It goes without saying, the human form is abundantly complex. So much that the use of metaphors and simple life stories are frequently the only way to dilute it’s profound elements of connection to allow us to comprehend just how much we simply don’t know about the sustainability of good health and function.
Over the past 17 years of my life – to which I am frequently reminded how fast time moves, I often have to sit with my own writing, spend time simplifying it so that I may perhaps contribute to other people’s learning and to pay homage to all of the endless hours I spend learning about my own being.
As a true convert to the fascial continuum, I have been privileged to learn from others with the same curiosity and far more eloquent interpretation of this vast supportive network. As I embark on working to share the helm of my own teaching with others, I’ve set forth the MELT University and have hand picked 6 bright women to help me pass on a greater understanding of this most glorious system.
In light of that, it is now even more imperative that I break things down, compartmentalize ideas ultimately to put it all back together so they can pass along a clear message to others beyond my reach.
Although a great deal of my focus is to share up-to-date concepts and science of the fascial network, my truest of pursuits is to help the layman understand how the nervous and vascular network relies on this system to function efficiently. I call this system the NeuroFascial System – aka: the Autopilot.
To bring three global networks comprised of tubes, cells, and molecules together, let’s begin in the outer environment and work our way into the complexities of the neural and vascular net.
The fascial network is the largest sensory organ – far more diverse in its reception/communication potential than all of the common senses combined. The profound network of receptors or sensory nerves living within what’s known as the ECM pass and share information throughout the entire body nearly 3x as fast as the nervous system. The free nerve endings (of which there are many and discussed in other writing) help the nervous system react and respond efficiently to everything concerning movement. Stretch and tension, pressure and compression, load, shear force and of course vibration from our own breathing to the truck idling along side your car as you drive to work are all part of the conversation the Autopilot conducts every moment of everyday without the need of our conscious control or awareness. These mechanoreceptors feed information from the fascial network back to the nervous system just as often if not more often than the nervous system feeds information into the fascial network through motor nerves and ultimately muscles. This structural, macro view of the neural and fascial connections are discussed in utter detail in books such as Anatomy Trains authored by Tom Myers as well as newer books from Robert Schleip, Fascia in Sport and Movement. Both of these authors and educators are far more eloquent and insightful, thorough on these topics so if you are so inclined, I’d suggest purchasing both books and read them multiple times, cover to cover.
Yet if we spend a moment in the depths of our cellular and vascular network we must also pay respect to how the neural and fascial net assist the circulatory net to function as well. Everything from horomones to neurotransmitters such as dopamine, cortisol, and oxytocin and their like inform the circulatory net to what the neural net is contemplating just as much as the neuropeptides and chemicals that act like hormones keep the nervous system updated in what the circulatory system senses. The fascial net plays a role in these connections and more.
As nutrients are fed in the way of protein molecules to the fascial net, allowing organs and fluids to ebb and flow efficiently throughout its network, it assists the pressure equilibrium of all 3 tubular networks to remain constant. The fascia acts as the information highway allowing or inhibiting flow of fluids to pass in between and through every cell that comprises our form.
Although yes, each net, the circulatory, fascial, and neural systems are separate in their own form, they are all inherently connected through the fluid chemistry that nourishes and stabilizes every element of them that can be defined. It can be said that every biological system is essentially a chemical, fluid system – thus, much like a river dependent on the continuous flow and motion of this fluid.
What’s quite profound to recognize is the pace to which each tubular system functions. The circulatory system comprised of our blood flow primarily functions very slowly – taking 90-seconds for a red blood cell to travel out and return to the heart. And, although the nervous system (neural net) works at a varying pace – 7-170 mph it is utterly dwarfed by the speed to which the fascial system functions. Due to the billions of mechanoreceptors found within this vast network, information travels at the speed of sound within the fascia – 720mph – 3x faster than the nervous system. The constant tension, compression, and movement our structure manages are what allow communication to travel throughout the body as vibration. In fact, if we relied on just neural responsiveness to keep us upright and stable we would fall very often and for no good reason.
I frequently discuss my mother’s “orange mishap” as a story to grasp the difference between neural and fascial control. This story explains how she sprained her ankle simply by taking a single side-step off her driveway and onto the grass along side of it. The next thing she knew her two dozen oranges where all over her front lawn. Although she insists it was the ghost of my dad that pushed her, I feel my assumption of a lateral step from firm ground to soft was the simple culprit of her orange mishap. The mechanism of reflexive behavior was slow on the uptake, her fascial network dehydrated, her neurological tone inhibited, her posture and tension management flawed, she was on the ground before she even realized she was falling. Yet if I did the same movement one may see my body just slightly list to the side when my foot stepped on the grass, my body able to right my pelvic balance and organize the change in vibration, and manage the tension of my body so I barely miss a beat in my alignment. Yet which system is responsible for this reflexive behavior? Once again, recognizing all of these systems work together is an essential yet difficult idea to define. They work in tandem yet the environment that vibration and communication travel outside of neurological responsiveness is vastly misunderstood and even ignored or simply not considered relevant. Yet it is clear that our stability architecture of the fascial net is of the utmost importance when it comes to the sustainability of our structure and form for a lifetime.
One final thought to consider is although the fascial net functions in a fast way to manage our balance and form, it in fact has two rhythms – perhaps many in between that have yet to be considered. Although immediate communication for whole-body balance during motion can be considered 720mph transmission, the speed to which this system responds in a compensatory way is much slower in its adaptability. This is well observed by hands-on practitioners of multiple modalities. A person can say their neck hurts them because they slept funny the night before, accumulated stress within the fascial system can build up like sediment in a river (what I like to call “stuck stress”) and over time cause neck issues for no good reason. This is a tough thing for many people to consider. The way we were raised, what we did as a child could have long term effect on our structure decades later that can go missed with traditional exercise and therapeutic modalities.
So to end this particular though of my day, let’s simply begin to consider the connective tissue as a part of the more recognized tubular systems – neural and vascular/circulatory nets. This system is a responsive, adaptable, governing communication highway – a semiconducting crystal matrix that absorbs, transports, listens, channels, and electro-chemically mediates information in ever for throughout the body every second of everyday.
I bid you a good morning with this food for thought.
Note: The cover image here, is from the Vesalius Continuum Conference and association of medical illustrators: Rachael Allen is an artist-in-residence at several anatomy labs in the UK. Her Project ANATOME explores the way medical students first experience the human body through dissection of dead cadavers. Using drawing to open a dialog of observation and documenting, she is interested not only in anatomical understanding but also emotions about death and mortality. She works with Dr. John McLachlan on integrating art and the humanities into medical student education.