Yin Yoga, inflammation, fibrosis and cancer Introducing Fascia Rock-star Helene Langevin
Helene Langevin is one of the rock-stars of the fascia research world. Wikipedia describes her as “a Professor in Residence of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital. She is best known for discovering cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the field of acupuncture.” But this bio doesn’t begin to tell us about the way her works excites us yinsters. She and her team have done experiments using Yin Yoga techniques and discovered a host of positive effects.
Rather than write a thousand words, it is more instructive to offer you two links to talks by Helene. The first one is non-technical and accessible to all levels. The second one dives deep into science of injury, repair, chronic inflammation and a possible role that stretching may have in retarding tumour growth. Let’s start with the easy talk: this is an interview of Helene by Stuart McNish, the host of Conversations That Matter. It is not a stretch to say that you will begin to fall in love with connective tissue!
I had a chance to attend the 3rd Fascia Congress in Washington D.C. in 2015, where Helene gave a talk on inflammation and fibrosis. This talk is far more detailed than the above interview, but again from a Yin Yoga, anatomy-nerd perspective, this is cool! You will learn that massage therapy and yoga share similar effects as acupuncture due to the stresses and strains that they create in the connective tissues. Chronic inflammation leads to fibrosis which leads to fatigue, lymphedema and possibly helps cancers to spread through the fascia. What can help reduce chronic inflammation? Stretching!
Acupuncture and yoga apply stress (pressure or shear) on the connective tissues, which are the containers and conduits for fluids. Inflammations occur in the connective tissues and the key participants in our immune system are residents there as well. Wounds that become fibrotic increase chronic inflammation which increases fibrosis. This death spiral sets the condition for ongoing scarification and cancer proliferation. The stress we create in our yoga stretching can reduce both chronic inflammation and fibrosis.
What is exciting for us yinsters is that the stretches Helene used in her experiments were long held, static stresses: yin yoga! The stretches were of the whole body for 10 minutes at a time. One experiment compared passive stretches to active stretches and there were no statistically significant differences in their success. (This verifies the Yin Yoga philosophy that you do not need to be muscularly engaged during the practice to get the benefits: we can relax. Who wants to contract their muscles for 10 minutes at a time?) What has to be confessed, however, is that her yoga experiments were done on rats--but they seemed quite happy doing their daily yoga practice! (They liked it!) Helene also discovered that, as good as yin-like stretching is for resolving chronic inflammation, it is also valuable for improving the resolution of acute inflammation.
Again, her talk is rather detailed and if you have not heard of some of the agents the body uses to resolve problems, such as resolvins, you may miss some of the nuances. She doesn’t claim these stretches can cure cancer, but her findings that they reduce tumour growth in some experiments suggest directions for future research.
For those who prefer reading than watching, here is a link to an article she wrote in The Scientist describing her findings: The Science of Stretch.
Finally, before we leave this topic, here is another link you may find interesting, although it is not by Helene. This is a November, 2017 article by Russell Schierling called Fascia and Cancer. He mentions Helene briefly but spends more time discussing the role of fascia in inflammation and cancer progression. Enjoy! (And share.)