Space is the final frontier, or at least a goal of asana from a fascial point of view.
The fascia is a term for all the connective tissues and all the substances they produce to hold us together as a being on this planet. I like to think of it as the “cosmic glue” that forms who we are.
To change our physical shape is to slow down and stretch the fascia while creating more “space” for our joints, tissues, nervous system and everything else. If we don’t take the time to slow down and warm up for 20 minutes we leave the fascia, “who we are,” out of the experience!
For example in Seated Forward Fold pose (Pachimattasana) which stretches the Superficial Back Line (SBL) of fascia should begin slowly with a correct posture in Staff pose (Dandasana). Leveling out through the SITs bones, engaging the pelvic floor, navel back then begin to hinge from the hip joint while not rounding in the low back, lumbar spine. Moving millimeters with each breath cycle.
Eventually, one tucks their chin to complete the forward fold through the SBL. A complete stretch of the SBL does not mean folding flat over ones legs. It means we stretch the connection from the base of our feet, back of the calves, hamstrings, and back muscles along the spine over the top of our heads into our brow. Thus creating the sensory awareness of our wholeness and how we are connected.
The SBL begins at the base of the feet with the plantar fascia—a thick, strong, fibrous band. The plantar fascia is a huge communicator to the whole body for where one is in space. Not being grounded through the plantar fascia is literally to be “out of balance.”
As I stated in my book, Myofascial Yoga: A Movement and Yoga Therapists Guide to Asana,
“Moving up the line is the Achilles tendon into the gastrocnemius muscles—the calf. From the calf, the line connects the hamstrings to the sacrotuberous ligament—which attaches to the lower aspect of the sacrum. The sacrotuberous ligament keeps our tailbone, the sacrum, from popping upward. Starting from the bottom of the feet, continuing up the back of the legs, and on to our tail are the beginnings of the SBL.”
The SBL continues up the erector spinae muscle group arriving at the top of the head, the epicranial fascia (galea aponerotica) that wraps over the top of the head and inserts on the forehead. In other words, the bottoms of our feet are connected to the top of our head.
Don’t believe me? Lay down in Corpse pose (Savasana) and come into awareness of the back of your head—the occipital ridge. Now draw your “toes to the nose” and press through your heels. Do you feel the movement and connection up your back body connecting to your skull?
Discovering the depth of how we are connective with the fascial matrix was my first step to healing from chronic pain. Often the site of pain is distal, far away from the origin of pain. Pain in the low back can be directly related to short and tight plantar fascia on the base of the feet.
I then explored longer holds and slowing down to allow the fascia to change shape. We have to slow down to 2 mm per breath cycle to allow the fascia to shift. The amazing thing is that the fascia moves like undulating glue when it warms out. It is not static rather dynamic in nature.
So if we want to change all we need to do is slow down, breath and hold the stretch a little longer. The rest happens naturally without forcing it.
All our muscles are interconnected by the myofascial meridians. Thanks to Thomas Myers for coining the term and neatly laying out each of the myofascial meridians in his book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists.
I was introduced to his work in the early 2000’s and it profoundly shifted my understanding of asana and how to incorporate Western anatomy into the teaching of asana. Asana is an incredible medium to shift “who we are” and prepare us for other pathways in yoga and meditation.
With each breath and sustained hold we can create more space in our bodies, free ourselves from pain so we have the freedom to be fascial yoga astronauts!
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Assistant Ed: Bruce Casteel / Ed: Catherine Monkman