Emotional Healing: Tom Myers on Changing Patterns and Healing Issues In Our Tissues

Can we release psychological trauma by addressing the body’s tension patterns and chronic holdings, including the fascial matrix? Yes, indeed, notes Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains, in this interview.

Tom says yoga is a more effective method than exercise to change the pattern of the fascia and impact potential emotional holdings. Tom Myers is known for his profound insights into the role of fascia as it relates to the structural health of the body and even to our emotional health and well-being. See the full interview below!

YogaUOnline: These days, medical science broadly recognizes that our psychology can impact our health for better and worse. Your mentor, Ida Rolf, was among the first to address how the body holds unresolved trauma in the tissues. How does this happen?

Tom Myers: If you observe a human being, you can see the emotions written into a person. A happy person has his chest opened up. A sad person has their chest down and in. An angry person has their shoulders back. And a person who feels defenseless may turn their hands out so the palms face forward. All of these things are recognizable patterns in the emotions.

As distress builds up in the brain, it only has two ways out – one is the chemistry, which changes the messenger molecules, or neuropeptides, that are bathing the nervous system and thus change your mood. Those chemicals have a variety of effects all over the body, not just the nervous system.

woman feeling sadness or distress- with a need to work on changing negative holding patterns

The other way that distress manifests itself is in patterns of tension, which are quite specific. They can be defensive, reactive, or retractive, where they retract away from pain.

The trouble with those patterns is they don’t move. Patterns that move are just fine. We get angry. We get un-angry. We get sad. We get un-sad. It’s those things that come along and stay for a long time, like unresolved anger or unresolved grief. Those are the things that the brain keeps sending out the same messages to the same muscles, and so you take on a postural pattern.

After a while, your mind, muscles, and fascia have fit into that pattern, and that may in itself cause illness or lack of ability to move. It also helps to maintain that whole mood in your body and your mind.

YogaUOnline: So that whole pattern gets locked in these tissue fibers or that chronic holding. What is the best way is really to address the issues and those regular holdings in the body?

Tom Myers: In my own experience, I would say that there are different strokes for different folks. For some people, the body approach works. For some people, the talk approach really works. And for some, it’s the combination. I’m not very fond of SSRI drugs like Zoloft and Paxil. But honestly, for some people, those drugs work. So, different approaches will work for other people. I have prejudiced stories as a bodyworker because that’s my approach – the bodywork approach changes how your body is in space relative to the problem. The pills change how your chemistry is relative to the problem. Talk therapy changes your point of view toward the problem. Any one of those would be effective. It depends on the person as to which one is the most effective at any given time.

YogaUOnline: Now, of course, you are also a specialist in fascia and have often talked about fascia as a shapeshifter, being responsible for the shape of our body and particularly lodging our posture patterns. So, is fascia more involved than other body tissues in the holding of tension patterns?

Tom Myers: When you hold a postural pattern, especially if you hold that postural pattern in gravity (which most people on earth are), then a specific pattern of tension is going to exist over time in a particular pattern of fascia to distribute and manage that tension. Fascia is a slow-moving tissue. You can think of the fascia as the St. Bernard dog of the body.

Most of these emotions start in your nervous system and then are exported to your muscles. The pattern in your muscles is going to determine what the pattern in the fascia is. But by the time your fascia gets stuck in that pattern, the problem is how you are going to get out of it. General exercise won’t get you out of these things. They will not change the pattern of the fascia. One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that because of the sustained stretch, you change the connective tissue. You change the pattern of that fascia, and thus, you can get down to the emotions.

I think that yoga teachers ought to recognize and be able to handle the emotional unfolding in the body because it’s going to happen to some of their students. You want to be able to recognize it and see what’s going well and what isn’t going well. Exercise isn’t going to change the fascia. You can definitely say that exercise will change fascial patterns, but it’s that sustained stretch that works the most quickly and, I think, the most effectively to change the length of the fascia.

YogaUOnline: So even though fascia, as you said, is like the last stage in this development of patterns getting lodged in tissues, it’s the first stage that you want to start to address because fascia is a more static holder of postural patterns.

Tom Myers: Absolutely. If you change your mind,d, or you change your nervous system,m, or even if you change your movement patterns, you’re working against this very slow-moving, steady tissue of the fascia. But if you change that fascia, then it’s easier to change the nervous system and the circulatory system on top of that. Conversely, if you don’t get in there and make that change, you end up also with what I call the “Woody Allen Syndrome” – you understand more and more and more about why you cannot change. To have a greater understanding of why you can’t change misses the point. The point is to change.

Yoga and Fascia health- healing issues in the tissues

YogaUOnline: So it sounds like fascia is an excellent place to start because it’s the final repository for this long chain of reaction in the body. Are there particular yoga styles that help this process?

Tom Myers: What the people who developed yoga recognized was that to change the person and the issues in the tissues, you have to make a deep change in the pattern of your body. That pattern is in the nervous system, the muscular system, the chemistry, and the fascia.

There are different ways in which you can go about doing this. I don’t want to promote one kind of yoga over another, but I do want people to understand the different effects the different kinds of yoga have. In the sustained stretch of alignment-based practices, such as Iyengar yoga, you go into the pose, and you stay there for ninety seconds, two minutes, or three minutes. This gives the muscles a chance to calm down.

When you hang out in the pose for a little while, the muscle tension relaxes, and then you start stretching the fascia. Up until then, you’ve been holding it in the muscles. We keep talking about muscles relaxing, But the muscles have to relax first, and then the fascia starts to stretch.

Yoga's Side Angle Pose practiced in a held or static form to help change negative holding patterns in our body tissues

YogaUOnline: I can see how yoga styles that hold the poses for long periods of time can be beneficial. What about more dynamic styles?

Tom Myers: Something like Ashtanga Yoga heats the body. The internal body temperature does make a difference because it heats the “glue” in your body, the kind of mucous stuff that’s all over the place. It could be thick mucus or very thin mucus, but in any case, it sticks us together. And like most glues, when you heat them, they become looser. So, if you’re doing strenuous yoga where you are sweating, then you are going to raise your inner body temperature. When you raise the internal body temperature, you melt that glue, and your yoga will be that much more effective.

Where is the sweet spot between these two? Both are beneficial. When you heat up the body temperature, you’ll have an easier time with the glue that holds you together. When you hold the pose for a long time, the muscles will get out of the way, and you’ll get a change in the fascia.


Recent articles


Upcoming courses

Yoga for
every body

How to Avoid the Top 3 Pitfalls of Forward Bends

With Julie Gudmedstad

Recent articles


Sorry, You have reached your
monthly limit of views

To access, join us for a free 7-day membership trial to support expanding the Pose Library resources to the yoga community.

Sign up for a FREE 7-day trial