DEMYSTIFYING FASCIA: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE DEEP FASCIA

In an earlier time in the study of the human body, fascia was not seen as an important venture. Vast stretches of fascia didn't even get names. Which is bizarre because, anatomists name every bump, dip, nook, cranny, crevice, etc.

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The fascia was scraped away to reveal other structures that were; one can only assume, more glamorous or in some way took precedence over the casings around those structures. These days bodyworkers, yoga practitioners, and other like-minded folk are taking another look at fascia, and I am pretty sure we owe the majority of that to Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. - a biochemist and developer of structural integration. Before her groundbreaking work, fascia was mostly thought of as unimportant (Just the Grandmother of all fascial work today… no big deal.)

Though not all anatomists agreed and not all fascias went unnamed. There are, (as Gill Hedly, Ph.D. calls them),”Famous Fascias.” The fascia lata, and the more ropy embedment within it the iliotibial band, the galea aponeurotica (best name ever!), and the thoracolumbar aponeuroses (runner up!), and the retinacula - to name a few. These fascias are treated by most anatomy texts as separate tissue with individual structure and function from the surrounding soft tissues. However, they are not separate. All of the above-mentioned fascias actually belong to a continuous fascial layer known as,"the deep fascia."

If you are reading this blog, you know there are (at least) three layers of skin. Epidermis - this is the outer layer. Often, quite appallingly referred to as a layer of “dead” skin. The dermis - this is the layer where the majority of the specialized skin structures, like sweat glands, oil glands, specialized nerve endings for touch and temperature sensing, are located. And then the subcutaneous layer. The latter being the “fatty” layer. This fatty layer is known to bodyworkers as the superficial fascia. So the deep fascia, then, is one layer deeper than the subcutaneous layer of skin.

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Perhaps the easiest way to understand the deep fascia (which is not that deep, actually), is to consider preparing a roasted chicken. Now, there are two ways to get a ‘whole’ chicken to roast. One is with the skin on and the other, increasingly more common has the skin removed. Not sure which one you have been getting? Look for the follicles where the quills once were. If there isn’t a goose flesh appearance to the outside of your chicken, it has had the skin removed. In my area, it is easier to get a turkey with the skin on than a chicken. Not sure why.

So, what most of us have been calling the “skin” of the chicken, is the deep fascia. It is a shiny, translucent layer that wraps around everything, just deep to the skin.

Okay, now that we have established where and what this layer is, let's talk about its importance. Firstly, we can gain a level of understanding around its function when we look at those so-called famous fascias. Let’s take the retinacula for a moment. In the retinacula of the ankles and wrists, we find a functional understanding of the deep fascia. The purpose? Primarily, they act as a part of a pulley system, strapping the long ropy tendinous extensions of muscles down and keeping them on track. Without them, one might imagine muscles or at least their tendons slipping out of place; causing unintended movements.

The facial muscles are also very interesting when it comes to this deep fascia. Typically, when teaching basic musculoskeletal concepts, I try to convince my audience to think of muscles as rubber bands running from one bone to another; pulling bones in their intended direction. However, the majority of facial muscles are actually embedded within this deep fascia. The purpose? Facial expression.

Deep fascia has a contractile nature, due to the smooth muscle contained within. However, the muscles of facial expression are true, “skeletal” muscles, embedded within the deep fascia allowing for much more contractility. Thus, assisting in communicating emotion and thought as well as self-expression in a non-verbal way. The furrowed brow, the flared nostril, the wink, and the modern selfy pose known as, “Duck Face.” What the heck does duck face mean anyway? What are they saying with duck face?!

The famous iliotibial band (IT Band) works the same way. It is a ropy thickening within the fascia lata which is pulled by the muscular contractions of gluteus maximus and tensor fascia lata.

The deep fascia holds tension from positions we hold in space. If we slouch, over the years, this fascial layer will hold that slouch. If we hold our head forward, the fascia will learn that posture as well. Not only will it learn our resting positions, but it builds layers of thickness based on activities. This is why the retinacula are so famous. They are thickenings in the deep fascia because of all of the tendinous movement underneath them.

As always - this fascia has a fluid which allows photon energy to pass through it, generates piezoelectricity, holds tissue memory, and all the other neat stuff fascia does.

 


Disclosure: This post originally contained affiliate links, which could have meant that I could have received money for blogging, assuming someone bought the fascial related book I linked to, from the store which the link came from.

However, I removed the affiliate links, because I didn't want to support the machine. It felt uncomfortable - less like my blog and more like some one else's blog. Within a day or so, some other blogger contacted me wanting to do a "blog swap." Where they would get on my blog and essentily market themselves to my readers. I could, in turn, do the same for their blog. I looked at their site, it was all about selling supplements.

I can't help but think these two events where somehow related. I bite on a silly idea about affiliate links and some silly supplement peddling blog wants to affiliate with me. At any rate, it was clear to me, that isn't what I am about. Its a process... I am processing...

Thanks for reading!

PS I still think reading a book by Ida P. Rolf would change your life. I also think watching Gill Hedly's integral anatomy series is the best thing I ever did for my understanding of fascia.

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.

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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!

Let there be light!

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice, Wikimedia Foundation.

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice, Wikimedia Foundation.

The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. This year, here in New England, this occurs, on December 21st (so close to midnight that many calendars say it is the 22nd). Though, we have been collectively feeling its effects for some weeks. There are a few events that seem to affect us as we move towards this day; some celestial and one quite terrestrial. The first is the Autumnal Equinox. After that day, the day wanes and the night waxes. We begin our inward descent. Darkness overcoming light becomes unmistakable at the point between the Equinox and Solstice known as Samhain. At that point, we speak of the veil between the realms.


Another event that affects us gravely around this time of year is “time change.” Time change was invented because our way of measuring time is inadequate. Day and night are not equal but twice a year… and then, only exactly equal, if you live at the equator.


Because of this, some thinkers got together, as the story goes, and invented an artificial time change, known as "daylight savings time," to our already artificial time. Like that of leap year, the concept of daylight savings time arbitrarily changes our collective clocks an hour forward in the spring and an hour back in the fall.


Our bodies are not designed to make this "leap" forward or back. We are organic beings living in an organic world. We are a part of the natural organism we call Earth. When we artificially augment our rhythms to meet societal demands, we suffer.


Time change is a bit like a whiplash on the body’s sleeping and waking cycles. More so, it is like jet lag. Jet lag, long believed to be more psychosomatic, than an actual condition - is now accepted in the medical and scientific communities as a real condition caused by a disruption the natural circadian rhythms. Hence, it's official name, "desynchronosis."


"De" means the removal of. "Syn" is with or together... and "chronos" is time.  Desynchronosis - to be [taken] out of sync with time.


Though one could argue that the propulsion of our bodies across great distances, at extreme speeds, and through the air - might leave the body feeling, "some type of way." We can show through measurements of body temperature, plasma levels, [midichlorians] and hormone secretions - that rapidly changing time zones introduces new algorithms for our bodies to adjust to.


I experience time change just like that. While some report that they enjoy the autumnal change and suffer the spring, I have seen the negative effects on our collective health in both directions. It is disconcerting, to say the least, to suddenly wake and it's dark outside, when days prior it was not that way. I think someday soon; we will have to speak of "time change lag" or induct its effects into the pathology of desynchronosis.

A chart showing the quarters and cross quarters of the year with the waxing and waning of night and day. Chart and photo by author.

A chart showing the quarters and cross quarters of the year with the waxing and waning of night and day. Chart and photo by author.


Our bodies are governed by the cycles of the sun. The Sun tells us when to wake and when to go to bed. In ancient times, the sun was worshiped as the great giver of life, for this very reason. In the spring, we see the sun growing brighter and brighter. The days begin to wax, to grow longer and fuller. Even in a very long, harsh and cold winter by the spring equinox people are so reassured, convinced of the sun's return it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, "He is risen!"


But we are not yet there. Not now, not today. We are in the darkest of days, the longest of nights.


Behind your eyes, inside your brain lies a sacred place known to the Taoists as the Crystal Palace. This “palace” is both metaphysical and also quite anatomical. In anatomy, this section is divided up into the thalamus, the hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal glands. Collectively, they control the body’s clock, our reproductive cycles, pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding, orgasm, trust, and they have a great deal to do with consciousness itself!


Most of this Crystal Palace is a part of the endocrine system, the hormone producing system in our bodies. Hormones control everything! They are the biochemical signals for everything from growth and development, puberty, ovulation and menstruation, digestion, sleeping and waking cycles… like everything! Hormones control us from fetus to crone!


Do you remember your first solar powered calculator? As a young child, I was fascinated with the idea that the sun could power my calculator. Okay, I’ll admit, I still am! Well, we are solar powered people! The sun is the “great-great master gland” of our endocrine system. It produces the hormone, “solar energy” which sets up our clock… much like this laptop, I am typing on is synced to some clock somewhere in the ethers… We link up to the sun for our internal clock.


The sun’s rays reach our Crystal Palace by two routes. One route is through penetration of our flesh and bone. To check a fertilized chicken egg for fetal development, there is an age-old process of shining light through the egg in a dark place to see what structures have developed. This process is called candling, as it is far older than flashlights.

Photo of LED light from phone penetrating through thumb. Photo and thumb by author.

Photo of LED light from phone penetrating through thumb. Photo and thumb by author.


If we could candle our own bodies, what would we see? How far does light penetrate into our body? Do this… hold up a flashlight to your hand… turn out all the lights and see how the light penetrates through skin, fascia, muscle, bone, back through the fascia, and then skin. The light has changed color, but it makes it through! The sun is a very powerful light, and it penetrates through our bodies and into our Crystal Palace.
 
I think of various religious practices involving head coverings, head shaving, growing the hair out, etc. Are these attempts to block, filter, or capture etheric energies in route to the Crystal Palace? Does shaving one's head allow for more light penetration? Does growing one's hair act as an antenna for esoteric energies? Does a headdress, cap, or other device act as a filter in some way?

Light is carried throughout the body via fascial and nerve tracts. One specialized optical-tract light-pathway is known as, "the retinohypothalamic tract." This organic fiber optic cable carries light from the retina into the Crystal Palace. This tract is a more direct route.

There must be a reason that the ancients would do morning rituals and exercises, such as yoga and chi gong, facing east. That reason is simple… to link up to the sun! Our system must be constantly connected to the great-great grand master to be in balance.

Furthermore, this area has the esoteric significance of being known as, “The Third Eye Chakra.” This chakra is associated with being able to see through the veil, into the spirit world, psychic vision, etc. For that reason, many attempts have been made to “open” the third eye. If you were ever a fan of the band, Tool (or if you have ever been subjected to a fan of that band), you might have heard the lyrics, “prying open my third eye.” Prying a chakra open, is not a recommended path.

Instead, I would try being in balance with the natural rhythm of things. Taking care of your body and eating healthy food. Listen to your body, to your environment, the seasons, and the sun.

Currently, as we experience this Winter Solstice, the sun is being reborn. The night is at its longest and day is at its shortest. If you were able to decipher the messages from the sun to your circadian rhythm, what might it say?

To be continued…

 

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...