of ourselves, is what yoga and mindfulness have long been offering through their practices.
Just imagine having the possibility to reset the operational system within us, like iOS. Unlike iOS however, we need a little time.
Imagine, that after some of that time invested in stretches, breathing practices, mindfulness exercises and rest, you are getting an updated version of yourself. You are still you, but somehow more open, more flexible in the body and in the mind, more focused and aware, more spacious, content, kinder and happier. One posture that comes to my mind here is:
Half Cow Face Mixed with Seated Forward Bend
- Begin by sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee and place the foot on the floor.
- Take hold of your left foot and place it on the outside of the right leg. If possible, scoop it gently toward the right thigh or right hip. Make sure that the outer edge of the foot is resting on the floor.
- With the spine long and tall begin leaning forward, walking your hands on either side of your extended leg until you start feeling that you are releasing the weight of the torso over the legs.
- Keep your hands on the floor for support and continue releasing the weight of the head and the torso over the folded legs. Stay there for 5-15 breaths, focusing on sensations that you are experiencing in your body. Each time exhaling deeply, slowly and fully.
- To come out of the posture, walk the hands back towards you, straighten up the spine and extend your left leg in front of you. Repeat on the other side.
While in the posture, pay attention to all sensations in the body. The more you let go of the weight of the body over the legs, the deeper and the more intense the stretch, so make sure you don’t push or pull to deepen it.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness: to be present with all that is being experienced, without wanting to change or suppress anything that arises from that space.
Exploring a posture like this, can make our yoga practice a little richer, a little different and more insightful. We are opening ourselves to a possibility of shifting patterns in the body, and shifting thought patterns and attitudes by not turning away from what is strange, unusual, unknown, or not particularly pleasant.
Because if you think about it, it is just a stretch. Only a rather eventful one. A stretch that may feel a little like uninstalling an old iOS (there sure will be some changes in a new one!).
One that makes me wonder whether there are really 600 muscles in the body (because it really feels like I am stretching a one big muscle in six hundred pockets!)
A little stretch that could possibly release some issues in the tissues, and who this day and age hasn’t got a handful of them!
* Huffington Post, Interview with T. Myers
Marta Swiezynska is a British Wheel of Yoga certified yoga teacher and the founder of The Yoga Project, a platform that specialises in designing yoga practices for individual and corporate clients. Her teaching focuses on offering her students a toolbox of yogic practices that can help to overcome the stresses of modern life. Marta has been fascinated with Eastern philosophies and yoga since her teens and her other interests include psychology and alternative therapies. To read more about Marta click here
Here at natural health star we’re fans of yoga, stretching and moving our bodies. Take a look at the products that can help support your muscles and joints post practice. All available in our natural health shop
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