The medicine of the future will have to focus on healing the epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases by changing behavior, says Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains. Yoga, bodywork and other therapies that tap into the transformative potential of the body’s fascial network have an important role to play in this process. In this interview with Yoga U Online, Tom explores the transformative potential of the body’s fascial network and its implications for the future of yoga and yoga therapy.
Yoga U Online: Part of your work has been to draw attention to the all-important, but much overlooked role played by fascia in the human body. What is the role of fascia in this picture?
Tom Myers: Fascia is that network that connects it all together. We are made up of somewhere between 70 to 100 trillion cells. That’s 70 trillion cells acting together. Most of your cells are little packets of water, like little water balloons. Something has to hold all those 70 trillion cells together. That’s the fascia.
Fascia—or connective tissue—is what glues us together. So, it’s a broad use of the word fascia. What we’re really talking about is the body-wide extracellular net that holds us together.
Yoga U Online: Yet, as it is turning out, fascia is more than just the ‘wrapping’ of the body?
Tom Myers: Yes, what’s really exciting is the new research on fascia that’s coming out. Up till recently, everybody was thinking of fascia as just the packing material that goes around the other tissues. Now, we’re finding out that it’s a regulatory system in the same way that your circulatory system is a regulatory system and your nervous system is the regulatory organ balancing your inside and your outside world.
The fascial system is also a regulatory system. It has an organizational dimension that keeps us in the shape that we’re in. It’s that role that’s being explored now, which is really exciting.
Yoga U Online: Fascia is often referred to as the ‘organ of form.’ Does it play a wider role as a regulatory system than that?
Tom Myers: Yes, it’s the organ of form, but it goes far beyond that. In the development of the embryo, it’s actually the connective tissue cells that are organizing the brain. The brain cells of the neo-cortex are originally born in the ventricles in the middle of the brain. And they have to migrate out to the surface of the brain. That’s not very far in a little tiny little embryo, but it’s incredibly long, as far as the cell is concerned.
So how do the cells which get born in the middle of the brain know where to go on the surface of the brain? The answer is that they put their little ‘arms’ around a connective tissue fiber and ride that connective tissue fiber out to the surface of the brain and are deposited in just the right spot.
The same thing holds for organs. The fascial bags for organs develop before the organ develops. So there’s a bag for your liver. And then the cells that are going into that bag become liver cells.
Yoga U Online: Fascia also seems to be linked to the potential for mind-body transformation in a major way. You referred to your friend who was transformed when Ida Rolf worked on him; you said not only his posture and the way he appeared changed, but he himself was transformed.
Tom Myers: Yes. I’ve seen that again and again in my practice. You make these changes and the person changes. The nervous system, the circulatory system, and the fascial system are never separate in a human being. They develop together and they work together. So when the fascial system changes, everything else changes.
For example, think of someone who’s depressed. The image that comes to mind is somebody with their chest collapsed—you certainly don’t think of someone with their head held high and their chest stuck out.
So you can approach depression from a neurological point of view, and look for things in their past that contribute to their feeling of depression. You can approach it from a chemical point of view, and say that serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac or Zoloft might be helpful, because there’s a chemical effect, when someone is depressed.
But depression also has a fascial effect as well. It also is expresses as a specific look and shape of the body. You really don’t see people with their chest puffed out going around saying, “I’m so depressed.”
So we’ve gone after the talk therapy solutions to depression, and we have more recently gone after the chemical reactions to depression. But I think we really ought to be looking at how people hold themselves and how they shape themselves.
That relates to what we talked about before, fascia as the organ of form. We have to change the connective tissue, change things at that level. And that in turn changes people’s breathing, and when their breathing changes, their chemistry changes and their outlook changes.
So, again, people have been paying a lot of attention to the chemistry and neurology of conditions like depression, and not much attention to shape. But shape is hugely important, and that’s where yoga and bodywork really shine.