THE PHYSICAL REALM WHERE WE FIND SPIRIT: a detailed exploration into fascial and energetic theory -- prelude

For the bodyworker, there seems to be this fork in the road. If we turn down the road leading to the West, we find ourselves in a place known as “clinical” and “scientific.” Whereas if we choose to turn to the East, we find ourselves in places known as “energetic” and “spiritual.”

We set up camp, defend our ideology, and find identity along these roads. Those who followed the road east may find allies who find clinical work to be too sterile, academic, and even uninspiring [lacking spirit].

Those who turn to the West, find themselves influenced by like-minded individuals who find eastern philosophies to be whimsical, outdated, archaic, and simplistic.

Yet there are some of us, who find that there is no fork [in the road]! Both paths are not only valuable but complimentary. The paths are merely an illusion, a fragmentation, and therefore separating a greater reality into the illusions of clinical vs energetic.

Luckily, I have had the fortune to have teachers who thought that there might be a bridge between these two ways of seeing the world. They inspired me to look for connections between the physical and esoteric.

A seemingly troublesome question to some is this, “where is the human energetic system located in the physical body.” The simplest answer is that it is found everywhere and throughout the body. However, the unintended abstraction within this statement leaves the Western Bio-scientifically minded perplexed. The idea that it is “everywhere” is polarizing. It tells the energetically minded that they need seek no further and the clinically minded, that they haven’t. “Everywhere” is so many things that it can’t possibly be “everywhere.” By including every organ, tissue, and cell in the human body, being all inclusive, I suppose, it leaves very little to go on.

My first exposure to the energetic realm was, as a child, growing up with a witchy sibling. My first influence into the idea that points on the body that affected other areas of the self, was admittedly, the divination art of palmistry. Later on, though not much, I had a bandmate who was into the occult, raised into a Wiccan family. Again, this idea of an energetic body having some significance was intertwined with fortune telling and a conceptual framework that the universe was held together by some divine force.

I was both interested and skeptical of these ideas… and it wasn’t until a study abroad trip to west coast Africa that I had my first glimpse of this having a... well... a therapeutic value. My drum teacher, Raphael, was the village healer. He worked with only a handful of herbs. However, had a magick about him and his work. I wouldn’t understand, until years later, that the man who sent me only my quest to become a “healer” was what we might refer to as a “shaman.”

To be clear, Raphael taught me the “kee-dee drum, ” and that is all. He didn’t teach me a single herb or healing method, at least not in ordinary waking consciousness. However, he did convince me that I was to follow a healing path.

When I got back to the states, I searched for courses in the healing arts – any healing art would do. Just “a foot in the door” was my short-term goal. My first class on the topic of healing that I ran across was a course in a Japanese healing method known as, Reiki. Reiki is very popular among the new age crowd as well as bodyworkers. You’d be hard pressed to find a massage therapist who hadn’t at least heard of Reiki, taken a course in the subject, or many have been declared a “Reiki Master.”

The teacher I found, was kind of an anomaly, or so I thought. He was a Kenpo Karate teacher who taught a rather aggressive fighting style with multiple chances to kill one’s opponent in each sequence. However, he was also, a healer. He had studied a multitude of healing arts and was considered a “Reiki Master.”

Reiki was fascinating to me. It opened my mind to a therapeutic aspect of those otherwise bizarre and spiritual fringe ideas that I had heard about. Auras were things which could be healed. Chakras could be balanced. And yes, there were even energy points that had significance for healing. And truly, I had some very “spiritual” experiences in class and working with energy.

However, after a time, I found myself disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I had some very interesting, transcendental, psychedelic and even shamanic experiences. However, having trained with and practiced with many Reiki practitioners and so-called masters, I found that there was a lot of information that just couldn’t be substantiated with… well… anything! Furthermore, no one seemed to have even a basic grasp on physical human anatomy, physiology or pathology.


So, I went to massage school. In massage school, I learned a whole lot about the physical human body. I also learned quite a bit which had been absent from my energetic training. I was taking classes in polarity therapy, Ayurvedic treatments, reflexology, and yes, even more reiki. But in addition, I was learning about deep tissue modalities including myofascial release and trigger point therapy. Most people in my position would get a smattering of introductory courses spread out over a long period of time. I, however, took this opportunity to study everything with everyone at the same time. I was taking basic courses by day and advanced clinical courses at night. On the weekends I was in energetic workshops – truly immersed in this new world.

I began to notice this dichotomy. The people who thought that energetics were foolish and the people who thought clinical understanding was... well… missing the spiritual "root" to the illness. Luckily, I had a few energetics teachers who were totally into the clinical and clinical teachers who found energetics as fascinating as I did. Then it happened!

My basic massage teacher was talking about fascia… and within a week my shiatsu teacher was also talking about fascia. Somehow both these teachers, from far ends of the spectrum, where both interested in connective tissue, for completely different reasons. Soon after, my clinical massage instructor was talking about, well, you guessed it, fascia!

Within a few weeks, I came to a deeper understanding of this stuff. Connective tissue holds [bad] posture, holds [repressed] tissue memories and may be the place where the acupressure channels reside!

That was in 2001. Over the years that have followed, I have ebbed and flowed back and forth from more energetic times and more clinical times. All the while, I have been studying, correlating, and connecting concepts, teachings, modalities and traditions finding deep correlations between traditional and modern healing methods and various world views of the human body. The bridge that I have observed between those energetic ideas and those biomedical constructs isn’t just within the fascia [though that’s true also] it is the fascia itself!

Over this series, I would like to take you on a journey into, throughout, and all about the fascia.

Stay tuned!

The Spirit Haus

Tree trunk resembling a paracardium. Photo by the Author.

Tree trunk resembling a paracardium. Photo by the Author.

The pericardium, often referred to as the fluid filled "sack" where the heart resides, is actually an awesome connective tissue (or fascia) which has many amazing qualities. One interesting thing about this so-called sack is that it seems to arise from the diaphragm. The two are inseparable, in the absence of a scalpel or butcher knife.

When your diaphragm contracts (for in-breathing) the pericardium is pulled downward, massaging the heart. As the abdominal muscles contract, they push the guts in and upward, the ribcage is pulled inward by a series of muscles I call the "in breathers" and the pericardium is squeezed between the lungs (which it is also interconnected with).  Thus, out-breathing is the return [massage] stroke.

So if the pericardium can be seen as arising from the diaphragm perhaps the lungs are arising from that. A good image for this new pericardial paradigm is the image of a fascial butterfly.  Imagine a butterfly, upside down, so that the head is bellow the body. The forewings of the butterfly form the form the diaphragm, the hindwings pleura (fascia) of the lungs,  and the thorax of the butterfly becomes the pericardium.

Pericardium "glued down" to the diaphragm. Image from Gray's Anatomy, public domain.

The lungs oxygenate! They in-spire! The lungs connect us the earth by way of trees. In fact, inside the lungs we can see a microcosmic reflection of trees. We even use tree terminology to describe the lungs, like bronchi (branch) and bronchioles (little branches or twigs). Do you remember from grade school that lungs breathe in what trees breathe out; we breathe out what they breathe in? I have reflected on this throughout my life.

The heart thinks! It works together with the lungs to circulate nutrients and discharge toxic gasses while the nervous system and fascia produce and distribute electricity. Imagine this complex structure glowing in the dark… a lighted butterfly shaped vortex in the central core of our being.

This energy epicenter is home to such things as the heart chakra (the metaphysical sphere where our ability to love originates; the thymus gland (the master gland of the immune system), the Wei Chi (the energetic defense shield), and the Shen, you know, the Spirit!

Upside down butterfly. Showing "doctrine of signatures" to the daphragm, paracardium, lungs. Image altured by the author.

Spirit, soul, and psyche are intertwined words throughout cultures and histories. They are not the same. They are the same. Sometimes having separate meanings and other times not. The Spirit is the seat of emotions. It is consciousness. When it is gone, "you" are gone. Though Spirit is not the same as the soul. There are connections between the two. I think it is easier to think of it in this way; the soul is the everlasting bit of the human that resides somewhere in the Ethers. The soul is the subject of religion. The Spirit is the place where the heavens and earth come together. It is much like our concept of mind. In fact, the mind has a lot of correlations to the pericardium. The word for taking a breath is "inspiration." In-spirit-ation. "Ation" means action, "in" is the direction it is going and spirit… "spirit" means… spirit. So, we are taking "spirit" into our lungs. And when you exhale, what are we doing? Spirit also speaks to a gracious quality. Thus the connection between out breathing (taking away) and spirit. It is etheric, mysterious, mystical. When we are full of spirit, we are said to be "inspired."

One of my favorite questions to ponder is, "where is my mind?" Culturally, people point to different areas of their body when speaking of the mind. Some point to the head, behind the eyes. Is that the place you thought of? Others point to their hearts. Strangely enough, no one points to other random parts of their bodies. No one points to their thighs, for example.

The heart contains tiny nerve structures known as sensory neurites. There are 40,000 of these bad boys! What makes them so cool? They are so similar to the nerve structures in the brain that some call them, "the little brain in the heart." As you know, brains think. So, hearts think… right?

Cross-culturally there is a connection with consciousness and emotions (Spirit) and the heart.  The Spirit might best be seen as a "psycho-soma" or mind-body [complex] where you can honor the instinct and emotion that seems to come throughout the body as well as the obvious central nervous system processor we call the brain.

This pericardium would be electric and hormonal.

It would include the heart and lungs; diaphragm; the heart and solar plexus chakras; and bridges the elements of air/metal and fire. It has relationships with the respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and energetic systems. While I am out on a (figurative) limb pontificating as I am about the various relations of this energetic pericardium, let us not forget the close proximity (and fascial connection) to the thymus gland, the master gland of the immune system.

The Spirit is said to live in the heart and the heart lives in the pericardium!

To be continued...