Fascia – The ‘Newest’ System of the Body

“… A loose chaotic network operating separately but with a global, unified goal” said Robert Schleip. He was actually talking about the research community when he made the statement, but the metaphor to the fascial system itself was lost on no one. In an era of medicine producing sicker and sicker people being treated conventionally in more and more specialized clinical silos, the fascial system coming to center stage is a hopeful metaphor for more unified, collaborative, integrous, interdependent times ahead. Fascia is the system of resiliency, integrity and exchange. It is a timely time for us to be discovering the importance of fascia.


The terms are not synonymous. ‘Connective tissues’ and ‘fascia’ are not one-in-the-same. The body is formed from just four primary tissues types. Connective tissues are 1 of the 4 tissue types that form the body. Fascia is one of the 9 organ systems. It isn’t just semantics.

To be categorized as a connective tissue, three conditions must be met.

· First, there must be cells present.

· Second, there must be a fibrous component.

· Third, there must be ground substance, or a matrix.

A good visual analogy can be found when thinking of reinforced concrete. Rocks go in; we can think of these rocks as the cells which in reality are actually secreting the ground substance and forming the fibers. Metal support rods are inserted; we can think of these as the collagen, elastin or reticular fibers representing the fibrous component. And finally the cement, or the ground substance. When the ground substance is still fluid while kept in motion, we have a tissue something more like blood. As the ground substance becomes increasingly firm the analogy progresses to one of proper connective tissues, cartilage and finally bone.

Fascia - The 'Newest' System of the Body | Integrate Columbus


Fascia - The 'Newest' System of the Body | Integrate Columbus


Notice, none of the structures listed in the table are ‘fascia.’ Fascia is NOT a connective tissue. Fascia is a system of the body formed, in large part, from fibrous connective tissues. It can be separated from, and in some cases categorically include, other specifically organized structures. Fascia varies in thickness, density, and the amount of fat, collagen fibers, elastic fibers and tissue fluid it contains. It could be thought of as a three-dimensional, web-like structure that contains, organizes and supports all of the parts of the human body. A ‘snag’ in one part of the web necessarily impacts the entire structure. It has amazing properties. Fascia surrounds every structure in the body allowing for the perfect adaptive balance of tensile strength, connective integrity with gentle suspensory support and ample movement for optimal functioning. It is a full-body system.

In the introduction to the book that accompanied the 2007 First International Fascia Research Congress in Boston, T. Findley and R. Schleip offer this definition: “Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue system that permeates the human body forming a whole-body, continuous, three-dimensional matrix of structural support. It interpenetrates and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers, creating a unique environment for body systems functioning.” Findley and Schleip extended this to include all fibrous connective tissues, such as ligaments, tendons, retinacula, joint capsules, aponeuroses, organ and vessel sheaths, the meninges of the central nervous system, the periostea and all the endomysial and intermuscular fibers of the myofasciae. And so, quite appropriately, from the first International Congress on Fascia a first formal definition for fascia was born.

It was only in 2015 that the American Association of Clinical Anatomists declared fascia an official system of the body. This came only after the elegant Delphi study conducted by Dr. Carla Stecco. While her work turned to ‘weekend workshop,’ ‘modality certification’ holistic healthcare apparatus upside down, it made perfect sense in the grounding of the field of gross anatomy. Textbooks are being rewritten.


Cellular biologists were among the first international researchers in the fascia research community. There are many cellular mechanism that will surely prove interesting in the decades of inquiry ahead. Collagen fibers are the primary fiber type found in fascia. Collagen is formed by the intermingling of three hollow tubes which together form a triple helix. Each tube is filled with an ultrafiltrate fluid which is very high in photons or light particles. Cerebrospinal fluid shares this similar quality. Collagen molecules are hydrophillic and attracting water molecules to them with tensional precision. These qualities allow fascia to act with great fluidity. Fluidity is fundamental to fascial function. It allows for ease of movement as well as provides a medium for effective paracrine intercellular communication. Fascia has the special electrical properties of being both piezoelectric and a semiconductor.

While this is a lot for the research community to take in, it is clear that exciting new knowledge is ahead. The fascial system is going to be a teacher further bridging the divide between native healing traditions, energy medicine and the unseen elements that connect and spark the human body.

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Fascia needs to be dealt with within the parameters of its natural laws / response characteristics. One cannot treat fascia like muscles or bones and expect to get a lasting change in the fascial system. You wouldn’t think you could treat your respiratory system like your digestive system. The dynamics of fascia and the fascial system are unique unto itself and are now starting to be recognized as such.

Fascia isn’t a technique you might think about trying. It is a system of your body every bit as important as any of the others and as crucial to the whole. Providers from any background and people for their own self-care benefit, can and should work to engage incorporate fascia in many diverse ways.

These unifying principles were the outcome of a content analysis ending in 2009 and presented at the International Research Congress in Amsterdam that year.

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1. The Exchange Principle:

The fascial matrix gives home to the cells of our immune system. It is the medium through which waste and nutrients are exchanged between cells and their blood supply. It is where tension is handed off and redirected. The ‘tangibles’ of this principle include fascial propertyies of: mechanotransduction, semiconduction, piezoelectricity, crystallinity, hydration, continuity and coherence.

2. The Scaffolding Principle (aka Tensegrity):

Our bodies are geometrically efficient. They have tensional integrity. Fascia acts as the ‘guide wires’ that the rest of our structures organize around. Throughout the body 45- and 90- angles are visible in the meshwork of fascial sheaths. Diagonal relationships abound. A fascinatingly, not-yet-understood, pattern of 78-degree angles is also found at fiber cross-striations. Structural integrity in the fascia makes it possible for other systems to function properly and most efficiently.

3 The Container Principle:

Fascia organizes our muscles and organs into separated, but interwoven, compartments and cavities. Just beneath the skin and the fatty layer is a fascial ‘wetsuit’ that forms the outermost container of the entire body. Deep to this there are fascial sheaths that identify individual muscle compartments (i.e., anterior thigh) or separate out large structures (i.e., carotid sheath). Within each of these compartments each individual structure (muscle, vessel, etc.) has its own fascial sheath. Within each individually sheathed muscle every 100 or so muscle fibers are contained in their own fascial sheath called a fascicle. At the cellular level, each muscle fiber has its own fascial sheath. Each of these containers within a container are interwoven by the fibers of the fascial matrix. A ‘snag’ anywhere in the matrix impacts the entire ‘container’ (your body).

4. The Hugging Principle (aka Creep):

The fascial matrix ‘hugs’ its areas of weakness, injury, pain or misuse. Think of the posture of a person following open heart surgery. Picture what your skin does as a wound is healing. Think of how a person holds their arm when it is broken. What do we do when we have abdominal pain? The fascial matrix will try to lend support to areas that are perceived as in danger by our nervous system or immune system. Studies have shown that mechanical stress will cause fibroblasts (cells that make collagen) into myofibroblasts (cells that make smooth muscle). Unfortunately, this ‘hugging’ can yield layering of compensatory patterns which will eventually become too difficult for our musculoskeletal system to efficiently support.

5. The Unwinding Principle:

The collagen fibers that predominate throughout the matrix, at a molecular level, are a triple helix filled with fluid. At its core it is nonlinear. Fascia will not respond to linear stretching. Instead it has a very unique, slow, sustained, meandering quality to the release characteristics observed clinically. Some of this may be explained by the sol-to-gel transformational ability of the collagen molecule.

Fascia - The 'Newest' System of the Body | Integrate Columbus


Fascia, together with our muscular and skeletal systems, gives us our posture, defines the quality of our movement, holds our tension patterns and provides a structural casing for nerves, arteries and veins, all skeletal muscles and nearly all organs of the body.
Other than the muscles that act on the vertebral column, few muscles cross more than one joint. When we feel a sensation that does cross multiple joints, there is a good likelihood that that sensation is fascial or nervous.

In the embryo, fascia develops before muscle. Future muscle cells migrate into the fascial sheaths and then develop into the muscles that we can identify by name. This means that the muscles are to a great extent at the whim of the fascial casing that encloses them. Releasing the muscle will have little long-term benefit if the fascia is not coaxed into better functioning as well.
Fascia has a strictly afferent (sensory) relationship with the nervous system. We cannot tell our fascia what to do. It is not under efferent (motor) control of the nervous system like muscles. Instead, our fascia is constantly telling our nervous system what is going on in the fascial environment.

Fascia has natural response characteristics to activities such as rocking/shaking/bouncing, traction/compression, floating, direction-of-ease unwinding and diagonal reinforcement. Holistic therapies such as Rolfing, Trager, myofascial massage, Yin Yoga, Body Rolling and in general many physiotherapies make use of some or all of these fascial response characteristics in their therapeutic approaches.
When people have thoughtful practitioners attempting to increase strength and/or flexibility and they cannot make gains. If the fascial ‘container’ is malpatterned, then the muscle does not have the functional ‘room’ to hypertrophy or lengthen.


In another generation or two, this won’t be confusing. It will likely seem silly that it ever was. Kids will learn in health class that they have a fascial system. Branches of physical medicine like physical therapy and osteopathy will likely be the training grounds for skilled fascial therapists. Just as we have pulmonologists and yoga teachers both talking about breathing, we will have a spectrum of providers working with fascia.

It is in large part on the shoulders of an industrial age that western medical education grew. We weren’t in a paradigm looking to celebrate the connectedness and interdependence of it all. We wanted to name and understand pieces and parts to make it easier to live in these machines called bodies. Many false truths have been handed down. We are ready for a new era.

Fix-the-machine medicine is literally the lifesaver in crisis and trauma. But it doesn’t serve us as well in the decades between. As we live longer, we need to do more to help our bodies adapt to the wear and tear of the lives we’ve lived. Fascia holds the patterns, stories and acquired inefficiencies to a fault.

Reestablishment of relationship. Bringing parts back into the whole. Connection. I’d like to think that’s the metaphor this ‘newest’ system of the body brings.

Dr. Melinda Cooksey Bekos




Basically, we are made up of stardust. And, there is no reason to think that we are any less fractal than the bigger whole that we belong to. We can talk about carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and so on. We can talk about energy. We can talk about religion. Regardless of the preferred language, we are talking about high-level organization, hierarchy of needs, and the amazing ability for life to occur and renew itself. We are amazing human creatures.

Early medical education in the West sought to dissect it and name it all. We gave function(s) to part(s) and labeled up the human body like a sophisticated machine. It makes historical sense that we took this approach. Timing overlapped with the coming of the industrial era. This was the culture of the time. That does not mean it was right.

Time rolls on. Collective consciousness shifts. We all know that we are not the sum of our tissues and cells. We are not machines. You can’t just refill fluids and swap out parts.

None the less, medical education treads on and the books have been written. Falsely perpetuated ‘knowledge’ has passively been handed down generation after generation. Health care tales have become embedded in our media, culture and care. We are the most unhealthy American cohort of all time.

I used to be passionate about teaching in the cadaver labs at colleges and universities. I thought that this would be a place that we could surely impress the ‘whole’ of a person while still following the language of anatomy and dissecting out pieces and parts. But I decided pretty quickly that teaching future healthcare providers would not and could not be an effective way of impacting the story. The establishment of healthcare doesn’t allow providers to practice in that way, so even if they have been trained to see whole people, it isn’t compatible with the way they have to practice in our healthcare system. People are the ones that need to understand what makes them whole. And so here we are.

It doesn’t make it any less fantastic to describe our physicality in terms of structures and systems. We know the universe is made of stars, planets, solar systems, etc. It doesn’t make it any less incredible to call things something so we can talk about it. For our bodies, this is the discipline of anatomy.

When I was teaching, I would always belabor this lecture that I’m presenting to you here. Not because it was complicated but because its implication and metaphor got overlooked and underpondered. This basic hierarchy proposes all the parts that have to come together to make a system and that multiple interconnected and interdependent systems are necessary to make a whole. The metaphor is big. In it, I see more than just something to remember for the quiz. Chapter 1 is important. Genesis.


Atoms form molecules. Molecules are structural building blocks that eventually become the structural support, organelles and membranes of our cells.

When multiple cells come together a tissue is formed. Our complex body is made up of only four basic tissue types: 1) nervous tissue, 2) muscular tissue, 3) epithelial tissue and 4) connective tissue.

When these four tissues integrate an organ is formed and when multiple organs support each other functionally, there is an organ system. The human organism is formed of eleven organ systems, they are the 1) integumentary system (skin), 2) skeletal system, 3) muscular system, 4) nervous system, 5) respiratory system, 6) digestive system, 7) urinary system, 8) reproductive system, 9) circulatory system, 10) endocrine system and 11) fascial system. (Note though that depending upon how one subdivides the organ systems there can be nine to twelve.)

When the organ systems function together, an organism is formed. A human body.

Organization - The Hierarchy of Needs | Integrate Columbus

Like the cosmos, the more you look into the smallest parts, the more hidden worlds open up. Even if this hierarchy of needs is an incomplete story, it repeats itself and repeats itself all throughout the natural world. Interconnectedness. Interdependence. We are part of something unknowably big.


“There are no basic ‘building blocks.’ Quantum physics paints a strange yet enticing view of a world that, as Heisenberg characterized it, ‘appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole. These unseen connections between what were previously thought to be separate entities are the fundamental ingredient of all creation.”

-Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science

Death, nearly.

“I long to be where they are,” my husband says. Not in a depressed or suicidal way at all, just a deep yearning. Reverence. (Spoken by a man that I have never heard use the phrase, “long for …” in our near 2 decades together). It’s a response I have become used to getting from him when he hears that somebody died.

He died in 2015, and he had the rare opportunity of coming back to life.

A longer story of what happened that evening can be found here. And, as a soundtrack to your reading, a link to the version of the Gayatri Mantra that I was listening to at work all that day, unknowing of what was happening (somehow cramming myself full of spiritual fortitude for what was about to take place).

Since then, there have been many times when he’s struck by the same sincere solemn tone. I have been right there next to him enough to feel like I have some image of what it must have all looked like. We have all seen it here on earth. Those undeniable moments when Mother Nature forces pause. The sun penetrates the sky and clouds sending rays of clarity, light, radiance and magnificence over the scene in front of us. If we have been lucky enough, maybe we have found ourselves in one of the sparkling beams of sunlight and felt transcendent in that moment. For my husband, it’s too much to take in sometimes, I think.

Death, Nearly | Coming Back to Life | Integrate Columbus

I suppose that once you have crossed that veil, been in the presence of the Holy One and then been pulled into the tangible, 3D world again, it becomes easier to move back and forth freely. If I ever wondered if we could step between realities, I have seen for myself all the proof I will ever need. This ‘life’ we live out in this particular ‘body’ is not as concrete as we have been led to experience and believe. Clearly, we do not need our body to exist. And, we can come and go and come back again.

People often ask what his religious background was. Was he a spiritual man before he died? I’d have to answer – no. He was raised devout Greek Orthodox. Our life is a bit like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ He had a very religious backdrop to his upbringing but he was not a spiritual man.

Now? Now, he knows that something much bigger than him will decide when his time is up. He knows he must have been sent back here for a purpose. He knows that he will die again someday and tells us often that we can’t be sad for him when that happens. “I know where I am going.”

When my husband woke up after his life-saving surgery, the last thing he remembered me telling him was, “Hold the best image of our 3 kids in your mind.” Then the nurse saying, “This is going to hurt.” They intubated him, bagged him and we waited. We both rode in the ambulance. I was in the front with driver frantically making phone calls and trying to reach people. He was in the back, losing pulses, dying. He thinks this is when his soul first left his body. This was when his near-death experience began.

When words started to come to it all, he began with recounts of ‘riding a beam of light’ and what he saw during his surgery. He was inclined with his feet higher than his head. There was lots of blood. Surgical gloves. Conversation. Sounds. It all made sense, but there was a very real question if he actually ‘saw’ it, dreamed it, imagined it, or experienced it all from a reality we don’t typically move in.

“I was upside down with my arms up but looking down and seeing s#*t. It was bizarre. I remember asking one of the doctors, ‘Did I see you in there? I think I remember you.”

His extraordinary medical team was very receptive and understanding, caring intently to listen to his experiences and memories. Then the very clear words were spoken. All of the things he ‘saw’ in surgery did happen. His memories were spot on. But, his eyes had been taped shut during the entire processes. He did not see it with his human eyes.

During the late-night hours as the full October moon passed across the big windows and my husband lay in surgery one floor beneath me, I had a very clear moment, sitting in a conference room nursing our 5 month old. I felt him standing behind me clear and obvious as an ice cube down the back of my shirt. In my head, I started yelling at him. “What are you doing here? Go back downstairs into your body where you are in surgery. Please. If I can feel you here, you are not where I need you to be. Please, please go back into your body.” I thought for sure that I had lost him.

When I’d seen him last, he was blue, lifeless, swollen and being pulled out of the back of an ambulance. The man that I drove to the hospital that evening was hard to be married to and parent with. He was judgmental. He was closed off. He wasn’t particularly happy. The man that woke up the next morning was grateful, confused and open. He quite literally had been born again. He had been resurrected. Nothing could ever be the same. And it hasn’t been.

When you start looking into the near-death experiences that are on record, they all seem more similar than different. The generality of what one experiences is hugely similar despite religious/cultural backdrop. They all reflect the basic nature of what Chris encountered as well.

“I was riding on a beam of light. I felt like I was either being pulled by a light wave or riding a light wave. It was very bizarre. I didn’t have extremities and I couldn’t move around but what I could see was experiences. Friends. Family. Life. Just flowing on this light wave. This was all in that 3-6 o’clock orientation around me if you were looking at a clock. Down and to my right. I was being pulled or it was going … I saw a movie of my life. Aunts. Uncles. My grandparents. I saw everyone on this light wave with me. All on this light wave. This is so vivid. Just like I am talking to you. Just like we are sitting here minus my arms, my legs. Being on that light wave and not feeling anything. It was wide. Like an exhale. Like a muffle.”

Interesting, were some of who and what he recalled. Old friends and girlfriends I’d never heard about before. Memories with his cousins and siblings growing up. It struck me how lovely and amazing it is that all of that experience, all those people who he loved and who loved him came forth in a way that wasn’t the clear obvious. People had left an imprint on his soul that he didn’t regularly call up in his everyday life. A reminder that we never know the importance we play in somebody’s life. Perhaps we can’t know during this earthly life the souls that have shifted and directed our course. Maybe it isn’t until we have the awesome retrospect of death that we can clearly see who impacted us the most.

“The light got brighter and brighter until it just was everything. It was so wonderful. So peaceful, like the deepest sense of coming home I’ve ever known. It all felt so familiar, so comfortable. I loved it there. I knew that it was where I came from and where I belonged. I stood in front of 3 orbs of light. There was communication but not in words or phonics that make sense here. Then, I started to feel myself being pulled backward. Almost like somebody was grabbing on the back of my shirt and pulling me back, away from this light. It felt slow. Sad. It got darker, the light further away from me.

Then I woke up. I hurt so bad, my chest was killing me. I was strapped to a bed. Tubes in my throat and neck. I couldn’t move. Trudy (the ICU nurse) was over by the sink. She asked me if I was OK and I gave her a thumbs up. She asked me if I could move my toes. I did. She came and put her hand on my shoulder and told me that I should rest. I was going to be alright, she said. I just closed my eyes. What the f*@!k just happened”

And he woke up. Swearing relentlessly. Full of gratitude. Entirely different frame of reference.

Whenever I find a way to share his experience with somebody that may benefit from hearing about it, I can see the peace and comfort that it gives. This is why he has agreed to share it openly. It is one of his new gifts to give. Even better, when I get to watch people receive the story from him… This unassuming package of a handsome middle-aged dad, meeting people at the grocery, at the pool, in the neighborhood. Somehow he invites near-strangers to share their deepest secrets, experiences and fears with him.

There is something very reassuring to people about this man that died and came back. I think it comforts people to hear where their loved one may have gone or hear where they are headed. And, to hear that this lovely man with a wife and children who adore him quietly awaits the time when he is called back. It gives a different perspective. Death doesn’t seem like anything bad at all when you talk to him about it. It’s a homecoming. It isn’t ours to control, ward off or fear. It just is. And it is good. And it has a timing that isn’t ours to know, control or be afraid of.

“Enjoy the time we have now. It is very important. It is about so much more than this. If everybody would experience what I experienced there would not be bad people on this planet. People need to know there is more to it than here.”