All about fascia!
April 16, 2014
So we have all this hype about ZEN.GA and fascia and myofascial release. We roll you on foam rollers and you get this amazing relieve that no amount of stretching seems to do. What exactly is fascia and why is it so important for you to understand it?
Previously, many people think of fascia as a body filler. The unnecessary bits to be scraped away to make way for the more important stuff like organs, muscles, bones and blood vessels. However, in the last few years, we are starting to learn how important it really is and it’s significance in movement.
Fascia is an elastic connective tissue that runs throughout our whole body. It surrounds muscles, group of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding some structures together while allowing others to slide smoothly over each other. Fascia connects muscle to bone, and bone to bone, slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebra, and wraps your bones. Effectively, fascia serves as a web in which your body is structured. So if you were to remove every part of you that is not fascia, what is left behind is a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like, sort of like a honeycomb!
Now knowing what your fascia is, the next question you will probably ask is what does it do and how does it affect me. The first point to note is that the fascia is a tensional fluid system – which means that to work best, it has to be juicy and hydrated. Take the example of a sponge, when a sponge is dry, it is brittle and hard and can be easily broken with a small external force applied. However, when the sponge is well hydrated, it is springy and resilient, you can crush it into any shape and it bounces back. Transferring the analogy of sponge to our fascia, you can see how our mobility, integrity and resilience are determined in large part by how well hydrated our fascia is.
A lot of time when we feel that stretch when we stretch our muscles is actually our fascia gliding against each other. So depending on how well hydrated they are, they can slide well on each other or stick to each other when dehydrated.
So is it all about drinking water? Kind of, but if your fascia is kink, there is no way the water that we drink will be able to reach it. We have to unkink the fascia before they are able to be hydrated and that is where myofascial work (i.e. rolfing, trigger point therapy, Yamuna balls and foam rollers) come in! Imagine your muscles surrounded by murky, stagnant water full of waste products from your cells, and then imagine squeezing all the old water out to allow fresh, new water to take its place! This helps with circulation and improves the health of all your tissues. After exercise, fascia is dehydrated and foam rolling can help encourage rehydration of the tissues. Likewise, you can imagine how inactivity or the lack of varied movements can result in stuck fascia.
The next point to note is that fascia is really EVERYWHERE. It connects all your stuff together. This really helps remind us how related different things are in our bodies; because of the high degree of connection, something affecting one part of your body can very easily affect another part, even if it’s not nearby or doesn’t seem like they should be related. For example, if you have surgery on the front of your abdomen, like getting your appendix removed, the fascia in that area is affected and you would expect to have altered sensation and pain in that area for awhile. But then maybe your shoulder on the oppositeside starts to hurt – you probably wouldn’t relate it to your surgery. Imagine that you are wearing a tight shirt, and the fabric is twisted and knotted around the incision site. Think about how that twisting would pull on the rest of the fabric, even affecting the way the fabric sits on your shoulders. It would feel tighter and like it was pulling at a funny angle. This is what happens to your fascia inside your body! Any injuries, surgeries, and even just tension that you have in your body pull on your fascia, and affect everything else to varying degrees. Osteopaths and manual therapist have been using this knowledge of fascia for a long time to fix problems that evidence base medicine have not been able to.
Another way that inactivity puts us at risk is that if we aren’t moving much or challenging our bodies, our fascia becomes disorganized. The network of fibres will develop in relationship to the stress put on them, so if we don’t train our fascia, the arrangement of the fibres is affected. Rather than having a regular, organized, functional arrangement, the dense web will become chaotic and lose its elasticity, and eventually function is decreased or lost. Fascia responds to specific types of training. Because of its elastic properties, movements that challenge recoil, like bouncing or jumping are important. The great news is that it doesn’t have to be huge, ballistic movements – you can begin to train your fascia just by bouncing on the spot without your feet leaving the ground! Challenging the body to move in different planes and directions is also great for promoting optimal fascia training and development.
The fascia is also is also one of our richest sensory organs with between six to ten times higher quantity of sensory nerve receptors than the muscles. This means that the fascia is extremely important in proprioception – the knowing of where your body is in space. Therefore, well-hydrated and supple fascia is crucial to maintaining your natural settings for alignment and function. Maintaining those natural settings will keep small problems from snowballing into larger ones and prevent injuries from chronic wear and tear.
The great thing is that by doing Pilates you’re already training your fascia! The fluidity and grace that Pilates builds relates to the whole-body integration that reflects healthy fascia. Approaching the body as an integrated system rather than focusing on separate muscles also relates to the fascial network. The spring resistance used in Pilates relates closely to the elastic properties of fascia, and the types of movements and stretching that we do in Pilates provide what fascia needs to be healthy. Think of jumping swan, jumping exercises done on a jumpboard, and running on the reformer, or recoil pushups on a wall. The different types of stretching we use address fascia differently, both moving fluidly in and out of a stretch and melting stretches which are held for a longer time.
The Pilates focus on body awareness and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space) also relates to fascia. Fascia has been found to have much greater proprioceptive ability than muscles, so it’s actually your fascia telling you if you’re not sitting up straight doing armwork on the reformer, or that you’re extending more in your thoracic than lumbar spine doing a swan. By doing Pilates, you’re improving the mind-body connection and increasing your ability to listen to your fascia!
ZEN.GA is an evolution from Pilates and yoga as well as other exercise systems to specifically work the fascia layers through myofascial release and spring resistance.
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