Internal Martial Artists and Yogis have recognized the importance of fascia for developing flexibility, power, and health for thousands of years. The majority of these types of exercises focus on developing the complex network of connective tissue called fascia that is interweaved throughout the entire body.
People who have developed a high level of mastery in these arts, have amazing control over their internal movement. In the martial arts, it can manifest as explosive power called Fa Jing. Bruce Lee demonstrated this with his amazing one-inch punch. Some people have analyzed this internal movement and describe it as rebound power, like that of a rubber band being stretched and released with greater intensity than the initial pull. Others have described it as an electrical or liquid like flow through the internal structure of the body. Martial artists in Asia, primarily China and Russia devote the majority of their training to developing the fascia, while western martial artists tend to focus more on muscle building.
Fascia is probably the least understood, but may be the most crucial and important structure in the body for health, longevity, and athletic performance. It has been largely overlooked by western science, thought mostly to function only as support and division of parts. Fascia consists of connective tissue, and is believed to consist primarily of collagen forming bands or sheets throughout the internal body, that attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate muscles and internal organs.
There is a reason why it has been overlooked. It is extremely difficult to study. Western science has primarily focused on an anatomical and Cartesian approach, where the parts make up the means. For the most part anatomists examine cadavers. Fascia in dead bodies look and behave very differently to that of a live human being. In a cadaver, the fascia looks like a thin membrane that connects and wraps through all the tissue in the body, connecting bone and muscle.
In a live human being, fascia is more than a membrane. It is filled with extracellular fluid and consists more like a thick gel. It is nearly impossible to dissect and examine in its live functional form. Recent scientific research has shown that fascia connects to all systems of the body. It connects bone to muscle and also connects with the central nervous system.
Being full of interstitial fluid, it is bio-electromagnetic. Connective tissue is functionally complex, it is not merely a wrapping. Fascia contains a particular type of cell, called a fibroblast. When fascia is stretched it changes the shape of a fibroblast, making it release ATP, an energy molecule. Secreted outside of its cell, ATP acts as a signaling agent to the nervous system, which controls and affects every part of the human body. This release of ATP also has an analgesic effect on nerve cells according to research being done at the University of Rochester by Dr. Nedergaard and Dr. Takano.
Research suggests this may be the western scientific explanation of how acupuncture works. When a needle is inserted, then manipulated it forces fibroblasts to expand, change shape, and secrete ATP, which then signals the nervous system and provides pain relief. Current research also shows that stretching and manual based therapies such as massage also effect fibroblasts in the same way and maintain flexibility and fluidness of the fascia. This flexibility is extremely important! Since fascia acts as the mechanical and biochemical link of the body with the nervous system. For Chinese Medical Doctors, this also may not be surprising. Since we view the physical body as Jing, the nervous system as Shen, and the mechanism that links the two is Qi. Perhaps, fascia is the physical manifestation of acupuncture meridians?
What is also fascinating to note is the crucial connection of fascia with the immune system. The fascia being filled with interstitial fluid also contains a large number of immune cells. Traveling via the blood stream and through the permeable layers of blood vessels into the fascia, immune cells can move throughout the interstitial fluid to any tissue in the body. Some leading researchers such as Dr. Langevin, Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the Harvard Medical School have gone so far as to call it the “home of the immune system”.
Dr. Langevin also believes chronic illness and chronic pain are largely attributed to inflammation of fascia. It is generally believed that most chronic back pain is attributed to a spinal problem. However, new research is proving that in most cases, it is inflammation of the fascia and not a spinal problem that causes chronic pain. She found that even when a spinal problem exists, it might not be the cause of the pain. Many people have surgery and still have pain. If the spinal problem was the cause, then the pain should have disappeared.
Fascia also has a crucial role in the development and spread of cancer. According to Dr. Langevin, cancer is not just the proliferation of tumor cells growing out of control. How do cancer cells get a foothold? They must have something to grow on, a base, and that is the fascia. The cancer cells take the connective tissue hostage! Dr. Patricia Keely at the University of Wisconsin, has shown that cancer is most likely to travel along the connective tissue matrix, making it a pathway where cancer can spread.
In a previous article, I categorized the three causes of chronic diseases as being Poor Circulation, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation. It would seem that a flexible and fluid fascia is essential in preventing these three from occurring. It is the linking mechanism between structure and function, and maybe the initial starting place for these three causes to take root. If the fascia loses its flexibility, its ability to secrete ATP and signal the nervous system is greatly hindered, and that effects balance of the entire body. If not resolved acute Inflammation of the fascia can be the beginning of a chronic illness and chronic pain.
It seems that eastern medicine has known about the very important function of connective tissue for a very long time! Exercises like Qigong, Yoga, and Tai Chi have long claimed and proven to be very effective in the prevention of illness and in healing the body and mind of all types of chronic pain and diseases. All of these exercises share something in common. They all focus on the stretching and movement of connective tissue, with a focused awareness of consciousness. Perhaps the future of medicine is a return to the wisdom of the past, by understanding this wisdom through the lens of our contemporary time?
- RJ Singer
If you suffer from pain or chronic illness, we can help you. We have successfully helped many people preserve and recover their health.
Alchemy Wellness Centre is located in Nashua, NSW near the village of Bangalow in the Byron Bay Hinterland.
RJ Singer is a registered Acupuncturist, and Chinese Medicine Doctor with AHPRA and AACMA. His also a highly regarded QiGong Healer and Teacher, and Feng Shui Consultant. RJ’s area of special skill is in the successful treatment of stubborn and difficult chronic disease, and all types of painful conditions.
Katrina Hillis is a registered Remedial & Relaxation Massage Therapist with AMT. Katrina is also an experienced Intuitive Reader and an accredited Zhineng Qigong Practitioner. Katrina specialises in helping people overcome emotional issues and life transitions working holistically to balance the body, mind and spirit.