Hi Folks - found this great article on why fascia matters by Brooke Thomas - a summary of why the MELT Method is worth a time slot in your busy day. The work with the MELT Method soft roller hydrates your fascia and enhances the work that you receive in my office.
You may be noticing the word “fascia” (aka connective tissue) is a hot topic right now in all body related fields. But before we get to why fascia matters to athletes, here is a brief primer about why it’s getting so much attention these days.
First, many think of fascia as a glorified body stocking - a seamless piece of tissue that Saran wraps you just underneath the skin. While this is true of the superficial fascia, it’s important to understand it is a richly multi-dimensional tissue that forms your internal soft tissue architecture.
From the superficial (“body stocking”) fascia, it dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. Imagine what it looks like when you bite into a wedge of orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice. We’re like that too! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.
So imagine for a moment you could remove every part of you that is not fascia. You would have a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like. Not just in recognizable ways like your posture or facial features, but also the position of your liver, and the zig-zig your clavicle takes from that break you had as a kid, and how your colon wraps. To say it’s everywhere is far from over-stating things.
In fact, it turns out fascia’s everywhere-ness is one of the reasons it was overlooked for so long. Until recently it was viewed as the packing peanuts of soft tissue. Therefore, in dissections for study and for research, most of it was cleanly scraped away and thrown in a bucket so the cadavers could be tidily made to resemble the anatomical texts from which people were studying. Poor, misunderstood, and underrated fascia. Sigh.
Fortunately research is catching up to what turns out to be a remarkably communicative sensory and proprioceptive tissue. What fascia researchers are discovering is pretty amazing not just for fascia nerds like me, but for anyone who wants to put their body to good, healthy use. (Like, for example, all of us at Breaking Muscle!) So without further ado, here is some of the newly emerging information about fascia and how you can use it to maximize not just your athletic performance, but also just your plain old ability to feel good in your body.
1. Fascia is a tensional fluid system.
While it’s difficult for us to understand how a support structure could be a fluid structure - because we’re not exactly making hi-rise buildings out of Jell-O - it’s true. Juicy fascia is happy fascia. The best analogy I can give is of a sponge. When a sponge dries out it becomes brittle and hard. It can easily be broken with only a little force because of how crispy it has become. However, when a sponge is wet and well hydrated it gets springy and resilient. You can crush it into a little ball and it bounces back. You can wring it and twist it, but it is difficult to break.
Once we understand that we’re like that on the inside, keeping our fascia hydrated takes on more importance. Our mobility, integrity, and resilience are determined in large part by how well hydrated our fascia is. In fact, what we call “stretching a muscle” is actually the fibers of the connective tissue (collagen) gliding along one another on the mucous-y proteins called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs for short). GAGs, depending on their chemistry, can glue layers together when water is absent, or allow them to skate and slide on one another when hydrated.1,2 This is one of the reasons most injuries are fascial. If we get “dried out” we are more brittle and are at much greater risk for erosion, a tear, or a rupture.
So drink more water, right? Well, yes and no. Staying hydrated via drinking continues to be important, but if you have dehydrated fascia it’s more like you have these little kinks in your “hoses” (microvacuoles), and so all that water you drink can’t actually reach the dehydrated tissue and gets urinated away, never having reached the crispy tissue. To be able to get the fluid to all of your important nooks and crannies you need to first get better irrigated (via the microvacuoles.3 And to do that, you’ve got to get work on your soft tissue to untangle those gluey bits.
Seeing a body worker who specializes in any form of myofascial work (Rolfing or other forms of Structural Integration and ART tend to be faves) will do the trick, but you can also work on this at home with the array of self-care tools for working your own fascia. As I pointed out in last month’s post, I don’t like harder tools as they are less effective at actually “unkinking your hoses”, and Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls and The MELT Methodare my two favorite self-fascia-lovin’ systems.
2. Variation matters.
Movement also gets the hydration out to the tissue as well, but thatmovement needs to be varied. This means variation not just of the movements themselves, but also variation of tempo. Not only does moving constantly in the same ways and in the same planes put you at further risk for joint erosion (a là osteoarthritis), but you are also dehydrating the fascia in a particular pattern, thus setting you up for that brittle tissue that injuries love so much.
As Tom Myers, fascial educator and creator of Anatomy Trains, says in this video:
“Rest is how the tissues rehydrate. When you do heavy exercise you are driving the water out of the tissue in the same way that if you step on a wet beach you push the water out of the sand, and when you pick up your foot the water seeps back into that sand. You’re doing the same thing with tissues, when you’re really working out you are driving the water out of the tissue while you are working…The rhythm [of your fitness regimen] should include some rest… When you take the strain off of the tissues, like a sponge they will suck up that water and be ready for more exercise.”
This certainly makes a good argument for functional fitness work like MovNat that takes its inspiration, wisely, from the constantly varying movements of our ancestors, and also shines a light on the benefits of a good high intensity interval training (HIIT) program.
3. It’s all connected.
Let’s say, for example, that you are in your kitchen and your leg is in your bedroom. This is an example of not being connected. You may also notice it’s an example of a potential plotline for Dexter. Something has gone horribly wrong in this scenario.
Okay, okay, so we were not dropped on our heads as children and we get it that our parts aren’t detachable. But the problem comes when we think of them as attachable. Because of the way we all learn and study anatomy - whether the extent of your studying was singing “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone!” song in preschool, or something more extensive - we conceive of human bodies as “attached” by magical soft tissue versions of tape.
In anatomy-speak we describe all muscles as having an origin and an insertion. So for example, the gastrocnemius muscle (our most superficial calf muscle) originates on the lateral and medial condyles of the femur (thigh) bone, and inserts on the calcaneus (heel bones), via the Achilles tendon. It makes it sound like it is taped or stapled to be “attached” at its origin and insertion points - like it’s this separate thing that gets stuck onto other separate things. A more clear and true to human anatomy description would be that the gastrocnemius becomes the Achilles tendon (by weaving more densely until muscle becomes tendon) and that thenbecomes the calcaneus bone (by weaving more densely until tendon becomes bone).
I am not just trying to belabor anatomy semantics. This is important because it gives us a handier understanding of how you just plain can’t have something happen to one “part” of your body and not have it affect every other “part” of your body, albeit in varying degrees of intensity. Often in the fascia-geek worlds we’ll use the example of wearing a tightly knit sweater. If you tug on one end of that sweater, you see the tug travel long distance to other ends of the sweater. For athletes, this brings the dreaded domino effect into a clearer perspective.
Many of you have experienced the domino effect without having had a name for it. First, your neck gets injured in a minor whiplash in that teeny tiny no big deal car accident that you had when you were sixteen years old. But you’re sixteen years old, so no biggie. You ignore it and it gets better. But once you enter college, suddenly you have this nagging shoulder pain with all the extra typing and sitting you’re doing. As the years go by you start to think of yourself as the “tight-shouldered” person, and sometimes you have a pinching pain when you lift your arm. More years go by and you are now not only a “tight-shouldered person,” but you also suffer from occasional low back spasms and have developed plantar fasciitis, which you assume must be because you’re a runner and everyone says running is bad for you. I could go on, and this is just one quick sketch of one type of domino effect out of the infinite possibilities, but you get the idea.
The thing this person is experiencing is actually the long, slow drain of an unaddressed compensatory pattern on a body, but in our culture we call it, “just getting old.” The best way to avoid the domino effect is to keep your fascia healthy so that nothing gets jumbled up in the knit of the “sweater” and you are therefore at much lower risk for developing a compensatory pattern which, by its very nature, is always going to be global.
4. Its springiness wants to help you out.
What do you get when you add juiciness to connectedness? Springiness! When your tissue retains (or regains) its natural spring, the rebound effect of the fascia allows you to use less muscle power, and therefore fatigue less rapidly. Want to jump higher, run faster, and throw farther? You’ll need to pay attention to nourishing the elastic quality of your fascia.
For example, when you run with healthy fascia the force you transmit into the ground gets returned to you through the whole tensional network of the fascia. It’s like you have a little built-in trampoline action going on. So once you’ve done the work to rehydrate your tissue, you’ll want to embrace bouncy movements. Some good examples of how you can best play with this arerunning, jumping rope, box jumps, and kettlebells. All martial arts forms also rely on the inner spring. That’s why they’re so cool.
5. It is the largest and richest sensory organ of the body.
Now this little tidbit of recent fascial research was a shocker. It turns out fascia is one of our richest sensory organs with between six to ten times higher quantity of sensory nerve receptors than the muscles.4 In fact, it is possible fascia may be equal or superior to the retina, which has so far been considered the richest human sensory organ.5
This makes your fascia a system of proprioception - i.e. of knowing where your body is in space, but also of graceful full body orchestration of movement. Therefore, well-hydrated and supple fascia is crucial to maintaining your natural settings for alignment and function. And maintaining those natural settings will keep small problems from snowballing into larger ones, keep injuries from becoming chronic issues that flare in and out of life, and keep you mobile and functional for longer through life - as in moving well, but also the perks of that, some of which are avoiding nasty surgeries and joint replacements.
While it’s impossible to not be using at least some of the sensory qualities of fascia (unless you have a disease process that is interfering with it), a way to play with waking up the full potential of your own proprioception is to return, as I already covered, to constantly varied movements. To really Zen-out on noticing your proprioceptive abilities, a barefoot (or minimal footwear) hike over varying terrain mixed with balancing across logs along the way will certainly get the sensory juices flowing. Again, this makes MovNat a great choice.
Whew. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But it’s plenty to chew on for now! So go forth, love your fascia, and train happily.
1. Thomas W. Findley, MD, PhD, “Fascia Research From a Clinician/Scientist’s Perspective,” International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, (2011).
2. J.C. Guimberteau, “The Sliding Mechanics of the Subcutaneous Structures in Man Illustration of a Functional Unit: The Microvacuoles,” Studies of the Académie Nationale de Chuirurgie (2005).
3. J.C. Guimberteau, “The Sliding Mechanics of the Subcutaneous Structures in Man Illustration of a Functional Unit: The Microvacuoles,” Studies of the Académie Nationale de Chuirurgie (2005).
4. Robert Schleip et al., Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (Elsevier, 2012), 77.
5. Robert Schleip et al., Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (Elsevier, 2012), 77.
Photos courtesy of Shutters
My personal Christmas present fantasy is a package of 52 massages for a year's worth of weekly deep tissue work with my favorite massage therapist. I imagine many of my readers share this fantasy; certainly after their session with me many of my clients tell me they wish they could have a session EVERY DAY!
There's something completely liberating about having each muscle, tendon, and ligament surrounding my spine released, from the top of of my neck to my sacrum. The amount of chi, or life force energy, released contributes to a feeling of standing tall and supple in the world. I feel like Superwoman, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. From the very first massage received at age 20, I have been captivated by the shift I feel in body, mind, and spirit and I've been a massage enthusiast ever since. My daughter, who was born during massage school many, many moons ago (my sainted mother-in-law brought her to the student lounge so I could nurse between classes), has been the lucky recipient of massage since her birth, and is possibly as enthusiastic about recieving as I am.
A colleague, Megan Spence, at Bodywork Brooklyn, wrote this wonderful article for her blog and I'm sharing it here:
Massage and Self-Consciousness:
It wasn’t the first time, and I very much doubt that it will be the last.
A client who was new to massage, a woman in her late fifties who I had just met, urged me to prepare myself for the “ghastly” sight of “all [her] flab.”
Another woman, 40 weeks pregnant at the peak of summer and suffering fatigue, cursed aloud and covered her face with her hands when she realized that she hadn’t shaved her legs before her massage. I have not, myself, ever been 40 weeks pregnant, but the logistics of shaving one’s legs at that stage seemed daunting, and I felt like she’d planned to undertake a heroic task on my account and was cursing herself for falling short. To those who want to make that effort, more power to you! But here’s a secret: whether or not you shave your legs, whatever the reason, I don’t care. Body hair or lack thereof might affect how much oil I use, but that is the end of my thoughts on the matter.
Over the years, friends and acquaintances have remarked either that they would like to get a massage but are too self-conscious, or they have asked how I deal with “gross” clients. Seriously. People have asked. And my answer? Clients aren’t gross. Bodies aren’t gross. You aren’t gross.
I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s body issues here. Goodness knows I’ve had my own. It’s not for me to say whether self-deprecating comments are innocuous or damaging, but I do know that issues with body image can stop people from getting massage, and I do not want that to happen. And I have caught glimpses, in conversation and in massages, of real shame, and I want to shed some light on it in hopes of flooding it out. If you need me to know that you are self-conscious, that you don’t want me to jostle your arm because there might be a jiggle that makes you feel horrendous, you can tell me. But you don’t have to. It’s your choice. If letting me know that you’re carrying body shame eases your burden, by all means tell me. I will pour on extra love. If you are not accustomed to touch and are afraid to be seen and want to keep your clothes on, you can. I’m not here to dismiss concerns. But I do want to state for the record, for whatever it’s worth, that I, as a massage therapist, do not stand in judgement of you. If you have lumps and bumps and stubble that cause you dismay, please know that I do not share this dismay. Holding space is a big part of massage — carving out an hour (or more, or less) for you to just be — and I have no interest in evaluating, comparing, judging, or shaming. These things simply do not enter my mind.
Some of you know this already. Some people seek massage specifically because they know their massage therapist will accept them unconditionally, will not bat an eye at the little imperfections that cause the bearers genuine agony. That kind of acceptance can be healing in and of itself. This post is for those who have a harder time believing that their body could possibly transcend judgement. For those like the client at the start of the post who would not have pushed through her own body shame to get a massage if her daughter had not booked it, paid for it, and dragged escorted her there. When I told this woman that I don’t look at people’s flab when they get on the table, she eyed me suspiciously and wondered aloud what I could possibly look at instead. So I told her.
What I look for: When I give a massage, I am looking for areas of tension in the body, places where things are stuck. I love patterns, so when I find an area that is particularly taut or particularly flaccid, I am thinking about compensation patterns, how those places might affect the rest of the body and might inform the rest of the massage. I am thinking about how to alleviate discomfort, release those stuck down places, get things flowing. I am thinking about how to help you. I love my work, love falling into a silent conversation with tissues, understanding how the pieces fit together a little bit differently for everyone. I love the quiet, the practice, the focus. I love helping people feel better. There’s no room for judgement in that.
So come in. Whether you’re feeling flabby or self-conscious about the pimple on your shoulder, whether or not you’ve got beat up summer feet, sandal scuffed and city gritty, you deserve to feel your best. The goal is to help you get there, to leave you beaming like the woman whose daughter dragged her in, who came in shy and went out laughing, giddy about new looseness between her shoulder blades. A little acceptance is a beautiful thing.
Looking ahead to the New Year and bringing more creative expression into your life, this is a lovely blessing from Celtic philosopher, poet, and writer John O'Donoghue's book "To Bless the Space Between Us". Thanks to Christine Valters Paintner from her blog at www.abbeyofthearts.com.
For the Artist at the Start of the Day
May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.
May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,
A Morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,
May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,
To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,
Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart
In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to a different shape.
May it be its own force field
And dwell uniquely
Between the heart and the light
To surprise the hungry eye
By how deftly it fits
About its secret loss.
-John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
This morning, take some time to sit with the lines from this blessing and see what stirs in your thoughts:
"May morning be astir with the harvest of night" , and his ringing line:
"a morning when you become a pure vessel of all that wants to ascend from silence".
For Christmas Dreaming!
Last Night As I Was Sleeping -------------------Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a spring was breaking out in my heart. I said: Along which secret aqueduct, Oh water, are you coming to me, water of a new life that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a fiery sun was giving light inside my heart. It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth, and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that it was God I had here inside my heart.
AND HERE IS THE SPANISH ORIGINAL:
Anoche cuando dormía soñé ¡bendita ilusión! que una fontana fluía dentro de mi corazón. Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida, agua, vienes hasta mí, manantial de nueva vida en donde nunca bebí?
Anoche cuando dormía soñé ¡bendita ilusión! que una colmena tenía dentro de mi corazón; y las doradas abejas iban fabricando en él, con las amarguras viejas, blanca cera y dulce miel.
Anoche cuando dormía soñé ¡bendita ilusión! que un ardiente sol lucía dentro de mi corazón. Era ardiente porque daba calores de rojo hogar, y era sol porque alumbraba y porque hacía llorar.
Anoche cuando dormía soñé ¡bendita ilusión! que era Dios lo que tenía dentro de mi corazón
It's still the darkest time of the year, and so easy to get discouraged or to become distanced from ourselves in the holiday rush which is so counter to the rhythm of the land. This poem came to me at a conference I attended some years ago, the National Association of Poetry Therapy's annual event. Silvine Farrell was leading a breakout session called "Embodying Poetry" and this was one of the poems she chose for us. Imagine 10 lovely women bringing this poem to life!
Don't say, don't say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched-but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
Don't say, don't say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.
~ Denise Levertov ~
Happy Solstice! This poem is another favorite...I have so many!
Prayer for a Tenspeed Heart by Barbara Hendykson
Let the fire of my body
propel and warm me
and let each darkness
reveal its plenitude.
Let the hills
flatten under my wheels
and let the eloquent curves
yield up their good surprise.
Let my heart be obstinate
when I need to climb
and let my lowliest gears
restrain my spinning down.
Let there be flatland, to,
and into that glittering place
let me stretch with the heart of a lover,
at full speed, blind and intent.