With the recent recognition and discoveries concerning fascia and its importance, the understanding of our bodies is changing drastically. (Fascia = the fibrous, elastic connective tissue that’s everywhere in our body, read more here.) Before we thought of our bodies as divided in different parts and of our bones as being stacked upon each other, like a building, with the muscles attached to the bones. But this is not the case. And how we see and understand ourselves, influences the way we feel and move our bodies. So let’s get to know the fascia, tensegrity and how to embody it to find more ease in our yoga practice and life.
are floating in a webbing of fascia.
Tensegrity (tensional + integrity) is a term that was first conceived to describe a structural principle related to architecture. Meaning the integrity of such an architectural structure comes from the balance of the tensional elements, not the compression elements. Expressed within the human body, Thomas Myers defined tensegrity as a function of the fascia system. As the fascia is responsible for giving structure, form, connection and force distribution through our bodies. In human beings, the fascial matrix and the muscles form the system of tension consisting of interconnected ‘Fascia Meridian Lines’ or continuous slings. Which create dynamic relationships of tension and compression that connect through the whole system.
This is SO fascinating, essentially, our bones are floating within these slings or this fascial webbing which gives the tensional forces that shapes our body.
The parts affect the whole
It’s important to realize that changes in tension in one part of the whole affect the whole system. When a force, load or strain is put on one location, from the smallest cellular level to the grossest level, this will get distributed through the rest of the structure.
The myofascia (myo = muscle) needs to be balanced and in healthy condition for it to perform its function of tensegrity well. Often there is unbalanced tensions or tightness in our fascia and muscles (due to stresses, traumas, lifestyle or movement habits, …). This creates an imbalance or mis-alignments through the body, contributing to less ease, freedom and vitality, and more pains and strains.
Whole body movement
We move, flow and breathe in a way incomparable to mechanical structures, or to a house. We are complex but simple structures comprised of building material that is elastic, fluid but also strong like steel. This material (the fascia) permeates, connects and envelops every other single system in our bodies.
The movement of a single breath creates dynamic relationships in the 136 joints in the human body. When balanced, in relationship to gravity, movement transfers through our living systems evenly. There is no seperate part in the body which needs to single-handedly support us. We have the ability to move as one single functioning unit. With the grace of effortlessness and to have abundance of energy to hold ourselves static or in motion. When we create expansion or space in one area, space is created in the whole body.
Feeling tensegrity in your body
Stand on your two feet in Tadasana and close your eyes. Visualize this idea: none of your bones actually touch…your bones are held perfectly inside the tension of your connective tissue matrix with respect to your specific body shape and size.
What effect does this have on the way you feel inside this matrix of your body?
Can you stand balanced on your two feet?
Can you find just the right energy to support yourself upright and fully breathe in and out?
How can you distribute the effort evenly through the whole body?
Can you feel how any shifting or movements creates effects throughout the body?
Can you feel how the movement of your breath ripples out through the rest of your structure?
Tensegrity working in a supportive way: effortless effort
Most importantly aim for effortless effort during your movement or work-out practice. A body in healthy tensegrity rests or even gains energy, even through dynamic movement, static holds or slow mindful movements. There is an evenness of tone throughout the entire system. At any moment, ask yourself, where am I holding unneeded or habitual tension in my body (like around your eyes, jaw, neck , tongue, shoulders, belly, feet, …). How can I distribute the effort evenly through my feet and whole body? Rather than having to always over-concentrate or fight with your body as you ‘hold on for dear life’ in a yoga posture, choose to move towards the effortless effort.
Because when you can use this network of tensional force to distribute the effort needed, you will find more ease, energy and space to breathe. Attaining more ease and fullness in the breath is one of the most important things to support us in our practice and life. This is how we find calmness, balance our nervous system and find healing.
At first, it might feel like you are doing less. But in fact the vibranct relationships in the inner landscape of your body are starting to really shine through. Unneeded tensions or energetic armor of your outer body begins to let go and you find a more balanced energy. Notice what happens to the breath through ease. Notice the stomach softening as you slide and glide within to further and greater ranges of movement with less effort.
This is tensegrity functioning in a balanced and supportive way. You can take on any bodily task and still breathe a deep, full and smooth way without forcing the shape or movement, nor the breathing. Just the right amount of tension (energy or effort) and integrity (working as a whole). When you hold yourself or move can you do this with the reality of tensegrity in mind and body?
Embodied, Empowered and Energized through Tensegrity
An understanding of fascia and tensegrity has the potential to lay the groundwork for any mindful movement practice. As the foundation of my yoga asana practice, the principle of tensegrity was introduced to me through Thomas Myers around 15 years ago. I didn’t understand the concept fully back then, but now am I discovering the importance it has on my own practice as well as students all around the world. I have also just started to dive deeper in the work of Thomas Hanna through Somatic Exercises which is helping me even more in creating a healthy tensegrity structure (I’ll write more on that at a later time).
My movement practice becomes an opportunity to maintain ease and fluidity in all functional movements as the body goes through the aging experience. As compared to the fast-paced tempo of life and often many yoga practices, this is a practice of patience. Which is the key for having a true understanding and awareness of your body. It opens up a space for listening deeply to the inner webbing, to find and recover the connections within.
Did you find this blog helpful, or do you have any questions? Please share or drop me a line in the comments below, interested to hear your thoughts and experiences!
(Stay tuned for more information and exercises on how to release your fascia, so you can find more balance, ease and connection throughout your body.)
Editing by bethechange.yoga