Fascia in its grossest sense is connective tissue, fibres and nerve receptors. In its more subtle sense it is prana, movement, connectivity and union. Fascia interconnects the lungs, the expansive movement of the inhale and the felt-sense of the breath in the nostrils. Fascia interconnects the heart and the beat; the skin and muscles of our back body with the earth beneath us as we lie in savasana; in every movement, asana, touch, stretch and breath our fascia expands, contracts, and spirals – it is the essence of movement and the memory of each movement.
Do you feel your fascia in the upturn of your lips as you smile or in the softening in your upper back as you exhale? Fascia as a sensory organ – feeling our way into life and into our bodies in a deeper way.
We are taught that fascia is like a bandage – an all-encompassing connective tissue that supports and protects the organs and muscles, but what lies deeper? It is rich in a variety of sensory nerve endings picking up signals and guiding us both through the outside world (proprioception) and with an invitation to find an inner flow (interoception). Both are vital with how we listen and understand the body. Through experiential anatomy, intuitive and interoceptive asana and mindfulness we go beyond muscle and form and tune into the subtle energy of our fascial matrix.
With yoga we often stretch… use muscle movement… if we want to take our asana deeper and evoke healing at a core level, then we need to tune into expansion rather than stretching, a spaciousness in the fascia rather than gross muscle strength. If we look at the yoga sutras, there is no word for stretch… only a word for expansion.
So often we try and fit our bodies into a perfect idea of an asana and judge our experience of our yoga based on what our bodies can’t do – the shapes they can or cannot create. If our body doesn’t fit the image, we can end up pushing, reaching and injuring… it’s time to feel into our body and tune into that inner grace.
We are more interested how the body is seen from outside rather than feeling from the inside – working with our fascia is an invitation to slow down, expand and create space. Working with fascia is a invitation to be playful.
So how is Fascia a Sensory Organ?
Fascia is a unifying webwork that is continuous throughout the body – from the top of the skull to the toes – from the core to the skin. There are 100 trillion cells in the body – and this fascial network binds them together, giving them shape, giving for; , it is the biomechanical environment all your cells live within. it has an intelligence. It responds to how you move through your environment and it also responds to how you feel emotionally. Your fascial matrix is shaped by what you do and how you feel.
Free nerve endings (interstitial cell recpetors) in our fascial matrix sense subtleties such as warmth, a cool breeze, size and shape, weight and gravity, the quality of your heart beat and your gut instinct. inside the fascial matrix, we find sense receptors – pacinian corpuscles which detect pressure and vibration, while the ruffini corpuscles and interstitial cell recpetors respond to angle change and slow sustained pressure ( like holding yourself in asana); they induce muscle relaxation, a peaceful mind and less emotional arousal.
When we are stressed, suffering from anxiety or depression, we can retreat and live purely from a simulation map – insular cortex (check out our blog on Beyond the Mind Map) which allows us to function on an autonomic level (autopilot). We are often afraid or simply do not have time to tune into what is actually going on. In order to be more embodied and to break the patterns of stress and depression, we need to tune into our senses and feelings within the body – the doorway to this is the fascial network. The sensory receptors in our fascia go all the way to our insular cortex; stimulating afferent pathways (from sense organs to the brain) so we start to listen to our bodies in the present moment rather than from the default simulation map.
Robert Schleip is a bodyworker and fascial researcher – he suggests we ask ourselves “How is my stomach feeling? How is my gut feeling? How much at home do I feel in my legs? Tuning into the felt body. Temperature, tingling – do my legs feel heavy or light?”
Our simulation maps get distorted when we are suffering from anxiety, stress or trauma – working on a sensory level with the fascia helps us rewire our body memory and tune us into what we are actually feeling, rather than what we think we should be feeling. so often our minds take over and we respond and react out of habit, rather than from the present moment.
Intuitive asana and mindfulness practices create a new conversation between our senses and the body – bypassing the simulation map and giving us a more authentic way of living in the body. If we are more present in our everyday sensations, we can learn to deal in a more effective way with stress, anxiety and avoid injuries. We are not overriding our body wisdom with our thoughts and expectations, our habits and worries – we are digesting our experiences moment to moment and creating a deeper understanding of ourselves.
Our upcoming workshops will look at how we can influence our fascia and create a deeper conversation with the body.