I first learnt about fascia whilst I was working for choreographer and rolfer Russell Maliphant.
Unhealthy fascia can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, dehydration, overusing or injuring your muscles, unhealthy eating habits, poor sleep quality and stress, so if you spend all day tense and tight at a desk, then it is likely you will have formed some fascia patterns that are less healthy.
When I joined Russell Maliphant’s dance company, I was not particularly flexible, but every day, for a year, we began with ball rolling (using contact juggling or acrylic balls) to work on releasing the tight areas in our body. The difference was amazing: I could tell instantly the changes with a daily practise of ball rolling. This, combined with my yoga teacher training with Abby Hoffman and rolfing with Giovanni Felicioni and I am convinced I grew that year!
So what exactly is fascia? I am a vegetarian (so I hope this won’t offend anyone!) but if you think of a piece of meat, you can often see a white, sometimes transparent web interweaved through the tissue: this is fascia. And we have it too: covering our whole body! Fascia forms a 3d ‘web’ of our body, extending from our head to our toes.
When fascia is healthy, it is flexible, it is supple, and it glides. Releasing the fascial adhesions is a bit like clearing out the cobwebs between the muscles, allowing the muscles to slide and glide efficiently.
Fascia surrounds and infuses every muscle, muscle fibre, bone, blood vessel, nerve and organ in our body. It connects all the tissues (the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and blood). There are four different kinds of fascia (structural, intersectoral, visceral, and spinal). It also directly affects our body systems (like our muscular and neurological systems). By keeping fascia healthy, we improve body symmetry and alignment, we increase blood flow (which means faster exercise recovery), you may find a reduced appearance of stretch marks and cellulite and scar tissue will breakdown.
Having healthy fascia means you will be less likely to injure yourself from physical activity, you will experience less day-to-day pain, and an improved sports, yoga or dance performance. When the connective tissue between the tissues are softened and re-aligned, the muscles are freed up meaning easier and more effective movement is possible.
So how can you work with your fascia?
Fascia works in slower cycles than muscles do: both contracting and stretching slower, so to stretch the fascia, it can be beneficial to practise slowly for example doing yoga, massage, or trying ball and foam rolling.
Yoga works on our fascial network. Psychological and physiological trauma is also held by our fascia so we might approach our fascia with patience and care.Yoga (especially slow yoga like Yin Yoga) can change our connective tissue and restore our fascial fluidity. It can also benefit to think of the body as a whole organism, instead of in parts, so here is a little yogic meditation to experience your fascia!
Practice: Feel Your Fascia in Downward-Facing Dog:
- Find Downward Dog: Start on all fours: on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips forward with the middle finger pointing directly forwards. Then, engaging mulbandh (lift the peruineum, sex organs and navel up towards the spine), lift the pelvis up, creating a triangle: looking between the feet or to the navel, long in the back of the neck. Now in Downward Dog, spread your awareness and attention throughout your entire body.
- Scan along the your spine in this pose: imagine a warm light drawing up the front of your spine from your tailbone, along the front of your sacrum to the lumbar to the thoracic vertebrae, then behind your intestines and heart.
- Relax your throat, your tongue, your jaw, and let your head completely relax, then re-trace the length of your spine without the tension.
- Move your breath into the back of your ribs: Can you feel the ribs moving under your shoulder blades? Are you moving your lower ribs behind your kidneys?
- Move your weight around your feet in this position. If your heels are off the ground, move slowly on the balls of your feet. Feel how the different positions changes how you feel in the rest of your body. If your heels are down, move slowly all around your feet like a clock, and notice where there is tightness: see if yu can breathe into those spaces.
- Can you let the area between your sits bones open? Try rotating your knees inward in the pose to help locate any tension, and then keep working your hips upward. Remember, you are whole. Someone may describe you in parts… but you are one whole! From here, I usually practise my ‘elephant downward dog walks’ ask me for a private lesson or take a class to learn more!
Other ways to work on the fascia:
Massage therapists can help with a technique called Myofascial Release that uses sustained pressure to loosen and lengthen constricted fascia. It breaks down adhesions between the tissues and softens and re-aligns them, freeing up muscles and allowing easier and more effective movement.
Rolfing® is a system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity. Rolfing bodywork affects the body’s posture and structure by manipulating the myofascial system (connective tissue). Often considered a deep-tissue approach, Rolfing bodywork actually works with all the layers of the body to ease strain patterns in the entire system. Research has demonstrated that Rolfing creates more efficient muscle use, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. Rolfing has also been shown to significantly reduce chronic stress, reduce spinal curvature in subjects with lordosis (sway back), and enhance neurological functioning. Through soft tissue manipulation and movement education, Rolfers affect body posture and structure over the long-term. Unlike massage, which often focuses on relaxation and relief of muscle discomfort, Rolfing is aimed at improving body alignment and functioning. Rolfing is different from deep-tissue massage, in that practitioners are trained to create overall ease and balance throughout the entire structure, rather than focusing on areas presenting with tension. As a structure becomes more organised, chronic strain patterns are alleviated, and pain and stress decreases.
Foam rolling is a great way to check in with your body to learn exactly where your fascia is tight and holding tension. When you hit a trigger point or tight spot, sit and work on that spot for 30 to 60 seconds as it slowly dissipates. Over time this will help restore the fascia to optimal health.