February 22, 2014

I am a Yoga Astronaut: Fascia & Pain. ~ Kirstie Bender Segarra


Part 7: Stretching the Fascia to Heal Chronic Pain.

For more:

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 1)

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 2)

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 3)

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 4)

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 5)

I am a Yoga Astronaut! (part 6)

Stretching and training the fascia is necessary in relieving pain. The fascia is a group of connective tissue that surrounds muscles and ligaments.

Since the body functions holistically there is a direct link to the fascial body and pain.

There are three holistic systems of the body—neural, circulatory and fascial. Yoga benefits all three systems.

As we breathe and stretch, the nervous system becomes calm, metabolic functions slow and the fascia is trained. Yoga practitioners can experience this to some degree. Everyone is different; some of us have had to work with chronic pain.

Chronic pain refers to pain lasting three months or more. Working with acute pain is different, like a broken bone or slight strain that heals within three months. When we experience chronic pain it begins to tax the whole system.

With some pain conditions, we develop hypersensitivity where our proprioceptors, a pain receptor, change from a noxious stimulus detector to non-noxious stimuli. This results in regular activity triggering a painful sensation! Inflammation is one of the most common causes of sensitization of nociceptors, a sensory neuron.

I became interested in fascial response while writing my doctoral thesis on fibromyalgia. I was searching for a deeper understanding in healing my chronic pain conditions, which are fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and lumbar scoliosis.

Apparently, as we age the effectiveness of our proprioceptors decreases and mechanoreceptors step in to do the job for them. I learned this while teaching medical massage. This was an “aha” moment for me in working with pain and began to explain how medical massage and structural integration can decrease pain signals.

I applied it to my yoga practice. I began to develop a slower style of yoga that mimicked the type of stretching done in bodywork—actively loaded stretch and muscle energy techniques. Indeed, my pain was reduced because I was training my fascia and the mechanoreceptors in the fascial to change their response.

It is interesting to note that the proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors develop from the same type of stem cells (neural crest).

The neural crest is responsible for a large part of early development in vertebrates. More specifically it is responsible for development of the peripheral nervous system. The neural crest stem cells split off from the neural tube as it closes, and nociceptors grow from the dorsal part of this neural crest tissue. They form late during neurogenesis. Earlier forming cells from this region can become non-pain sensing receptors; either proprioceptors or low-threshold mechanoreceptors.”

In Yoga Astronaut Part 6, I share that we have six times as many fascial receptors around the muscles as we have receptors in the muscles. Indeed, our fascial body is the largest sensory and communicating organ. Because of reduced functionality of proprioceptors being replaced by mechanoreceptors, chronic pain arises.

Shifting this energy takes patience. Retraining our receptors takes time and involves all three holistic systems of the body. Learning how to slow down and retrain the fascial body is important in managing pain. Additionally, nutritional, diet and lifestyle changes are necessary to support this process.

We have evolved from an industrial revolution to an electronic revolution. The repetition and stagnation of our bodies increases the rigidity of the fascial body. Yoga that stretches the fascia is one of the most effective ways we can preserve our bodies and minds to prevent degeneration.

Learning to shift the fascial body with correct stretching and yoga practice in the new paradigm of “spatial medicine” allows us to create more space in our bodies and free ourselves from pain. With this freedom of “space” we become fascial yoga astronauts!

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Editorial Assistant: Ashleigh Hitchcock/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum




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Kirstie Bender Segarra