Fascia. It’s probably much more than you think it is. In this article I am going to touch on why fascia is really a sense organ, how it does many things we thought other tissues did and why this remarkable network of water suspended in a tensional net is the reason why vibration (and therefore sound) are one of the most important methods for activating the body-mind.
Fascia: types of connective tissue found below the skin that covers and attaches body structures (such as muscles), stabilises, separates, and encloses different organs and tissues.
Fascia is a fluid-rich connective tissue network that connects and wraps around every part of the physical body and comprises 75% H20. The fascial network holds the body together in a holistic mechanical biotensegrity system, regulating biology and proprioception (the sense of self in space and time). Fascia is now regarded as a primary sensory organ of perception.
With the growth of ‘fasciology’ over the last few years, championed by ‘Somanauts’ making an intrepid journey into the new anatomy, we have learnt more about the organ (for that is what it really is) of fascia than in the previous 500 years or so. There are different types of fascia at different levels in the body, and between them they perform some of the functions previously allotted to the musculoskeletal system, endocrine glands and aspects of the nervous system.
Our mental image of connective tissue (if indeed you have one) are those nice images of pink muscle clearly delineated by neat white lines. In reality, the body looks nothing like this on the inside. These images are, essentially, sculptures created by anatomists removing the ‘superfluous’ structures between the skin and muscles to re-create the same images they learnt in their dissection classes. Because this fascia was removed and ignored for so long, it is only recently that its important functions have been recognised. This includes the following:
- Functional stability and strength of the body with the bones and muscles
- Proprioception, or our sense of self in space
- Secretion of the appetite and satiety hormones Leptin and Ghrelin
- Metabolic regulation via WAT and BAT (white and brown adipose tissue)
- Somatic (body) memory, particularly traumatic experiences
- The propagation of sound vibration to cellular and intra cellular fluids
As someone who has dedicated their career to exploring the therapeutic use of sound to optimise human potential, I am particularly interested in the role of fascia as a sense organ, and how connective tissue functions as a perfect pathway for the transmission of information from the outside to in, and vice versa.
As fascia is 75% water, it is the ideal medium to conduct sound waves throughout the entire body, down to a cellular level. The human body itself is composed of 70%-94% water, and speed of sound in water inside the human body is many times faster than nerve signal speed. In other words, sound information (vibrations) travel faster in the body through water and fascia than the speed of the fastest nerve conduction. This is a significant advantage of a sound-based therapy compared to neural stimulation. Water and fascia are natural anatomical conduits that have evolved over time and underpin the hard-wired importance of body over mind. We have had a body for hundreds of millions of years but only had a human brain for a tiny fraction of that time, so it should not be surprising that what we feel drives our behaviour infinitely more deeply than what we think.
There are a great number of health conditions which are better understood and managed once a knowledge of fascia is in place:
- pH regulation
- Fibromyalgia and chronic pain and stiffness, including chronic pelvic pain syndrome
- Breathing and stress regulation
- Hormonal regulation, esp digestive issues and obesity (and therefore diabetes to some degree)
Using the thorax for bone conduction allows for fascial stimulation which is imperative given that fascia is connective tissue that touches every part of the body, down to a cellular level.
Sensate® turns the human chest into an internal instrument specific to each user's thoracic and visceral anatomy. Instruments make exceptional use of resonance frequencies and in the case of Sensate®, the instrument in use is the chest, creating thoracic amplification. When an instrument vibrates at their resonance frequency, these vibrations against the surrounding air produce sound vibration, and in turn, audible sounds. In the case of humans, the resonant frequency is actually in the column of air contained within the thoracic cavity, turning the chest into a resonance chamber, a hollow chamber whose dimensions allow the resonant oscillation of acoustic waves - similar to the mechanism of a string instrument or speaker cabinet.
The bony skeletal part of the thoracic wall is the rib cage, and the rest is made up of muscle, skin, and fascia. The bones of the chest or rib-cage sympathetically vibrate on lower pitches which is why we have the term thoracic resonance– vibrating oxygen molecules in the chest amplified by bone conduction. This is particularly prevalent in lower pitches, as described above. When singing the low pitch, the resonance of the thoracic cavity is significantly involved.
Research has shown that thoracic engagement and amplification is an integral part of meditation mantras and religious chanting and early-stage research has validated related neural correlates to these practices. In his paper entitled “The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting” Junling Gao suggests that such practices induce distinctive psychotherapeutic effects.
Stiffness and pain are intimately linked to body hydration levels, as fascia is a mostly fluids. "Stretching is thought to both increase circulatory flow to dehydrated tissues as well as reduce edema, by squeezing excess fluid from the intercellular space into lymphatic vessels. The value of tissue hydration is best appreciated when considering the dependent interactions of water and protein. As well as being the essential medium of cell metabolism, surface hydration is essential to proteins' structural stability and flexibility (Chen X, 2008).
More recent research sees many of the tissue changes in response to stretch as largely water related (Schleip, Huijing and Findley).
Fascia has been shown to respond to heat, pressure and vibration (therefore sound). Ida Rolf, visionary originator of the Rolfing system of bodywork, her own explanation was that connective tissue is a colloidal substance in which the ground substance (fluids) can be influenced by the application of energy (heat or mechanical pressure such as body work or vibration) to change its aggregate form from a more dense ‘gel’ state to a more fluid ‘sol’ state. Common examples of this are gelatine or butter, which get softer by heating or mechanical pressure. This gel-to-sol transformation, also called thixotropy (Juhan 1987), has been shown to occur as a result of long-term mechanical stress applications to connective tissue (Twomey and Taylor 1982). Fascial researcher Robert Schleip uses the terms Fascial plasticity (a new neurobiological explanation, http://bodyworkcpd.co.uk/articles/Schleip/schleip2003.pdf)
Deep dive – science alert
Fascia consists of 75% water for sure, but more as well. The fluid that can be observed rolling around within the fascial network is made of GLYCOSAMINOGLYCANS (GAG's Interstitial fluid). The main function of GLYCOSAMINOGLYCANS (GAG's) is the maintenance of and the support of the Collagen and Elastin and turgidity (bounce) in the cellular spaces. Keeping those protein fibers in balance and proportion. It also promotes the ability of the collagen and elastin fibers to retain moisture, therefore remain soluble. The interstitial fluids (GAGS) are essential to the epidermal & dermal cells metabolism and maintaining the connective tissues (collagen and elastin) in good condition. They seep from the capillaries of the micro-circulation and are dependent on efficient respiration transpiration and hydration. They are also linked to the lymphatic system. Known as the water reserve of the viable epidermis and dermis. This medium is entirely dependent on fluid intake.
GLYCOSAMINOGLYCANS consists of Hyaluronic Acid, Mucopolysacharides and Chondroiton Sulphates.
Fascia is mostly: collagen, elastin, reticilum.
Sensate inventor Stefan Chmelik
Sensate inventor Stefan Chmelik was at the forefront of the realisation that fascia is a complex sense organ, through the work of his Team at New Medicine Group in London. His colleague Leon Chaitow in particular, author of the seminal text on fascia dysfunction, led the increase in understanding that fascia was so much more than just connective tissue, starting from the Fascia Research Congress 2012.
Stefan also studied with legendary anatomist Gil Hedley, a pioneer who ‘turned the scalpel sideways’, and introduced a new and holistic method of dissection, the first major change since dissection began hundreds of years ago.