You might have read about fascia in the latest fitness headlines. Or perhaps you have sought out myofascial release through a massage, a foam roller or ball and felt the ooh-aah release that follows. But why all the fuss about it and how do you keep it healthy?
Fascia functions as a 3-D matrix of interconnective tissue supporting the entire body. One might think of it like a gluey spider web with pockets in it for all the individual muscles, organs and bones. Since it is a continuous web throughout the body, any movement, stretch, strain or impact in one area is distributed along this myofascial train to other parts of the body. Hence, this could explain why problems in your feet may affect your knee, hip, back, and even on up to neck and shoulders. Often the aches and pains we experience, if not from an acute injury like a fall, have their source in the fascia. Poor posture, poor body mechanics or repetitive stress (like from playing tennis, doing the same yoga poses or even looking down at a cell phone for many years) can contribute to fascial tension and resulting pain.
Unlike a muscle injury, however, which might be healed by rest and ice, fascia tends to take longer to heal. In fact, fascia is typically changed in 6-24 months! So how do you repair fascia and resolve the pain you are feeling? It may be good news to hear that nothing extreme is required. Rather, simply by tweaking your approach to your regular fitness routine and adding a few minutes of daily fascial fitness, you can both heal and prevent injuries and continue to do what you love to do longer.
Fascia is the biggest sensory organ in the body due to the large number of nerve endings embedded within it. Thus, it is in a sense “listening” to every emotion and thought you have and responding to the stress and tension it detects. Practicing mindful movement means being aware of how you feel at any given moment and how these thoughts and emotions change throughout the day. The sooner you can detect stress, the sooner you can make adjustments to reduce its impact on your body.
In yoga, students are taught to practice being “the witness.” This means to observe yourself as if you were standing on the outside looking in. In your practice, this might mean that you notice how you are feeling in any given pose. Questions like, “what could I do in this pose to create a greater sense of ease” or “where do I feel the breath in my body right now” can help you reduce tension and risk of injury.
Practice holistic movement
Both yoga and Yamuna® Body Rolling are wonderful examples of exercise that integrates the whole body. Think about Triangle Pose and how it involves a stretch in the legs, the side body and even through the shoulders. In body rolling as well, the student moves through routines on front, back and sides of the body. However, we can all be guilty of sticking to the same familiar routines and doing them in the same way each time. It could be likened to driving your car along the same route to work each day. Likewise, doing the same postures in the same way creates what yogis call “samskaras”, or well-worn pathways in your body while missing other angles and movements.
Does this mean you have to stop attending your favorite class? Not at all! Rather, try doing different variations on the poses and looking for the hidden spaces in your ankles, hips and elsewhere where you can bring the movement. Move your hips side to side or turn your toes one way and then the other and notice what feels different. You may discover a new stretch that feels great!
Rest and hydrate
After a heavy demand on the body, the collagen in the fascia breaks down. It then takes 24-72 hours to regain its former strength. During that time, the fascia is under stress. It is less-hydrated and lacks its usual strength. Resting it by doing something less demanding and focusing on the breath will give the body a chance to heal and become stronger.
In addition, keep hydrating! This does not mean simply drinking more water. The tissues must be squeezed out to be able to take in the water. Think of it like your sponge. You must squeeze it out before you can use it to mop up more water. By incorporating movement that squeezes or compresses the tissues, as in the twists and folds of yoga or in the compression and cross-fibering with the ball in body rolling, you will increase the uptake of water by the tissues.
Patience is definitely required when working to heal fascia. It must be approached with slow movement, done with the breath over an extended period of time. But while the results are slow, they are longer lasting. I often tell my clients that if they will be consistent in their practice, they will typically see the episodes of pain get further and farther in between. Soon, they may forget where they were sore in the first place!
As a student and teacher of yoga and the Yamuna® Method for many years, it is my goal to help teach people to fall in love with taking care of their own bodies. Like many of you, my own journey into the yoga world was the result of trying to heal a broken body, and I look forward to helping others do the same. If I can be of help to you, please contact me at [email protected].
And above all, BREATHE!
Yamuna Body Rolling, Yamuna Foot Fitness