Fascia is made of some combination of collagen, elastin and extra-cellular matrix. Extra-cellular matrix is a mouthful to say, but really, it just refers to the watery habitat of our cells. Think of the extra-cellular matrix as the environment our cells live in. One of the key functions it serves is facilitating the flow of fluid inside of us, ensuring that we remain hydrated. In the same way that our health is influenced by our immediate environment (the quality of the air around us, the cleanliness of our space etc), so too, the health of our cells is influenced by the health and quality of our extra-cellular matrix. Its role is to transport nutrients, waste products and messenger substances. If it can do this properly we experience more optimum health. This means, the more fluid our fascia has the greater our experience of vitality and the greater our capacity for self-healing.
Learn about fascia and yin yoga here.
Ground substance (as our extra-cellular matrix is also called) does not have a ‘fixed’ state. That is, sometime our ground substance is fluid, at other times it is dense, temporarily firm or even gluey. This is influenced by the level of irrigation our fascial system has. It is also influenced by the type of movement we do and the amount, and type, of force being applied to that area of the body. If our movement practice is varied our irrigation system works better and we are better able to distribute water evenly throughout the body. If our movement is repetitive (like running or cycling), some places in our body will be irrigated and other places remain un-irrigated causing adhesions to form in our tissues.
The most effective way to hydrate our fascia in the context of a movement practice is to create tension in a particular part of the body, holding that tension for 20-30 seconds and then releasing and softening those same muscles. An example of this might be holding Anjaneyasana (low lunge) for 20-30 seconds, with a focus on actively lengthening the hip flexors of the back leg, then releasing into Ardha Hanumanasana (half splits) straight afterwards so the hip flexors and relax. The effect of this is much like squeezing a sponge. When the sponge is squeezed, water flows out of the ‘tissue’ (this is equivalent to engaging muscles in the body). Then, we release the sponge so fresh water can flow back into the area (the equivalent to releasing the muscles).
Improving the hydration of the body’s fascia will allow for glide between muscles and fascial sheets to happen more easily. This, in turn, will give rise to greater feeling of ease in our movement and better signal reception between cells. This means the body will become better at knowing what decisions it needs to make for our wellbeing.
One thing that is important to keep in mind here, however, is that increasing the hydration of our fascia actually has a detoxifying effect. This means that, as the body detoxifies, we might initially feel sick or headachy or grumpy as toxins are released and flushed out of the body. If this is your experience, know that it is temporary, and a natural part of the process. Stay with it!
Want to learn more about the qualities of fascia? Then click here for the next article in the series on fascia as an adaptable structure.