The Issues Are In Our Tissues
Fascia is the elastic ‘container’ that exists throughout the body. It connects muscles,tendons and bones together and holds our organs within us.
Trauma: Physical or Emotional Shock can result in:
“Fight-or-Flight” reaction(when the body begins to mobilize);
- Adrenalin begins pumping to mobilize us into action.
- We may spontaneously excrete waste products.
- Some of our physical senses may become more acute while others shutdown.
- The heart rate increases and we may hyperventilate or sweat.
Ultimately this results in:
- Exhaustion – physical arousal associated with fight-or-flight cannot be prolonged indefinitely.
“Freeze”– disorientation, immobilization and numbness.
One study found that a consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol. At the University of Wisconsin, Richard Davidson, Ph.D., found that the left prefrontal cortex showed heightened activity in meditators, a finding that has been correlated with greater levels of happiness and better immune function. More dramatic left-sided activation was found in dedicated, long-term practitioners.
Yoga“quells the fluctuations of the mind,” according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In other words, it slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret,anger, fear,and desire that are the result of, and also the cause of, stress.
Many people with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) suffer from chronic low self-esteem. If you practice yoga you’ll sense, (initially in brief glimpses, and later in more sustained awareness), that you’re worthwhile. If you practice regularly with an intention of self- examination and betterment—not just as a substitute for an aerobics class—you can access a different side of yourself. You’ll experience feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a sense that you’re part of something bigger. While better health is not the goal of spirituality, it’s often a by-product, as documented by repeated scientific studies.
Yoga can ease pain. According to several studies, asana, meditation, or a combination of the two, reduced pain in people with arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other chronic conditions. For people with a SUD, this can be a really big wrench in the tool box of sobriety and sanity.
Yoga can help you make changes in your life. In fact, that might be its greatest strength. Tapas, the Sanskrit word for “heat,” is the fire, the discipline that fuels yoga practice and
that regular practice builds. The tapas you develop can be extended to the rest of your life to overcome SUD and change dysfunctional habits. You may find that without making a particular effort to change things, you start to eat better, exercise more, or finally quit smoking after years of failed attempts. And, you will have less desire to pick up the drug or drink.
In much of conventional medicine, most patients are passive recipients of care. In yoga, it’s what you do for yourself that matters. Yoga gives you the tools to help you change. It’s possible that you’ll start to feel better the first time you try practicing. You may also notice that the more you commit to practice, the more you benefit. This results in three things: You get involved in your own care, you discover that your involvement gives you the power to effect change, and seeing that you can effect change gives you hope. And hope itself can be healing.
As you read all the ways yoga improves your health, you probably noticed a lot of overlap. That’s because they’re intensely interwoven. Change your posture and you change the way you breathe. Change your breathing and you change your nervous system. This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—your hipbone to your anklebone, you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding yoga. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive (not addictive!) effects. This synergy may be the most important way of all that yoga heals.
So taking this insight into practical terms, think of when someone is feeling low, what image comes to mind? Their head is usually lowered, their chest caved in… protecting their heart. This physical pattern will start to affect their entire system, including their fascial grid. Think of what part of their fascia is becoming restricted. Their chest cavity is closing in, affecting their breathing. It sends a message to the brain … something is happening that is causing the breath to change. Thus the brain chemistry changes. It can start to release stress inducing hormones which further affects mood and stress levels – increasing tension in the body and it’s form.
This spiral works in both directions… our mind interpreting tension from our body and our body reacting to our mind. It stands to reason that if we work with our bodies, if we work on releasing and realigning our fascia, it will have a direct effect on our mind, our behavior and our emotions.
Tensionin any area will have an effect on the whole fascial grid. If you are constantly sitting at your desk for example, the fascia could bunch up in your chest area – leading to a weakened upper back. Sitting for long periods of time can tighten your hip flexors, which could, lead to fascial restriction of the hips. This could effect your neck all the way down to your toes and right into your core because the fascia is connected to everything in the body.
Does this connection go the other way? That is, if mind affects body, is it possible to change our mental and emotional patterning via the body as well? The short answer is
YES. Through bodywork physical movement like yoga, we can release psychological trauma by addressing chronic tension patterns and holdings in the body.
Distress from trauma builds up in the brain. It can shift the chemistry of the brain, changing the nervous system responses and thus impact the rest of the body as well, creating a variety of stress responses in the body.
The other issue is the patterns of tension that are created by traumatic distress. This tension can become chronic over time. When we are angry over long periods of time, as opposed to shifting from anger to calm, fearful to relaxed, the pattern becomes unresolved and the brain continues to send out these signals to the same muscles. This may create a postural pattern that, over time, becomes embedded. After a while the mind fits itself to that pattern, the muscles fit to the pattern, the fascia also fit into that pattern and your energy fits into it too. This may cause illness or rigidity in the body and the mind.
This chronic tension may require more than talk therapy to release, including movement and breathing practices to help[ the body and the mind readjust to a healthier way of being. Ida Rolf, the originator of the Rolfing Technique believed that this was possible through deep tissue manipulation. Some people work best with movement therapy, others with talk therapy and still others with the deep tissue work or even a combination.
Regular exercise isn’t going to change the deep rooted patterns in the fascia. However, long, slow stretches and holds WILL. Yoga can actually change the connective tissue, according to Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains. You can change the patterns that are lodged in the tissues.
What appears to work is holding deep stretches for several minutes so that the muscles can calm down. At that point, the fascia will start to release.This can facilitate the re- patterning that can lead to lasting lease of chronic issues within the body and the mind.
Yoga positions work with specific muscles in specific ways so alignment is important. If one area is weak, the body will automatically try to switch the workload, recruiting other, stronger muscles to do the work. We need to be mindful of this or we will miss the point and not actually be strengthening muscles groups that need to be stronger. We will only be continuing to build the areas that are already over-worked.
Having a yoga therapist who understands the challenges and is aware of the recruitment issue can help people to work smarter, targeting the areas of weakness and creating a stronger and more unified structure within the body. This re-patterning creates a shift within the whole organism – fascia, muscles, organs, blood and body chemistry and ultimately, within the brain itself.