Fascia has become a buzz word in the world of yoga in last decade. What does it really mean for our practices, for our body? How is it organised? And how can I utilise this information in my teaching and practice? Join Zachery Dacuk in Shoreditch on the 10th and 11th November for two workshops focused on fascia, and read on for his introduction to this stretchy subject.
Fascia has cemented itself into the vernacular and context of modern movement and exercise. Once a discarded fabric of the body, it is now being recognised as one of the most abundant fabrics with us. How do we integrate this new shiny toy into a useful, digestible tool? How do we translate what we already know about our body through the lens of fascia? Journey with me as we explore the basic principles of fascia and how that relates to the concept of stretching. As the principles of stretching and fascia reveal themselves, we will explore their relevance to the Divine Feminine. It is my intention that our daily movement practices be infused with both the science and spirit of the modern age.
What is fascia? Why is it so important?
The scientific name for fascia is Extra-Cellular Matrix (ECM). It refers to matter that is made by the body but exists outside of the cell. This definition is lacking in the beauty and actual manifestation of this dynamic web. Fascia is the living matrix of fabric that encases every structure in the human being. All of the muscles, bones, joints, organs, nerves and even every cell is surrounded and supported by fascia. This dimensional web literally suspends all of the bodies’ contents under the skin. While it maintains the shape and structure of the human form, it adapts forgiving our every movement, preventing tangles and disorganisation.
Our focus in the moving body has primarily dealt with muscles, bones and joints. With the inclusion of fascia, we have to re-evaluate the structural and functional landscapes of what it means to be human. Stretching, for instance, has long been a tool applied to muscles for the purpose of lengthening the tissue to make more space for bones and joints. The inclusion of fascia alters the function of stretching by shifting the focus away from individual muscles to a more dynamic muscular fascia chain. Fascia connects the body to itself. When we apply this thinking to stretch, we recognize that change is something that happens more effectively when we target connected chains that communicate over multiple joints and bones.
Imagine the fascial system like a spider web. When you touch one thread of the web, the strain is distributed throughout the entire system. Our body is similarly a strain distribution system. This means that force enters the body and the relationship between bones, joints, muscle AND fascia redistributes that strain throughout the whole system. In this way, we can then transfer that force for movement or absorption helping us to manage action or to negotiate the gravity of this world. Fascia changes the rules because it can redistribute force in all directions in the body simultaneously. We are no longer bound by the confines of a reductionist model. Fascia frees us from isolation of a specific muscle or region and connects us to the dynamic nature of our true self.
What holds the body upright? The quick answer is bones. The truth is that relationships hold us upright. The relationship between bones, muscles, fascia and skin create a tension and compression that maintain our levity. The balance of these relationships is called Tensegrity. It is important to note that we have to sprinkle the magic of life onto those relationships. Without that magic, we are cold and inanimate. Amazingly, the tension of the web of fascia within the skin floats the bones and muscles. The muscles provide activity and intention requiring force to translate through the fascia across joints into the bones. This is movement. The bones provide a structure to be moved and the joints dictate the direction of that movement. The tensegrity determines the flexibility and stability.
The shape of balance
In order to balance the tensegrity relationships between bones, joints, muscles and fascia we need to find balance. This dynamic balance is determined by measures of strength, weakness, flexibility and stability. The relationships of strength and weakness have been relegated to the muscular body.
However, understanding shape become increasingly important when we consider the implication of fascia. As we will come to see, the shape of the container (fascia) will determine the strength and function of the contents (muscle).
For example, imagine a teenager looking at his or her phone. The shoulders rolling toward each other, the neck bent forward and the ribs collapsing into the pelvis. The back body is overstretched between the shoulder blades as well as the whole of the spine. Pressure is being forced down into the lower back and folks often complain of pain in the neck or trapezius region. Now visualise the upper trapezius muscles being over-stretched as the shoulder roll away from the spine around to the chest. The myofascial units become like a balloon that animals are made from. They become long and thinner the more pressure is placed on their ends. As the fascial container is stretched longitudinally and compressed dimensionally, the muscle inside it contracts in an effort to prevent the body from disintegrating any more than it has already. In its over-stretched contraction, the muscle becomes exhausted because of constantly working and malnourished because the compressive forces keep it from rehydrating.
When we listen to folks speak of their pain in soft tissues, they are describing overstretched fabric and tissues. They are often told to stretch the body to alleviate that pain. However, stretch is no longer relevant to this story. In order to relieve pain, we need to invite balance of strength and length throughout the entire structural system. In the example above, the overly tensed myofascial unit can result in tendonitis or micro tears in the muscles and pain for either. Stretching may temporarily relieve pain with momentary nourishment, movement and slack. But in the long run it weakens the relationships in the system and in fact exacerbates the initial imbalance. In order to bring balance to the myofascial systems, we need to stretch the shortened relationships while strengthening, engaging, awakening and integrating the over stretched chains.
What is stretch? Why do we do it?
Stretch is the act of lengthening a muscular unit without tearing it. The technique of stretching can be applied in many ways. Often we bring muscles to their full length, extending them to their full capability and then ask the tissue to adjust and grow longer. So what, what is the intention of stretching? In a tensegrity system, the purpose of stretch is to offer the system space in order to facilitate balance. Stretching is only one technique that we need to employ in order to create balance. As we saw in the example above, stretch can damage the balance if it is used at the improper time or place in the body. Therefore, it is important that we learn when, where and how to apply stretch in order to support balance the tensegrity system.
In its current form, stretching has room for improvement. Stretching has been a technique dominated by the Divine Masculine. It has been used from a place of logic, reasoning, separation and strength. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these intentions, they have been used with an incomplete map and devoid of the properties of the Divine Feminine. The Divine Feminine as it relates to stretching includes receptivity, waiting, listening and feeling. We can infuse the Divine Feminine into movement by including these very principles. Our movements need to be slowed and quieted so that we can listen and feel the subtleties of sensation. When we move from a place of recognising sensation we begin to know the living boundaries of our myofascial chains. We begin to locate specific kinks along the myofascial unit that needs to be addressed. When we recognise this boundary, stop and acknowledge that this is precisely where change needs to occur. Slowing ourselves down quiets the mind and creates space for feeling. In this way, we invite the Divine Feminine into movement. Once we have injected the Divine Feminine into our movement practice, then we can apply 5 Principles of Fascial Change. This is when we invite change into the body through the lens of receptivity, patience, listening and feeling.
To begin, hold the principles of the Divine Feminine as an intention in your mind, your body but most importantly in your heart:
- May I hold the intention to listen to the subtlety, to my resistance, to the private tensions that only I can feel.
- May I recognise those quiet tensions so that I might release them.
- May I feel myself: the discomfort and the pain, the pleasure and the relief.
- May I feel the quality of my internal voice, recognize its tone, its quickness, its power and its slippery methods of walking me back into shadow.
- May I feel my emotions as they arise, as I move through my body. May I be quiet enough to listen and feel the somatic location of those emotions.
- May I discover the amnesiac corners where I have hidden away secrets and feelings. May I have the patience to receive what I might uncover and that I am able to digest those feelings when they come.
These intentions will align the Divine Feminine with your loving heart, your chattering mind and the array of emotions stored in the body. Then you begin to move. Chose a pose and slowly move your bones into alignment. As the bones move, the myofascial units and chains slowly begin to engage. Quietly, they will reveal where the resistance exists within the different segments of the myofascial unit. Specifically, there is a moment, when you begin to move, between feeling nothing and your first sensation. This requires a slowness and quietness to reveal such a moment. Sometimes it helps to move into sensation/resistance and back out to reveal when the sensation lessens and then all together disappears. Then you back into the movement until the moment of first sensation and thus first resistance arises. When you can feel the moment of first resistance, then you have discovered the first place where change needs to take place. This is the first real place where your fabric needs to be accessed, acknowledged and changed.
The movement in and out of first sensation or first resistance should be subtle, millimetres not grand movements. It needs to be slow, not fast, gentle and not powerful. The movements need to be quiet, discerning and filled with patience. These feelings are imperceptible with too much speed or power. The Divine Masculine often overlooks the subtle need to acknowledge. Only with the marriage of the Divine Feminine can we truly recognise this moment.
5 principles of fascia change
Now that you have discovered the moment of first resistance or first sensation, you are ready to apply 5 practices to facilitate myofascial change:
- Speed and power
- Acknowledgement and respecting boundaries
Fascia is a colloid. Like Jello (Jelly), when it is warmed it becomes fluid-like and when it is cooled it becomes more solid-like. Fascia is more responsive to change when we warm it up. Therefore, it is more resistant to change and stubborn when it is cooled. The muscles are the internal heaters of the body. It is important to warm the internal temperature of the body by working the muscles vigorously before attempting to make change to the fascia that surrounds. When the fascia is warmed is becomes more fluid-like and becomes more adaptable by nature.
A wonderful technique to warm the body is called Irradiation. Irradiation is a technique that I picked up from Kinstretch. The basic concept is a gradual engagement of all the muscular fascia units in the body from toes to facial muscles beginning at 10%, then 20%, then 30% all the way to 100%. Next you hold all of your myofascial units briefly at 100% only to decline in 10% increments back to a full release. Amazingly, just two rounds of irradiation will warm the internal temperature enough to begin myofascial change.
Speed and power
By moving too fast, we often bypass the actual locations along a myofascial unit where resistance lives. Often we move a unit into its full expression and meet the final resistance of the myofascial chain. This causes the nervous system and therefore the muscles to prevent the structures from going any further. It is, in fact, a suboptimal time to try and create change in the fabric. Instead, if we move slowly, we begin to uncover many micro resistances on the journey from the first sensation all the way to the full expression. By slowing down, we can train the nervous system to recognize these golden opportunities. It completely changes the style and the intention of our movements.
Speed also modulated power. Often when we move quickly it is difficult to feel. As a bodyworker, if I hold too much tension in my body or move to fast, then I am enacting the motor response in the sensory-motor loop. Therefore, the volume of my action is louder then the volume of sensation. The power and speed drowned out the ability to listen and feel the subtle sensations that you are being invited to feel here. When we move slowly, we have the ability to modulate the volume of power and speed to allow ourselves to hear the volume of sensation.
Fascia is the most responsive to change when multiple vectors of force are simultaneously applied to one area. To build a visual example in your mind, imagine I was holding two ends of a horses tails that we cut off. This will represent a muscular fascia unit. I begin with my hand closer together to invite slack into the unit. This preempts the listening process before movement. Then I move one hand away from the other. This is the 1st vector or direction of pull or force applied to the unit. Next, I move the 2nd hand away from the 1st at the same time. Now there are two directions of force. Then I can twist both hands away from each other, essentially wringing the horse hair while moving ends away from each other. This adds dimensional force through the myofascial unit creating a multitude of vectors that spiral through the structure. If you like, we can add even more directions of force to the unit by shifting or tilting my in relationship to each other.
If you visualise the myofascial unit as a horse hair model, the effect of directional force becomes clear. In this way, we can learn to use the body’s potential movements to apply multiple vectors of force to one specific area. The more directions of force the more effective the change to the region. The more effective the change, the easier it is for the whole system to adjust and integrate that shift. Think of this as the more committed we are to moving the body, the more committed the body will be to trusting the change.
Acknowledgement and respecting boundaries
Once the body is warm and we have significantly slowed down to find the spaces of resistance, it is important to acknowledge the boundaries where we are working to create change. When we move our bones in a multitude of vectors, it is easy to lose our focus, our intentions and therefore the moment of first resistance. In this way, we can potentially lose control of power and speed as well. The muscles and fascia will then become resistant and the opportunity for lasting change becomes elusive. It then becomes increasingly important to maintain our focus of listening and feeling when we complicate our movements by inviting more muscles and bones to add more vectors of communication. By maintaining our boundaries and applying just enough pressure to remain at our first resistance, we stand the best chance of making change on the myofascial unit exactly where we originally intended.
After we make the change in our intended location, it is a great time to come out of the pose and take inventory our body. Acknowledge the change and feel the differences. The magic of this work is that the next time you go into the same pose, the location of first resistance or first sensation will change. This begins the journey through the entirety of the muscular fascia unit creating change by acknowledging each resistance one by one. By fiercely committing to listening, feeling and acknowledging the moment of first resistance, we commit to recognizing exactly where we are and how we need to proceed with change systematically. When we find this balance, we discover the marriage of the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine.
As with every moment and action, the breath is a primary tool for remaining centred. When we explore the body with this much solitude, quiet, focus and feeling, it is easy to become distracted at the moment of recognition and feeling. Thoughts will constantly arise swaying us from our intention. Having a rigorous commitment and practice around breathing will aid us in maintaining our work around changing fascia. It can help us to illuminate specific regions of the body with each inhale. It provides a natural surrender with each exhale.
I like to parallel my myofascial change with a breath that pauses for a heartbeat at the top of the inhale as well as at the bottom of the exhale. This provides me with a steady cadence that when altered, reveals vital information about losing my intention. It all allows me a consistent practice that is easily refocused and creates natural space for gathering the contents of the first 4 principles of this work. The breath reveals where I am holding tension and where I need to support myself. It is a wonderful tool to recognize, acknowledge, listen and feel. It is at the heart of the Divine Feminine.
This exploration into fascia, stretching and the divine feminine was born out of the need to invite change into our lives through a different filter, through a filter of safety, trust and compassion. This type of movement awakens very nature that dwells inside of ourselves; our bodies, our minds and our hearts. I have observed the results of a Divine Masculine devoid of its partner. It is obvious that we need to awaken the Divine Feminine inside of ourselves so that it might find its way back into this world. We are in need of this marriage of opposites.
Enjoy this practice and please send your feedback and or questions. It is my intention to add to the conversation and learn as I grow. I can’t do it without your support.
Join Zachery Dacuk in Shoreditch this weekend for two workshops…
fascia by layers: an introduction
friday 10 november, 7.15 – 9.15pm
fascia in movement: first resistance + accumulative change
saturday 11 november, 2.00 – 4.00pm