Release the Lateral Sheath

Myofascial Sheaths

Everything in the body is connected. When studying and speaking of the human body we often name individual anatomical parts as if they are somehow separate from all other parts. This of course is not true; everything is deeply interconnected within the body. One of the ways anatomical structures connect to, and are affected by, one another is through the fascia which wraps and weaves around all structures. In some areas of the body the fascia is light and airy while in other areas it is tough and dense. Its purpose is many fold but the importance of keeping the fascia pliable and adaptable cannot be overlooked.

The "myo - fascial" lines or sheaths that connect seemingly unrelated areas of the body is of particular interest to the yoga practitioner. By looking at the body through the lens of these sheaths of tissue or what Thomas Myers terms "myo-fascial meridians" one can more deeply grasp how patterns of strain and pain, as well as freedom and movement, transmit through the physical structure of the body.

The Lateral Plane

The lateral plane of the body is a good starting point for exploration because it is considered one of the most outer sheathings of the body. Because it is one of the outermost sheaths it is considered a kind of container or what Tias Little terms an "exo-skeleton" for the body. It helps to balance and coordinate movements between the front and back as well as helps to adjust for differences between the left and right sides of the body. 

The lateral plane begins at the base of the 1st and 5th toe. From there it travels to the outside of the foot and along the lateral (outside) of the body including the side of the leg, torso and neck.

From this perspective a yoga practitioner can begin to understand the relationship between say the outer ankle bone and the greater trochanter of the leg (outer hip). For example during a standing posture pressing the outer heel towards the floor will create a ripple of sensation and activation all the way up the sheathing of the outer leg potentially affecting the outer hip.

Annamaya Kosha // Gall Bladder Meridian

In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, the outermost layer of the body is named the annamaya kosha (food body). This outermost kosha (sheath) is the most course (sthula) of all the sheathings. Because it is considered the most physically dense aspect of our being we can understand it as related to the lateral plane and our need to free trapped tension in the tissue.

The lateral plane is also correlated with the Gallbladder Channel of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Gallbladder channel, which houses and transmits Qi, travels along the side of the body much like the sheathing of the lateral plane. According to Chinese Medicine the Gallbladder can become "stressed" quite easily and this often translates as tension along the channel such as tight outer hips (iliotibial or IT band), tight buttocks (gluteus muscles), and/or a tight neck (trapezius, levator scapula, and sternocleidomastoid). 

Shamata Meditation :: The Foundation

To help support the work of opening the lateral plane, mannomaya kosha, and the Gallbladder channel, use meditation practices that ground your energy in the body. In particular the practice of shamata (calm abiding) helps to center the attention on a single point. Coming from the root word "-sham" which means "to pacify" the technique is literally one of soothing and can be used to settle a stressed mind. 

By settling the mind on a single place of residence, such as watching the breath come and go (anapanasati) - a type of shamata practice, you create what Ajahn Chah called "a ground of listening". This deep listening creates stability in the nervous system and invites what Buddhist teacher Kittisaro calls the "metabolizing of duhkha" (discomfort). It is this "metabolizing" or processing of tension held in the mind that will support the lateral sheath in opening and releasing physical patterns of strain.

Movement to Open the Lateral Plane

In most bodies the lateral plane is caught tight while the inner planes of fascia such as the core muscles and inner spiral are weak. For example the vastus lateralis (outer front thigh or quad) tends to be strong in most people (especially in athletic bodies) but the inner legs (primarily the adductors) remain weak. Because this outer quad shares a compartment with the lateral hamstring (which lies more on the back of the thigh) the legs are pulled out into external rotation more than appropriate leading to issues such as sciatica.  

Based on the above example try to assess if one side of your body feels more held tight than the other. How do your legs fall out to the side of your mat when lying flat on your back?

Side bending poses, some "hip openers" and poses that stretch the outside of the leg help to open the lateral sheath. Use the below poses to open and feel the lateral sheathing for yourself:

  • Sukhasana (easy pose) seated or lying - similar to a cross legged position except the feet are pulled further away from the pelvis. In the seated variation you can fold forward while maintaining lift out of the pelvis. In a lying position grab the outside of your feet and draw them towards your face and down towards your body. You can also use straps if you can't reach the feet.
  • Parighasana (gate) - Sit in a upright kneeling posture with your hips directly over your knees. Extend one leg so that its beside you in a direct line with the opposite knee. Engage the quad of the extended leg as you side bend towards the extended leg. Reach with your upper arm towards your foot as you roll your belly away from the extended leg.
  • Wide legged Adho Mukha Svanasa (downward dog) with heels out and toes in - Step back into your downward dog. Bring your toes in and your heels slightly out. Press your outer heels to the floor as you lengthen the side waist away from the ilia (hip bone). Lengthen your outer arm by reaching your pinkie finger longer.
  • Virabhadrasana II (warrior 2) back foot against wall - step your feet wide and place your back foot parallel and pressing against the baseboard. Bend you front knee, ground your whole front foot and continue to press into your back foot as you reach your arms out. 
  • Prasarita Paddotannasana (wide legged forward fold) with strap - step your feet wide and bring your toes in and heels slightly out. Place a looped strap under the heels. Press into the outer heel and break away from the strap. As you fold forward and lift your sitting bones up continue to break out against the strap.

I hope that helps to open your lateral plane :) Thanks for reading! Follow along on an exploration of the planes of the body by signing up for my mailing list. And make sure to leave a comment below if you have questions or comments!

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