Dr. Jeremy Brook is a Los Angeles Chiropractor, yogi, and movement specialist, whose mission is to create excellence in human performance and elevate consciousness in how we approach life from the way we breathe, move, feed our body and mind, and rest, to the way we connect to others. In 2001, Dr. Brook founded The Life Center Chiropractic, a unique healing oasis that incorporates the disciplines of chiropractic, spinal corrective protocols, yoga, and other movement art forms to make sure the spine, body, and mind are aligned. Since 2005, Dr. Brook has been teaching an anthropological, evolutionary and energetic approach to Yoga Anatomy at several of America’s premier yoga studios. Dr. Brook is also a chiropractic adjusting instructor for MLS: Mastery Love Service where he trains other chiropractors and students in the art, science, and philosophy of neurospinal adjustments. Dr. Brook is also an author. His book THE SPINECHECKER’S MANIFESTO is an integrative approach to healing and healthier living that incorporates vitalistic philosophy, metaphysics, epigenetics and simple step-by-step yogic sequences that will teach you how to align, move, stretch, strengthen, energize, and access the sacred geometry of your body and mind. When he’s not “spinechecking” and adjusting, he can be found on his yoga mat, lifting weights at Deuce Gym, and slacklining between palm trees on Venice Beach.
T. The first question is when we do yin yoga what are the tissues we are exposing?
DJB. It’s a simple answer because everything is completely interconnected. There’s really no separation if you really want to get down to it. There’s no start and there’s no finish. So, I say everything. But if you want to get a little bit more technical, you’re going to be stretching the connective tissue. If you want to break it down even further, you’re talking about stretching fascia, you’re going to be stretching muscles, you’ll be involving tendons, and you’ll be involving the ligaments. Depending on how intense your stretch is, especially in yin, you’re going to be expanding or compressing the organs as well.
T. What exactly is connective tissue and fascia?
DJB. Connective tissue refers to several different types of tissue, and fascia is under the connective tissue umbrella along with muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone. Let’s say we are talking about a rainbow with all the various colors. The rainbow represents the connective tissue, and each of the colors represents a different type of connective tissue like I just mentioned. Now these days, people are starting to use connective tissue and fascia interchangeably. It might be smart, to differentiate that fascia is a type of connective tissue previously thought, to be inert in older Anatomy textbooks. It was treated as throwaway stuff like the little film that surrounds an orange. Now it’s like “man, in that film, there’s something in there that’s really exciting!” The fascia is this biologically active tissue that yogis knew all about, the Taoists knew all about, and now we actually pay a little bit more attention to the fascial component of connective tissue.
T. For you what is exciting about the fascia/connective tissue?
DJB. For me, it goes down to moving away from a mechanical reductionist approach to anatomy. When you are looking at a cadaver and you’re like, “All right, that’s the muscle. And the muscle looks completely independent from everything else.” What they are finding is that the body is completely enveloped by this connective tissue, by this incredible fascial covering which they are now calling a fascial web. From an anatomical stand point, the exciting part is when you approach a certain part of the body, because of this fascial web, you have the ability to affect a wider area than just the localized area. You see how the web has an incredible connection into numerous areas, which is why it’s really exciting. When we are activating one area of the connective tissue, it’s also benefitting the whole entire bodily system in a holistic kind of a way.
T. When you are holding a yin pose how long does it take to get into the connective tissue?
DJB. One of my teachers from chiropractic school named Dr. Robert Cooperstein had a published paper on this topic and he said five minutes. If you want to get into the fascia, and the connective tissue, then you have to relax. If your muscles are tense then you’re not really able to hit the fascia. Five minutes is the maximum amount of time you need to hang out in a shape, to create that type of fascial change. That being said, he also did say that it was beneficial to hang out in that posture for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. But it appears that the two minute to five minute period is where you’re probably going to get the greatest benefit. And these days I’d say it’s probably closer to the five minute mark just because everyone’s living more in a sympathetic state. I think for the psychological benefits, in addition to the tissue benefits, five minutes is the magic number.
T. Can you explain what fibroblasts are?
DJB. The fibroblasts are a cellular type of connective tissue. Whatever type of force you impose upon the fibroblast determines what type of connective tissue you get. If you stress bone nicely, then the bone gets stronger. This is true for all of the tissues. When you have damaged fascia it becomes more dense and it becomes more shortened. By practicing yin yoga, fibroblastic activity is going to start to slowly stretch and lengthen the fascia, almost like smoothing out a ripple.
T. What happens when damaged fascia is not taken care of?
DJB. Let’s just say you’re going to be tighter. If you have a tight fossil system, from just a movement standpoint, you won’t move as efficiently as you’re supposed to. And then in terms of performance, if you’re tighter, you’re not able to perform as well as you could. Now you’ve got changes with your shape and your structure, and you are more prone to physical injury.
T. Great, what’s the deal with collagen in the connective tissues?
DJB. Man, you’re putting me on the spot (laughter), taking me back to my university days. Okay, with connective tissue, just to make it easy, it’s going to be composed of either the collagen or elastin. If you want to make a connective tissue type that is going to be stronger and more supportive, you’re going to have more collagen. If you want to make a connective tissue type that is going to be more elastic, you’re going to have more elastin. If we’re talking about producing more collagen, fascia needs to be stretched. It needs to be moved. It needs to be compressed. It needs to be expanded. It needs to be torqued. And if you’re doing all of the above, in a healthy manner, you will have a healthy production of the appropriate ingredients for that connective tissue type.
T. What about hyaluronic acid?
DJB. When I first heard about hyaluronic acid being the water attracting substance found within the connective tissue, it was really exciting. The highest concentration of hyaluronic acid will be in your eyeballs, which is why you don’t want your eyes to dry out. The other secondary highest concentration of hyaluronic acid will be in the joints, which is why you don’t want to damage your joints, because if you damage your joints there goes your hyaluronic acid. And that’s why when people damage their tissues, and the HLA starts decreasing, you dry out, and now you’re just running around like a dehydrated bag. And then again with regards to interconnectivity, if your connective tissues are woven through everything, then you’re completely dried out. Also, people say “Where the heck are the meridians?” Guess what? They are inside the fascia which the anatomists have been ripping away at. The meridians actually follow the hyaluronic acid trail!
T. Awesome! Just a last couple of closing things. What’s your favorite yin yoga pose?
DJB. My favorite yin yoga pose has evolved (laughter). I want to say it’s Shoelace pose. I love that one because not many poses in yoga really focus on putting the hips into internal rotation, and it tends to be an external rotated dominant practice.
T. What’s your least favorite yin yoga pose?
DJB. I’m going to say Caterpillar (laughter).
T. I hear you. What are your top pointers of why people should make the time for yin yoga? Can you recap the benefits of doing a yin yoga practice?
DJB. A lot of people are attracted to the Yang energy. They want the pump. I think that once people realize that, then they know they need to add more of a parasympathetic-style aspect to their life. Because chances are even if they think they they’re chill, they aren’t chill (laughter). And a lot of the diseases that plague mankind, especially in the West, are the diseases of over-excitement, where you have way too much tension and inflammation and toxicity accumulating inside of the body. We need to tap into the part of the system that restores, that regenerates, that deals with our growth and development, that allows for our immune system to get turned on, that allows for our energy system to get turned on. Yin is how you reboot, restart your system, get your energy levels back up, and shift out of flight or flight. And there’s a part of me that wants to just say, “Don’t be such a fool, there’s another part of your body that needs to be fed and nourished, and you’re only doing the hard pounding, the charging, and your body needs a chance to refresh.
Or we could just say, it’s good for your joints and it’s good for your ligaments. It’s going to open you up, you’re going to be more flexible, and you’ll have better performance in various aspects of your life. Because the people who are just pounding with the yang only, are tapping into half of the story, and they’re missing out on the other half.
T. Well said, thank you for taking the time to share all your knowledge and inspiration.
DJB. Cool, thank you, thanks for not getting too technical (laughter).