Now scientists and doctors have figured out fascia is so much more that the white stuff that fills in the space between the important stuff, like organs, bones, muscles, etc. The Fascial System might actually be the most important system in the body.
When I started on this journey out of paralyzing fear in December of 2015, I had no idea how much I didn’t know or where I was headed. As I sit down to write this, its December of 2019 and my whole world has changed for the better. I had no idea that the key to overcoming physical pain, emotional pain and depression was right here with all the time.
I had no idea that I had so many opportunities to change myself and my situation that were free and within my grasp.
Now my goal is to help inspire others to not only understand and help their horses, but to also understand and help themselves too.
We all know the sticky white stuff on the outside of a piece of chicken is the connective tissue called fascia. Until recently (like the past 5 years) not much was known about fascia. There were no big studies, no big focus. Now scientists and doctors have figured out fascia is so much more that the white stuff that fills in the space between the important stuff, like organs, bones, muscles, etc. The Fascial System might actually be the most important system in the body.
Basically everything in your body is contained in a little bag of fascia. Fascia is what gives everything within us its shape.Your body is made up of bags of fascia, within bags of fascia, connected by a webbing of fascia, inside another bag of fascia. It’s structure has been compared to that of an orange. Under the skin of an orange is white stuff, then the sections are created by another type of white membrane, then inside each section are loads of tiny orange juice droplets contained in their own little membrane bags.
The most basic little fascia bag is the cell membrane, without it everything within the cell would fall out in a pile of goo. The muscles have their shape bc they run through honeycomb shaped fascia that creates the muscle fibers. The long ribbon-like fascia lies directly under the skin keeps every inside the body and in a particular shape. Every bone is made up of bags of fascia that have calcified. All the cartilage, ligaments and tendons are also made of fascia. Blood vessels are made of fascia too. Understanding that fascia runs everywhere and connects everything is super important.
There are 4 types of fascia, 3 main types*:
1. Subserous or Visceral Fascia is mainly associated with the internal organs *
2. Inter-Structural, Myofascial Tissue or Deep Fascia is mainly associated with the blood vessels, bones, nerves and muscles *
3. Structural or Superficial Fascia directly underlies the skin *
4. Spinal Straw Fascia
Subserous or Visceral Fascia is mainly associated with the internal organs *
Structural or Superficial Fascia directly underlies the skin *
Spinal Straw Fascia
Inter-Structural, Myofascial Tissue or Deep Fascia is mainly associated with the blood vessels, bones, nerves and muscles *
Fascia is super strong, often compared to Kevlar (bullet-proof material), and it resists relaxing, releasing and changing shape. To physically stretch or move fascia it is said to require 2000 lbs of force. You cannot force fascia to change, and if fascia feels there is a threat, it will lock the area or the whole body down tight. Fascia has several forms: Cobweb, honeycomb, ribbon and staw.
Fascia may be nearly impossible to change, but muscles grow quickly and relatively easily. When we feel ‘muscle sore’, we are often not muscle sore at all, its our fascia that is sore. The muscles stretched too much too fast, and the fascia didn’t have time to release and catch up. When we hear we have injured a muscle, its often the fascia that has been injured, not the goo that is the muscle at all.
Fascia has many layers that are meant to hold fluid, to glide and slip across each other easily. Problems occur when an area of fascia gets injured, stuck or dried out, and stops moving and sliding so easily.
Most of our nerves run along fascia membranes, and there are about six times more nerve receptors in fascia than in other parts. When we feel pain, its often from the nerves entrapped within the fascial layers that have for some reason become dry or stuck.
One of the most interesting things about fascia is that it seems to have its own awareness. It is what ‘decides’ to relax, release and change shape. Sometimes this is a very slow process, especially in horses and people who are most often in the Sympathetic Nervous System (survival) much of the time. But as we can get our bodies to get into and stay in the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest/digest/play/learn/heal), then our fascia is much more ‘willing’ to relax, release and change shape faster. Our fascia is ‘motivated’ but what it ‘feels’ is best for the organism as a whole.
If we can successfully get ourselves and keep ourselves in PSNS, our fascia will readily move in the direction it needs to move to maintain that physical posture and emotional space.
Because the vast majority of our nerves run through and loads end inside the fascia, its easy to see how tight fascia can create some crazy pain. Interesting too is how we perceive pain vs pressure or stretch.
If we are in our SNS/survival, we are very sensitive to any sort of pressure, and our body with perceive it as pain and withdraw or tighten, creating more trapped nerves amplifying the pain even more. This is how we get in bad pain cycles.
But if we are in PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal, our body is not in a reactive state, it often interprets the same pressure as just pressure or as a stretch. It will often respond to that by relaxing and allowing the stretch, which in turn cues and endorphin release, which ‘rewards’ the mind and body and encourages more.
The difference from perceiving something as pain or pleasure is determined by which part of the Autonomic Nervous System you are in, the SNS or the PSNS. Therefore having positive ways to trigger your body to get into the PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal is huge in overcoming pain.
It has been shown that mind and body are so closely connected, that everything that happens in the mind will cause a physical change in the body, and everything that happens to the body will cause a mental/emotional change in the mind. For example if one gets nervous, they will often feel ‘butterflies’ in their stomach. And often after a major physical trauma occurs, one will often get angry or depressed.
A lack of physical balance will cause a lack of mental/emotional balance, and one will often have huge fear or depression. Conversely a lack of mental/emotional balance will often cause one to become physically unbalanced, and they may start having falls.
Now researchers are finding out that often abuse, trauma and intense emotions are being held physically inside the body in muscles. We habituate to postures that lock those muscles down so we don’t have to face the mental/emotional pain. Doctors and researchers found that patients that had learned to hold the negative events in physical places in the body could go to talk therapy for years with no positive change. The person was still being held back by the things that happened to them. But if they could help the person change their posture, relax and release the muscles in which they were holding these experiences, they could then be freed from the mental/emotional damage and move forward with their lives. Researchers have developed Human Body and Posture Maps to help identify if this may be an issue more quickly. This is an amazing discovery that has changed the face of modern therapy.
In my experience I had also recognized two very different general postures in horses, and how those postures could consistently predict basic personality and whether the horse was living more of its life in SNS/survival or PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal. I had also experimented with making physical changes to the feet, that prompted physical changes in posture, and subsequently I had seen a huge shift in personality. By doing this I had seen that certain postures tend to go with a horse that tend to be in SNS, and certain postures tend to go with horses that tend to be in PSNS. Learning to recognize these posture clues helps us read and understand horses better, just like it has done for doctors and therapists with people.
The key to using all this new information to solve mental/emotional issues comes is Tapping. Tapping on a muscle triggers an involuntary reflex of contraction and relaxation in that muscle. That muscle contraction/relaxation then creates a new neural pathway to the brain, basically giving us a way to communicate to, and bring ‘online’ muscles that may have been ‘shut down’ for years bc of injury, lack of use, or bc they are holding/trapping an intense negative experience. By Tapping and causing this involuntary reflex to happen, we are also releasing the potential negative memory to release. Initially this may cause a big negative physical reaction, but once its over, often its gone and the horse or human can move forward in life.
In studying these reactions, I was able to form and Equine Body Map to show where I felt horses were holding their negative emotional memories. This has been a great tool for trainers and owners to use as they work to free their horses and allow them to become more mentally/emotionally balanced. The cool deal is I also saw huge physical postural changes as I Tapped too. These changes were able to happen bc the fascia in the body relaxed, released and moved the body toward a posture that helped to encourage this new physical, mental and emotional balance.
When one Taps, muscles relax and release. When a group of muscles relaxes and the horse switches to the PSNS, the fascia that holds those muscle will often also start to release.
When the super tight, locked fascia releases around entrapped nerves three main physical things can happen:
1. The skin starts to quiver and twitch as though a fly has landed on it.
2. The hair starts showing weird patterns. Often these appear as vertical lines, round honeycomb shaped dapples and odd divots or depressions that look like cellulite.
3. The area may start to sweat in odd spots, or in thin parallel lines that follow the growth of the hair.
These phenomena will disappear fairly quickly, but they are excellent signs that you had a fascial issue that was locking down an area. Give the horse as much time as it needs to process the release, become present and reconnect to you. Many times they will need to chew or scratch the area, roll, lie down or take a big drink.
Allow them to fully release before moving forward with more Tapping or training. Once finished your horse may look fuller, healthier, shinier. It will almost always be more engaged and more bonded to you. Its posture is also often improved. It will tend to move better, jump better and be more willing to try your ideas.
All of these changes are also things that can happen as your horse switches from SNS/survival to PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal.
Before you start Tapping, whether on a person or on a horse, I run my hand over the body to feel for several things:
1. Which parts are hard and which parts are soft?
2. Are the hard spots under or over ‘filled’? Do the spots look more atrophied or filled with gravel?
3. Do my fingers have a ‘ripple effect’ in the skin/hair?
4. Do you see a pattern in the hard/soft areas? Bilateral or just on one side?
5. Is the horse/human reactive or show a pain response in any spots?
6. Are there warmer/cooler spots on the body?
7. Does the skin/hair feel consistently dry/oily?
8. Does the tissue beneath the skin feel hard or like its filled with fluid?
Even an untrained hand can feel lots of information just by feeling the body. Remember your findings as you tap. You are testing that ribbon-like fascia just under the skin. Ideally the body will feel warm and soft, ripples going through the skin as you feel. Ideally you will sense fluid under the skin.
In the spots that are less than ideal, you may want to focus your tapping. The tapping brings new blood to the area through the muscle reflex. Increased lubrication fluid comes as the fascia release. Often after a few sessions the horse or human looks vastly changed.
When you tap you want to listen closely to the sound the body makes. It may sound like wood or stone in the really hard spots. It may sound like Saran Wrap in places with dry, stuck fascia. It may sound like popping packing material in spots where the fascia is really stuck. As you tap on these areas, watch and listen to the changes. In the end you want the whole body to be evenly, warm, soft and liquid. This will likely take multiple sessions.
Fascia seems to have its own intelligence that is closely linked to the Autonomic Nervous System. If we can work with that intelligence, and get our horses and ourselves in PSNS, we can make tremendous positive changes, not only in the body in posture and pain relief, but also in the mind in the release of the negative emotional garbage that has been holding us back. Tapping directly on the muscles of the body is proving an outstanding way to connect to and positively change the fascia and our lives.
Note changes in topline, back and hind leg.
Note the asymmetry in the first photo, and the change in the width of the hind legs.
First photo shows SNS posture. Note changes in back, topline, neck, hip, hind leg, balance.