Fascia is kind of the hot topic in many circles. Funny enough, it isn’t a new concept or discovery as fascia has been known for a really long time. However, in the fitness world it is pretty new and we tend to under appreciate and misunderstand why it is so important. So, why is fascia so important and why do we need to be smarter about how we approach making our fascia healthier?
What Is Fascia?
What is fascia even in the first place? As John Hopkins explains so well…”a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin.”
Think of fascia as connective tissue that covers the entire body. It is a multi-layered system of tissue that basically helps connect the entire body. This is why the idea of isolating different fascial systems in the body is pointless and missing why we focus on fascia in the first place. The best way to think of fascia is like the knitting of a sweater, if you had a little string from your sweater hanging out and pulled on it, the whole sweater would start to fall apart.
Why Should You Care About Fascia?
Fascia serves a whole bunch of different functions. It helps with force transmission, it can relate to increasing hypertrophy of tendons, it allows us to perform complex whole body movements with great efficiency and fluidity (in other words it plays a big part in being real world strong and mobile), and it connects to our nervous system which will be important really soon.
Fascia can also be the root of someone experiencing pain as most people of have heard of adhesions which tends to refer more to the fascia than the muscles. Most times when people are doing things like foam rolling or soft-tissue work they are addressing fascia more than anything (which is why some people feel better and others don’t).
One more fascinating thing about fascia is something most people don’t realize. There is a large amount of evidence that emotions are stored in our fascia. As doctors Schultz and Feitis explain in their book, “The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality”…
“The physical response to emotion is through the soft tissue,” “The fascia is the emotional body. . . . Ideally, feelings are felt in the total body—emotions travel through the fascial web. We then interpret the physiological sensation as anger, affection, love, interest and so forth. . . . The reason your neck can’t straighten and lengthen may be because of the shock of being continually bullied in childhood. Physical work will only partially open that problem unless there is recognition that there may be an emotional origin.”
If this sounds crazy it is actually a pretty well researched topic. Even this 2017 paper explains, “Many professional manual practitioners are involved in its treatment and there are many emerging therapeutic approaches. What is still missing is the awareness that the body is also emotion. The myofascial continuum is able to stimulate the areas of the brain that deal with the emotional state, and manual treatment activates the interoceptive system. To optimize myofascial treatment, a psychologist should work alongside the manual practitioner, creating a multidisciplinary team that takes into account both the physical and emotional aspects.”
So How Do We Work With The Fascial System Smarter?
Is doing things like foam rolling and trigger point work enough? Listen, first and foremost, if you feel better from doing it, keep doing so. However, there is evidence that to really gain the benefits the work in these areas has to be more precise and thoughtful. So, if you aren’t getting the benefits that you think you should, then one reason could be that you aren’t hitting the tissues just right (which is really hard to address in a blog post), but also we can look at working the fascial system differently and maybe more efficiently too.
Leading proponents of fascial work like Thomas Myers who has authored maybe the most comprehensive book on fascia (Anatomy Trains) has endorsed training systems like yoga and other mind-body practices for their ability to hit the fascial system from several different aspects.
-The whole chain: Training systems like yoga, qig0ng, and tai chi have a very full body integrated approach that matches how our fascia is actually designed. Many of the fascial lines Mr. Myers discusses are influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicine meridians that such movement systems address that work as a whole kinetic chain.
-The use of specific breathing techniques: Mind-body practices all use breath in one form or another and while no one breathing method is superior to another (they are often used in different circumstances and individuals) the goal is the same which is to calm the nervous system and make the mind focus more. This can play a BIG part in reducing the emotional distress that many people can experience. Especially because we often feel stress in our body before we do even in our minds.
If this sounds too “touchy feely” for you, it too is very well researched, in fact, a leading expert, neuroscientist, Dr. Antonio Dimissio has shown in many papers that not only are the mind and body connected, but the body can impact the mind and vice versa. He has shown that emotions are very much stored in our physical body and we may sense physical changes before we realize the emotional changes we are going through. Therefore, that is why you see things like tapping, massage, cold plunges, etc. being popularized. They quickly address a “distraction” the body that can alter that emotional state. While these can be useful tools, we may derive more of a benefit by altering the actual myofascial structures overall that can give us a longer lasting effect.
One of our favorite ways is to integrate our Myofascial Integrated Movements and concepts to a workout or just during the day. These are based on yoga, qigong, and tai chi concepts but made to be accessible to anyone so you don’t have to dive deep into these systems to gain the benefit. How do we do it? Starting with movements like the following are very powerful even if they may not seem complicated.
These movements focus on various fascial lines (even though they are all active we can highlight individual ones) and use the entire body as well as breath work to help increase the movement of our fascia and help a myriad of issues from mobility to overall well-being. I hope you will try them and use them both faithfully and intentionally to see what they can deliver.
Find out more and save 20% on our Myofascial Integrated Movement training program and our Breath Course with Movement HERE with code “save20”
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