Imagine a room. Then imagine that in this room there are very dense spider webs, spun three-dimensionally in every direction, intertwining and attached to all four walls, the ceiling and the floor.
Granted, this would be a horror scene for many of us.
Next, imagine yourself entering this room and making contact with one of these webs. The resulting vibration would be felt and measured in each network and fibre. If we coloured every fibre of the web that has been affected by the contact red, the whole room would be illuminated by red spider’s webs.
The spider’s webs are the fascia in our body.
The vibration and tension change is the transfer of information, at a speed of up to 270 km/h (some sources say 400 km/h) via nerves and up to 1100 km/h via transfer of tension and compression respectively throughout the fascia (without taking into account the energy (Chi) transfer, which is slower).
Every fibre in the human body feels change in another part of the body.
If we imagine the ceiling as our skin, the floor as our bones, and the walls as adjacent muscle groups, then we can clearly envisage that fascia does not run in just one direction, as one would expect if one looked at the fascia sheaths of a muscle.
Looking at a picture in an anatomy book can be misleading. For example, it may appear as if the thigh muscles are sheathed in fascia (=myofascial tissue), originating at the femur and pelvic bone and inserting at the lower leg (tibia), both ends transforming in a linear fashion into tendons.
However, our comparison with a spider’s web is all the more relevant according to the latest research.
In other words, the tension that occurs in any one direction, e.g. a contraction of the thigh muscle, has an effect in the direction of the skin surface (superficial fascial layer), bones and joints (deep fascial layer) and the adjacent muscle groups. And it’s the same with compression.
The information network goes in all directions and does not remain linear.
Just for a second, let us imagine this network as the 72,000 or 360,000 energy lines of the nadi or sen systems. A fascinating image, isn’t it?
Every movement – if we raise our arm, for example – has an effect on the overall network of the body.
Of course, our picture or comparison does not entirely work owing to the fact that walls, ceilings and floors are natural, fixed immovable boundaries.
In other words, a room cannot run away, whereas a body can.
Our body is the compromise between stability and mobility. The best way of explaining this is using the tensegrity model.
Tensegrity means establishing the integrity of an object by creating tension. This term originally comes from architecture. Tom Myers applies it to the architecture of the body, and it helps foster a broader understanding as well as conjuring up beautiful internal images.
How is the integrity in the body created through tension?
A house is partly held up through tension (steel wires or pressure), but for the main part it is held up by compression. When building a house, if I place one stone on top of another until a wall is formed, compression and solidity are achieved by means of solid material. Accordingly, this house should only be able to move very, very slightly.
We can also feel compression in our body. For example, we feel compression when the soles of our feet press down into the floor. Gravity pulls our body weight down at the points of contact with the ground beneath us.
However, our body is held in an upright position by tension in the muscles and fascia, and this tension allows us to move.
A room with pillars
Imagine a room which has no walls or floor or ceiling. It consists solely of pillars and fixed yet flexible tension straps which connect all the pillars.
If pressure is exerted on this structure, the pressure spreads through all the tension straps and the structure yields flexibly. If we remove the pressure again, the structure reverts to its original shape.
If part of the structure is stretched, the pull spreads to all areas and, after the tension ceases, it resumes its old shape.
In a structure of this type, nothing happens in isolation. If the structure breaks at all, it will happen at the weakest point rather than at the point where compression or tension is applied.
This structure is our body – stable and mobile and always to be considered as one unit.
The pillars are our bones. They are attached to ligaments (which bind one bone to another), capsules (the sheaths of our joints – which also bind bones to each other), tendons (which connect myofascial tissue with bones), myofascial tissue (myo=muscle+fascial=fascial sheaths = which also binds in its totality bones to each other and make movement possible through contraction and stretching, as well as giving stability through tension).
If we were to take away all other tissues, no other tissue in our body would reflect our appearance and shape better than the fascial tissue. Absolutely fascinating!
If pressure is exerted on our body by gravity, for example, the pressure is distributed to all fascial “straps”, just as when we are standing or walking. If one removes the pressure again, the structure reverts to its previous shape.
If I only move one leg, one might think that the other leg, which remains stationary, would not be stimulated. Yet this is not the case. As soon as I pull on one part of my body, this pull is distributed to all areas.
Nothing happens in isolation.
And what has all of this got to do with a T-shirt?
In addition to the sheaths of the muscles, there are entire layers of fascia which run through the body like whole body condoms (e.g. superficial fascia – subcutaneous tissue).
Imagine a T-shirt. Now pull the bottom of the imaginary T-shirt downwards. If we look in a mirror, we will observe that this pulling movement extends as far as the sleeves of the T-shirt.
Movement of any sort will bring about this effect internally. If we move any part of our body, we stimulate every part of our body.
Scars resulting from operations could also be categorised as a form of tension, as if a tissue has drawn together into a scar, it is sure to have an influence on areas of the body located far from the scar itself.
Likewise, any instance of protracted non-movement stimulates a contraction of the fascia, making them drier, more brittle, more susceptible to injury and degeneration, and – owing to the inefficient removal of toxic substances from the tissue – quite simply “ill“.
If we have mud on our T-shirt and simply leave it lying around for ages, it won’t be easy to restore it to its original shape and condition.
When a T-shirt is dirty, what do we do?
We soak it, rub it to remove the dirt and it comes out clean. We extend the material so that it regains its shape, and we hang it up to dry.
In yin yoga we work with compression and tension to produce these stimuli in our network, to lubricate and detoxify them, to boost cell regeneration, to reorganise water molecules and fibres, to generate flexible and strong fascia and to mobilise joints.
However, to reach this level of stimulation we mustn’t push it to our personal limit. Just as we wouldn’t rub our T-shirt too rigorously every time we wash it, or wring it out so roughly that it rips before we hang it up.
When practising yoga, we are seeking the middle way – neither too much nor too little stimulation.
To maintain mobility and health to a ripe old age, which is one of the possible reasons for practising yoga, we stimulate the entire spider network and so it glows red. We stretch it, we stimulate it and we compress it… until it feels great.