Squeezing The Sponge By Thomas Myers
You hear a lot about tissue hydration these days, and for sure we’re all somewhere around 2/3 water. And to quote an old Bedouin proverb: “Water still, poison! Water moving, life!” The idea that water moving through improves your biochemical turnover, and thus your repair and recovery is nearly universal - everyone from your mother to your yoga teacher (for you millennial's, that’s the same person) is always pushing you to drink more water.
It’s really hard to over-hydrate (at least by the time you are school age), so this is largely a beneficial ‘health tip’, contributing mightily to bright eyes, healthy skin, and well-flushed kidneys. It’s also contributing to mountains of Dasani bottles in the landfill, and long lines at the bathroom.
And there are some misconceptions involved. The question is not how much water enters your mouth or exits your urethra, the question of ‘hydration’ is really one of ‘perfusion’ - does the water you imbibe get to the cells who need it?
The pathways of fluid distribution in your body are well-worn , like streambeds. You drink the water, it gets taken up in the gut, passed through the mesentery into the portal system where it increases blood volume. Pushed into the 100,000 kilometres of capillaries, the increased blood volume opens up the garden hose a bit to allow for better perfusion - pushing the water around and through more cells.
Most cells are within 4 cells of a capillary. The cells that are 4 cells away form the capillary are not going to get the same perfusion / hydration as the cell that lives right beside the capillary. But the increased blood volume will push more blood (and thus more exchange, more opportunity for health) to the faraway cells. Low hydration will do the opposite - make the garden hose smaller, the flow more sluggish, and the distant cells will struggle harder to provide ‘water-based services’ like food delivery and waste removal.
Even the most prodigious water intake, however, will not get water to the places most in need in your body. A second act must follow, the opening of the tissues - fascial tissues mostly, though all tissues benefit - where they have become blocked by fibres, or clogged with dehydrated glue (mucopolysaccharides, glycoaminoglycans) or, in a word, “snot”.
Opening the specific tissues in need of extra hydration requires we ‘squeeze the sponge’ of the tissue. Squeezing the sponge pushes the water out of the tissue so ‘new’ water can be sucked back in, as when you rinse and squeeze a kitchen rag under the tap.
We can squeeze the muscle sponge with exercise, and that helps squeeze the fascial sponge as well. Stretching, especially the long-held stretches of yoga, also squeeze the sponge of the fascia, and deep stretches reach into ligaments as well.
While these are both beneficial, if you are pursuing the same exercise regime day after day, you keep squeezing the same part of the sponge again and again. The idea is to get the water into new tissue, and getting the water moving in new tissue demands that you do new movements - and we tend to be creatures of habit, aren’t we?
Palpate the upside of your forearm, a few centimetres below your elbow. Strum back and forth across the extensor group of muscles that go to the back of your wrist. Feel that some of that tissue is bouncy, hydrated muscle, and some is stringy, dehydrated tissue. How much would you have to drink to change that dry tissue to the more hydrated tissue that lies just next to it? Yes, that’s right, no amount of drinking is going to change it - movement is.
So, the first bit of advice from this point of view is to keep changing your movement program. Take up Capoeira if you’ve been doing Cross-Fit; supplement your weight-lifting with deep stretches, do your yoga badly and see if you can wake up some new tissues. (Of course, you’ll be waking up new —meaning forgotten — nerve endings as well as hydrating tissues, so it’s a double bonus.) Unusual movements hydrate the ignored nooks and crannies of your cellular community.
The other process that gets perfusion and hydration going to the necessary places is bodywork. A good bodyworker helps you find dehydrated places (trigger points are one example in the muscle, but there are fascial knots and ‘densifications’ as well), and hydrate them with friction, shearing, melting, or point work. Any of these can ‘squeeze the sponge’ as well, at first squeezing out the water, only to have it be sucked in again when the pressure or friction is lifted.
Drink all the water you want - but if it’s going down the same old channels from throat to bladder, it is maintaining, but not improving, your health. Health improvement through hydration / perfusion means squeezing the sponge of your tissues, either through unusual movement or through the attention from hands coming from the outside.