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Superficial Fascia

For the first week of April, I had the amazing experience of taking part in a 6-day cadaver dissection class with Gil Hedley who is a prominent figure in the field of research on fascia and a contributor at the International Fascia Research Congress. The primary attraction of doing dissection classes with Gil Hedley is his focus on the fascial system of the human body and how incredibly integrated and continuous all of our tissues and anatomical parts really are. The entire adventure held far more for me than my education of anatomy.

One of the many eye-opening lessons was about the layer of superficial fascia. This layer is between the skin and the muscle and has always been referred to as the “fatty layer” or layer of adipose (fat). Without experiencing the character of this tissue layer, it’s perceived as just fat, as if it holds no value. It’s part of the body that media, advertising, and BMI (Body Mass Index) ratings tell us to minimize. It’s the “bad” layer we blame and remain unhappy about.

The truth about this layer was quite a surprise. The superficial fascia is a matrix of fibers connecting to fibers of the skin and to the deeper smooth sheets of deep fascia that lay over muscles and organs, so it’s a freeway between the surface and deeper structures. The superficial fascia has lots of blood vessels and nerves running through it and is an integral part of the endocrine system contributing to hormones, biochemical messaging and is a large part of our sensory input. There is so much structure and integrity to this layer that I blunted many scalpels analyzing it. In fact, the superficial fascia provides a considerable amount of the entire body’s framework. Actual fatty tissue runs throughout the body. It lays around organs providing cushion and it surrounds nerves and joints for a soft, sliding surface, and it integrates around muscles and tendons. It has purpose.

Shifting the perception of this layer of the body from the evil fatty layer to the structural superficial fascia layer made an impact on everyone in my class. It’s a lesson about practicing non-judgment and appreciating the reflection in front of you. The body is an intricate and complex system. It is what it needs to be to be who you are right now.

Gil Hedley has some thoughtful and entertaining video clips online of last year’s tour across the country. He’s a strong advocate of movement and spoke about the relationship of our tissues and our physical structure in conjunction with our psychological identity. I’d like to share a clip of him presenting to a professional audience about the integration of physical and psychological identity, which he boils down to the very motor neurons of our tissues.

There were many lessons for me to learn in Gil’s class and I’ll be processing the experience for a few more weeks. I hope to take more classes with him and look forward to practicing compassion within myself and toward others.

May there be peace in the world and in every heart.