The Anatomy of Fascia & What It Can Tell Us About How to Practice

By Rachel Land

We know that fascial fitness is created in response to stress. And research, led by Robert Schleip, Ph.D., at the Fascia Research Project in Germany, suggests that fit, resilient fascia results from stressing our tissues in varied ways—stretching, compressing, and twisting them in multiple directions, at varying speeds, and under different loads. Within our muscles are spindles that measure changes in muscle length, and each of these spindles has about 10 sensory receptors in the surrounding fascia. There are four different types of these myofascial mechanoreceptors, which measure mechanical load on our muscles and fascia and each respond to different types of stress.

1. Type of receptor: Golgi tendon organ(GTO)

How to work it in your practice: Holding

GTOs are type I propioceptors that sense changes in muscle tension. They are responsive to muscle contraction and also allow muscle tissue to yield when you hold long, deep stretches. It’s important to know that research has shown that passive stretching of myofascial tissue does not stimulate GTOs. One way to to do so is through sustained āsana, where muscles are consciously engaged in a lengthened position. The benefit of this type of work is a decrease in muscle tonus—or in lay terms, a more relaxed feeling afterward.

2. Type of receptor: Lamellar corpuscles

How to work it in your practice: Floating

Theses type II mechanoreceptors (Pacinian/Paciniform) are triggered by rapid changes in pressure and vibration. Āsana practice can stimulate them through light, springy movements, such as controlled jumpings, and light, springy movements such as floating forward from Downward-Facing Dog to a Forward Fold or into a Handstand. These type II receptors are stimulated by high velocity.

3. Type of receptor: Bulbous corpuscles

How to work it in your practice: Melting

A type II mechanoreceptor (Ruffini), these slow-acting mechanoreceptors measure sustained pressure and respond best to gentle, consistent stress. They detect tension deep in the skin and fascia. Multi-directional āsana and myofascial release techniques that work across muscle fibres (rather than down their length) are most effective for these receptors. Stimulation of these corpuscles is assumed to result in lowering of sympathetic nervous system activity. Slow deep tissue techniques tend to have a relaxing effect.

4. Type of receptor: Interstitial mechanoreceptors

How to work it in your practice: Flowing

Type III as well as IV, and the most numerous of the receptors are the small nerve endings in myofascial tissue, which respond to varied triggers including load, pressure, shear forces, and even pain. These receptors respond to varied, fluid, graceful movements, such as when entering, and exiting āsana (mounting/dismounting), and vinyasa. The benefit of this type of work is increased blood flow, and result in global neuromuscular, emotional, and endocrinal changes associated with deep and healthy relaxation.

The key piece of information to take away from this is that we all benefit from varying how we challenge our fascia, rather than just sticking with the same āsana or sequences over and over. Variety really is the key to creating and maintaining fit and healthy fascia.

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