Fascia is connective tissue. It is one of the primary elements of our physiology that is addressed in the modalities discussed in this chapter. It is a continuous web that wraps every muscle, bone, organ, cell, and even down to the intra-cellular cytoskeleton (Barnes, 1996). It is the structure that holds our shape and it is highly responsive. The fascia thickens along the lines of use and hardens and creates adhesions in places that have been stuck and unmoving over time. In a sense, it contains our body memory. We all have a lifetime of emotional and functional experience shaping us. Whatever we do, our body makes us ready to do more of it. This is an extremely efficient system, but it also leads to a great deal of dysfunction.
In contemporary life our activities often have little diversity. The level of full body engagement that may once have been asked of our ancestors is rarely needed in our daily navigation. We are a culture that prioritizes forward action, forward thinking, and the detailed work of our fingers. Many people work office jobs eight hours a day and drive their cars or use their computers much of the rest of their time. This consistent intense frontal manual work, accompanied by absorption in mental activities, often results in a complete lack of awareness of the physical body. In these examples, the fascia of the pectorals and anterior scalenes thickens resulting in a cut-off of nerve information and blood supply to the wrists and, perhaps, eventual misdiagnosed carpal-tunnel (a pinched nerve in the scalenes or pectoralis minor that is perceived as dysfunction in the wrist). The heart closes down because of the lack of real human interaction increasing the protective slump. The slump over time dampens the movement of the diaphragm and front ribs, making a full breath impossible. The deficient oxygen supply leads to lack of energy and low grade depression. The chain of cause and effect continues from head to foot. This is one example of an infinite number of ways in which activity, emotion, and experience interact to shape our tissues.
This mapping, as referenced above, doesn’t happen on the physical level alone. Trauma and emotional pain is also held in the shape of our body. Try feeling jubilant with a sunken chest. Try feeling sensual with the muscles of your legs locked off. Try feeling laid back with your head outstretched and your jaw tense. The shape of our body not only reflects how we feel, but it can limit the range we can experience.
Shape "represents the immediate present, how we view the world and try to interact with it for contact, intimacy, and accomplishment... Anatomical structure is the basic archetype of thought and experience. Anatomy is internal relationship (Keleman, 1985, p.149, 157)."
Trauma and inflammation create a binding of fascia such that structures lose the ability to glide smoothly past each other. This binding and subsequent inability to operate independently is common wherever two planes of fascia come together such as in the septum between muscles or attachment sites. When fascia is free from restrictions it disperses physical force throughout the body in a responsive elastic and resilient network. When there are restrictions in the fascia, this dispersive property is thwarted and the individual functional units are jammed.
As modeled by Axis Syllabus, we can condition movement patterns that take advantage of fascial support. Over time, skillful functional use is reinforced by the integrated strengthening of the tissues themselves (forming along the lines of use). Conversely, we can challenge the connective tissues capacity by regularly sending shearing force through the joints. John Barnes calls such mis-use micro-trauma (Barnes, 1988). The incoming physical forces resultant from the way we move can be the origin of fascial dysfunction, which in turn creates a restricted ability to spread the impact of such forces and aggravates the problem. Without conscious intervention by the mover, such dysfunctional choices will generally reinforce themselves until pain demands another choice be made.
Fascia responds to use. On one hand it is easy to complain about a design that builds up adhesions along the lines of use, thickening the tissue and creating restriction. On the other hand it is the building of habitual patterns that allows us to move through the world with such little conscious effort. This aspect also provides an incredible intelligent means to create compensations that allow us the flexibility to function in less than ideal circumstances. The pain that results when a compensation goes too far is useful in letting us know that something is out of balance and needs attention. The more sensate we become, the earlier we can notice and respond to such messages. Dysfunction comes when such intelligent communications from our body go ignored or unaddressed.
Fascial adhesions don’t show up on any modern medical equipment. Often undiagnosable headaches and other pain symptoms are a result of fascial adhesions. Such symptoms are often named psycho-somatic, a term that can carry the misunderstood connotation of "unreal" or "imagined." The term psychosomatic should not be understood as less real or in need of attention. It means the symptoms come from the very real interaction between the body and mind. The tools in the following sections are a sampling of the many great tools to interact with our psycho-somatic experience of the world.
On the Relation Between Subtle Energy and Fascia
In the section on Myo-fascial Release and the Cranio-Sacral section I will write of doing the techniques on a mechanical or an energetic level. There is a great deal of evidence that shows that fascia is the physical structure that is most in interaction with what are usually considered energetic systems.
The fibers of fascia are formed by a triple helix of proteins. Within that triple helix a liquid similar to cerebro-spinal fluid has been found (Sills, 2004, p. 229). It has also been noted that many acupuncture points are located where deep sceptums of fascia come to the surface. Some mechano-receptors in the fascia (in particular a subset of the interstitial receptors) are sensitive enough to respond to vibration and sound off the body and some respond to touch softer than the weight of a nickel on the skin (Milne, 1995; Schleip, 2003). Fascia seems to hold a great deal of the emotional charge of past trauma (which can be released during a session). It is in these structures that the "freeze" of traumatic situations can lodge.
An understanding of this integral body system allows a practitioner to approach their work with a client with a holistic understanding of who is in front of them. We touch bodies. The bodies are an access point to a rich and responsive web of identity that shapes the way a moment moves through an individual history.