Fascia, Ground Substance, and the Nervous System

When I started out as a massage therapist in 2003, I worked on bodies and muscles. 

Over a decade of practice and study has taught me that I am not working on bodies; I'm working on people.

What people do and how they think and feel and approach life has an indelible effect on their wellness; and it directly affects how well I may be able to provide support to each unique individual. 

While each person is unique and every body is different, we do indeed share many basic physiological structures.

Fascia holds our many tissues together; ground substance is the interstitial fluid that the fascia "lives in", creating a matrix that contains all the bodily bits we are composed of.  

The ground substance is gel-like; when it is warm, it is in a semi-fluid state, when it is cold, it leans toward a semi-solid state.  When it is warm, our fascia can move more freely--which increases the body's overall range of motion. 

Running throughout our bodies is the magnificent nervous system:  the body's communications network.

Pressures on our nerves cause them to relay data to the CNS, which then directs our muscles to do what they do.


Nerves require a good amount of oxygen for optimal communication with the Central Nervous System. 

When our muscles are tight due to chronic stress, they are engaged because our nervous systems interpret social and mental pressures as actual dangers, and our bodies are in protection mode.

In the process of protecting us, our immune systems are inhibited as resources are directed to our muscles, that have engaged to protect us. 

If we don't address the "danger," our bodies stay in a state of constant alert, resulting in: tight fascia, a gummy sticky ground substance, and often, danger signals are sent to the CNS resulting from muscular pressure on our nerves, that we may potentially interpret as pain. 

Additionally, the lack of oxygen due to reduced blood flow and internal compression causes our nerves to send out danger signals--"I'm asphyxiating!"--which then directs the CNS to engage the protective system. 

When our protective systems are engaged, our perception changes, as we look for our "attacker" outside of ourselves, so we know what to fight or run away or hide from.  How we perceive the world we live in may validate the nervous system's impression that we are indeed in danger, and need to be on guard.

But We're Not in Danger

Not often, anyhow--at least not as often as our nervous systems may interpret that we are.

Our bodies have a protective system that kept us alive before we lived in caves, and allowed us to progress as a species to where we are today.

Interestingly, our protective system can be triggered by thoughts. Just thinking about something that happened in past, or may happen in the future, can trigger either our protective or reward systems. 

That's why it feels good to think about things that we like, and why it feels bad to think abut things we we don't like.  Our opinions engage both systems. 

The protective system is necessary to help us better navigate through life; to steer clear of the dangers. 

The reward system can let us know that we're on the best path for each of us, as long as the choice that we're making doesn't cause harm to anyone or anything.

The reward system is the green light; the protective system is the red light. 

Green light; keep going.  Raise up your hands and celebrate gratefully this fabulous ride.

Red light; stop, breathe, and take a moment to asses: "Am I really in danger?" and if so, address it; if not, acknowledge that the opinion that set off the false alarm does a disservice to the self, and toss it. 

When our bodies are under chronic stress, due to whatever life may throw at us and however limited our bandwidths may be for coping with all the things, our nervous systems may get locked into protection mode. 

As new body movement maps (tense muscles, compensation) get laid into the brain, we may lose the "relaxed" maps...and may have a hard time getting to a destination we don't know how to arrive at...or even remember exists. 

The bodywork that I provide addresses your nervous system--using gentle techniques that relay a "safe" pressure to your body, which encourages your CNS to tell your muscles to disengage. 

When the muscle is disengaged, it is easier to find fascial restrictions that may be limiting movement, so I can more directly address the areas that require attention.

Our walks before the sessions help to warm up the ground substance, so that your fascia is more mobile, and I may more easily address any dysfunction that may be present. 

Deep breathing during the session helps introduce more oxygen to your system, so your nerves may communicate more effectively.

Our walks after the sessions help your nervous system acknowledge the changes to your tissues so that the effects of the session may be longer lasting. 

KAT/Chao                                                             Cat/Cow

KAT- Kind, Authentic, Transparent

Chao(s)- The vehicle that takes us to where we BE

Cat- Yoga pose: Exhale

Cow- Yoga pose: Inhale

The KAT/Chao image is a reminder to set my "navigation" to KAT--so my vessel no longer has the bandwidth for that which is not Kind, Authentic, or Transparent, and seeks out that which is KAT.

The Chao reminds me that change is inevitable, and that life may be more rewarding and surprising when I allow chaos to carry me to where I am; as long as I listen to my body's navigational system, and change direction when I need to or pause to appreciate and celebrate the moment because it is just as necessary as changing direction.

They also represent the cycle of conscious breath, as in the Cat/Cow yoga poses.

Conscious breathing--slow, deep breaths--signals to our nervous systems that we are safe.

If we were REALLY, TRULY in danger (saber tooth tiger! mastodon!), we couldn't think to breath.  Our protective systems would be engaged and our bodies would essentially be storing oxygen for the muscles to use during fight/flight, and not sharing; because it is doing its best to protect us and ensure we have the resources we need to defend ourselves or get away.

Conscious breathing is only possible when we are NOT actually in danger.

When we consciously take slow, steady breaths, it signals to our nervous systems that we are safe, so our muscles can disengage and release the tension they are holding.

It also introduces more oxygen into our systems, while gently stretching the fascia throughout our bodies.  Conscious breath works like a pump--slowly and fully expanding and contracting our tissues, assisting with the movement of fluids, which aids in the elimination of waste products (like the CO2 we exhale so the trees can breathe and give us O2!)

Allow your breath to fill you fully, and release it completely, ready for another inhale. Gratefully.

Breath is life.

...Breathe easier...


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