Fascia

Relaxation | Creep

We already know that Yin is dark, cold, still, quiet, concealed, and receptive, and that Yang is bright, hot, active, loud, apparent, and assertive. And, it’s not really a stretch — pun intended — to consider body tissues in such context. So, dynamic muscle is Yang, and seemingly inert fascia is Yin.

Characteristics

So, fascia does not behave in the way muscle does, even though it possesses contractile properties. Whereas muscle contracts and relaxes quickly, fascia is slow to respond. It takes at least a couple of minutes to affect it with static postures, and then, it takes even more time for the fascia to retract to its normal length. It’s a long cycle.

You see, fascia is visco-elastic, and when gently stressed — pulled at either end — it resists the pull. (It’s response is time-dependent, and varies with the rate of stress applied. When stressed quickly, fascia is resilient. Springy. When stressed slowly, and over time, fascia is compliant.) Then, as the stress is maintained the fascia begins relaxing. That’s a technical term, by the way: relaxation. This takes minutes. Interestingly, even after the stress is removed, for some time after, the tissues’ length continues increasing. This counter-intuitive phenomenon is called “creep,” which also is a technical term. Of course, after a while — minutes to hours — the tissues retract to their normal length.

You probably won’t register the retraction as it’s happening, but in Yin yoga you could very well become aware of the relaxation, and possibly the creep, too. A good example is in the Twisted Root posture where, lying on your side and twisting your trunk away from frontal alignment with your hips, you first may feel tension around the spine, and across the chest area, and into the arm. As the minutes tick by you may then begin to notice, proprioceptively, that your arm has moved closer to the floor. At some point, your arm may finally reach the floor — the knuckles of your hand touch, then the elbow, then perhaps the shoulder. That’s an example of relaxation, and more or less expected. But, should you still have time remaining in the posture, you may notice the tension subsides to some degree, and as it does, you may feel the tissues of the chest and arms loosening further. How? No longer subjected to stress, a certain amount of physiological momentum carries the stretch farther. That’s creep.

Effect

Okay, great, so as Yin yogis, as athletes, what do we do with this?

Well, since Yin tissue — fascia — remains elongated for some time after its deformation, it’s important to understand that the joints (surrounded by the Yin tissues you’ve stressed) will be less stable than before. So, it’s generally best to avoid ballistic activity following a Yin session. Conversely, doing Yin yoga after rhythmic, repetitive activity is a good idea. It’s integral to recovery, and joint integrity. The fascia, ligaments, and joint capsules — all collagenous fibers — are revitalized, and the articulations themselves are reinforced through the protracted stress. Such stress can only be applied to the joints when muscles are relaxed. That is, in a Yin environment.

Lifestyle

Also important to know is that, prolonged sitting is effectively extended Yin yoga. After a while, since the body adapts to what it does — that’s the SAID principle: specific adaptation to imposed demands —, as those concentrated stresses are applied, it will begin to slump due to an imbalance. Lots of spinal and hip flexion, little to no extension. Continual Yin exercise, little to no Yang. And, constant exposure begets permanence.

This condition was made painfully obvious to me a few years ago while visiting my 94 year-old mother. She’d spend most of her day sitting in one particular chair. When she did stand up and walk, she didn’t immediately straighten out, rather the contour of the chair remained with her while she was “upright,” and moving.

A Yin yoga practice can counter even this level of structural insult, but it takes patience, and willingness. Sadly she had neither, but she did have a physician to prescribe meds for attendant discomforts.

Consider

So, during the Waxing Gibbous Moon, the days in between the First Quarter, and the Full — which is associated with the Early Heaven Bagua trigram Lake, which is appreciated in terms of its still surface, which is reflective — consider all the teeming life hidden beneath the tranquil veneer.

Then, in your next Yin yoga class, venture to the edge of the reflective lake, to where the calm water is clear and transparent, and peer in on all that is going on beneath the postural stillness. As sediment only settles in still water, it’s only in the quietude of Yin that such inner observation can occur. As well, in daily life, take a moment to look and consider how your habitual postures and habits may quietly be shifting your form, for better or worse.