Nurturing the Body's Fascia: Definitions

The most recent addition to the New Creation Tai Chi-Qigong video library is:  New Creation Tai Chi-Qigong Muscle, Joint & Fascia Warm-Ups. This blog begins a series that explores the importance of fascia and how Tai Chi can be an important practice for nurturing the fascia to enhance harmonious movement and reduce pain.

Fascia is the network of connective tissue that holds our organs and tissues together, protects our nervous system and helps us move in a harmonious way. Healthier fascia means better flexibility and mobility.

Anatomical concepts have largely been based in the past on the interaction of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, giving the study of the body a strong mechanical, "pieces and parts" orientation that coincides with the reductionist methodology of Western medicine. Since around 1990, however, the role of fascia has become much more important in thinking about the body and in developing a  wholistic paradigm of how the body moves and functions. 

Fascia surrounds muscles, tendons, nerves and separates skin and fat from muscle. If fascia were extracted from the body as a whole, the fascial web would show all the shapes of the body, inside and out, as per the depiction above. Thomas Myers, an expert in fascia, describes it this way:

"It would be just one big net with muscles squirming in it like swimming fish. Organs would hang in it like jellyfish. Every system, every organ and even every cell lives embedded within the sea of a unitary fascial net . . . the body--and the fascial net in particular--is a single connected unity in which the muscles and bones float."

You have seen fascia as the white stretchy tissue around the outside of pieces of beef or other meats. You have probably thought of it as "that extra stuff" that you don't want to eat. Anatomists in the past have taken a similar view of fascia as "extra," not know its function and tending to remove it to get down to the "real" functional parts such as muscles, ligaments and tendons. Until the early 1990's fascia was rarely included in pictorial representations of anatomy.

The fascial net extends throughout the body and could be pictured as like a spider web: If you pull on one corner of the web, the entire web will respond. 

Here is an actual picture of what fascia look like. 

Fascia is made up of three main elements:

Fibers--collagen (12 types).

Glue--colloidal gels otherwise known as GAGs (glycoaminoglycans) and more easily described as mucous or "snot" in its various manifestations.

Water--surrounds and permeates the cells, mixes with glue and keeps fibers wet and pliable. 

The fibers are held together by the mucous glue, hydrated by water. If there is less water the glue causes fibers to stick together more and stretch less; if more water, the fibers slide along each other and allow more stretching. Thomas Myer says the body alters the composition and proportions in a great variety of ways that could be compared to items you buy at Home Depot: wood for bones; silicon rubber for the cartilage; lots of string, wire, tubing, plastic sheeting, rubber bands, cotton, nets, grease and oil--and much more. 

These ideas and images are now circulating among professionals in research and fitness, but they have not yet become a major part of the dialogue among the general public about how the body functions and how to keep it healthy.

It is my belief that Tai Chi has an important role to play in nurturing the body's fascia and in creating a body that moves harmoniously and without pain--hence, the title of my new DVD: New Creation Tai Chi-Qigong Muscle, Joint and Fascia Warm-Ups--available on Amazon!



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