Saturday, August 22, 2009

162/233 - Connective Tissue

Friday off.

The day 228 meditation continues on the same discussion of the difference between asana practice and other exercise. Gates now focuses on the web of connective tissue which "gives shape to the innumberable spaces within the body..." As we talked about earlier, one of the big problems with the Nautilus approach to health was that it focused completely on a single, isolated muscle and completely neglected the supporting muscles and connective tissue. Thus, people overdeveloped muscles without doing anything to build up the strength and connections between muscles.

When you look at the chronic problems people develop as they get older, it seems pretty obvious that we should pay much more attention to the connective tissue. How many older people do you know who have serious problems because of weak hamstrings, or weak calves, or any other particular muscle? Maybe there are some, but the number is probably pretty low. Now, how many older people do you know who chronically suffer from bad knees, or a bad hip, or frozen shoulders? People who get joint replacements. People with carpal tunnel syndrome? Plantar fascia-tis? Lots and lots of the serious physical impairments that people get have to do with either the joints or the fascia -- the connective tissue that Nautilus figured out how to isolate out of the picture.

The stretches that most people do to warm up for exercise are largely directed at isolating and stretching a particular muscle as well. I'm thinking of things like the standard runners' stretches for hamstrings, or the leaning against the wall with one leg back and foot on floor to isolate and stretch the calf muscle. Then, often as not, the exercises that people do after stretching are damaging to the joints, and not restorative. I'm thinking mostly of running and other joint pounding sports. In this model, there's little or nothing to help people with their connective tissue.

I had plantar fascia-tis for years. It can be very painful, to the point of being debilitating. It's a problem that has grown more frequent in professional atheletes. Tim Duncan, of the San Antonio Spurs, has sat out long stretches of a couple of seasons trying to deal with the same problem. I'd talked to doctors about what to do about it. The recommended more comfortable shoes and rest. They didn't have any other solutions for it. With tons of money and an NBA championship at state, I imagine Tim Duncan got even better, and more current advice than I did. But the advice didn't help him all that much, either.

Bikram cured my plantar fascia-tis within a few months. How? I don't know exactly. But my guess is that the poses caused me to rebuild and redistribute things within my feet. This happened without putting any undue stress on the fascia. In other words, Bikram worked to help the connective tissue in my feet while it was working on all the other connections in my body. It's possible that Bikram helped my feet because it was straightening out problems elsewhere -- in my hips and my spine, for example. And as my overall alignment improved, toes to forehead, bones to skin, the problem with my plantar fascia just melted away. Whatever the reason, it's abundantly clear that Bikram eliminated a problem which left my doctors helpless.

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