In a recent Anatomy of Yoga class with Leslie Kaminoff, we watched a video that I'll never forget. And hopefully, neither will you. And, trust me, this all has a heck of a lot to do with your yoga practice! It features anatomist Gil Hedley explaining The Fuzz. You can watch it yourself, but be aware that it shows him working with a cadaver. Yet it's such an important piece of knowledge that I'd like to define this incredible concept for you, and you can choose to view it or not and still take it forward into your daily life.
Each night while we sleep, or any time we're still for long periods, like sitting in a car on a long road trip, our body begins to build collagen fibers. They look a little like cotton candy, and are just as sticky, causing friction between what should be smoothly sliding muscle surfaces. The end result is the stiffness you might feel in the morning getting out of bed or standing up after watching a three-hour movie.
Now, this is usually no big deal for those of us with a consistent movement practice. We feel creaky, we do yoga, we're good. But if you don't lubricate your joints and move your muscles to break up the fuzz regularly enough, it begins to knit together. Over time, the normal, subtle stiffness becomes limited movement, and even pain as the spider-webbed, bound body tries to move against resistance. Instead of confronting the fuzz, to avoid discomfort, many people simply move less. It becomes a vicious cycle that we often chock up to aging, but really is a cumulative, and mostly avoidable, buildup of fuzz.
Now, that's not to say that all physical slowdown is due to the fuzz, and if we simply stretch more, we will never feel the effects of age. But there is much more we can do to keep our bodies--and therefore our minds--as open, vital, and free as possible.
This parallels the yoga teaching about samskaras, the mental and emotional patterns that make up our conditioning. Samskara is a neutral word, indicating simply the actions we take that lead to certain results, but our habits can lead to either constructive or destructive outcomes, depending on our goals. The yogi seeks to strengthen those positive habits that maintain the full range of spiritual motion, and, importantly, dissolve the ones that have become diminishing and threaten to hold us back from reaching our potential of living from love, light, and joy. It's exciting to see science finding that the same lessons apply to our actual body as well. In fact, I see the two as interconnected, since continual mental and emotional stress, for example, leads almost unerringly to muscle tension, which is a direct physical manifestation of the samskara of anxiety or fear.
This is the mind-body connection the yogis have known about for centuries, and though sometimes yoga philosophy can get pretty obtuse, much of it can be translated into the real world as simply as you want to make it. That's nice to know when you're looking for tools you can apply today, right this moment, that can help you release what doesn't serve you, and keep, even amplify, the things that do.
Yoga doesn't have to be confusing. It's the art of living in balance, and taking actions that fuel your happiness, whatever that means for you. From there, you'll be inspired to offer some of that goodness to the world through your creative self-expression, and with a burning desire to help those who are still suffering. This is the road map the samskaras offer us: What kind of a life are you carving out through your choices? Is it shaping up as you'd like? If not, then start chipping away at another way of being until it more closely resembles your heart. The next time you're on the mat, or doing a few Sun Salutes just out of bed, you are not only solidifying healthy habits, you're creating the potential for new ones to take root in your life in so many ways.
Here's a great all-in-one pose for dissolving restrictive samskaras, and, with them, the fuzz. Do it in the morning just after you get out of bed, and you'll greet your whole day with more resiliency, flexibility, and freedom from all sorts of fuzz.
Core Pose: Low Lunge with Cat/Cow Variation
Come into a Low Lunge position with your right foot forward. Your front knee is stacked over the heel, not out in front of it, to avoid knee pressure. The back knee stretches comfortably behind the hip, not directly under it. The front foot and back knee are hip-distance, or about two fists-width apart.
Keep your hands on the floor, framing your front foot at first. Take a moment to back off the hips, since you don't want to sink too far into this pose. This can cause you to overstretch the connective tissue. Instead, lift out of the pose a bit until you can ground the foot and knee, draw in the low belly, and bring your torso upright, hands onto the knee or thigh.
You should now feel a stretch in the center of your muscles, not in the back hip crease and front sitting bone only. Your legs are also working to maintain the buoyancy of the pose.
Inhale, carve your tailbone long, and arch your spine. Keep the back of your neck long, and lift the chest sky-high. As you do this move, pull your shoulders back and slide your shoulder blades closer.
Exhale and round your back. Remember to keep the length in your lower back and roll more through the upper back and shoulder area. Gently lower your chin for a mindful neck stretch.
This pose is meant to lift through the back of your heart and spread the shoulder blades wider apart than it is to press out your lower back curve. So although you will activate the low belly fully on your exhalation, lift it in and up towards the chest, rather than squeezing it back towards the spine only.
Repeat the spinal motion with your breath for 5-10 rounds, then return to a Down Dog or Child's Pose, and repeat on the left side.