Imagine your entire body wrapped in a fibrous suit, designed essentially to hold all the parts of you together. Its elasticity allows for the capacity to expand and contract, to be both flexible and strong. This incredible, all encompassing band of connective tissues is known as the fascia. It lies beneath your skin, connecting and encircling all of the bones, muscles and internal organs of the body. Made predominantly of collagen fibers that create its pliable flexibility, fascia is tremendously important when it comes to our range of motion, movement and activity.
In its ideal health, our fascia is supple, dynamic and a major hub of integrated communication between the various functioning systems of our body. Optimally, fascial fibers are completely replaced approximately twice a year, which gives us the opportunity to literally restructure the functioning of our own bodies. Over time, fascia responds to and takes on the “shape,” so to speak, of our perpetual patterns, both physical and emotional. A tangible example of this can be demonstrated by observing the posture of an individual. How do they stand, hold themselves and where do they carry their weight and tension?
Another factor that will affect the health of our fascia is injuries, which tend to spread like wildfire through the body. We now know that most injuries are actually to the connective tissue and not muscular as was previously believed. A mild strain that begins in the neck may spread to tension in the shoulders which in turn may affect the back which may lead to problems in the hips and so on. This is all a result of the incredibly cohesive functioning of this connective tissue that is quite literally “connecting” us from head to toe and from the inside out. We are truly more a unified system than the “separate parts” model that most of us are familiar with learning about.
So how can you ensure the health and healing of your fascia? To start, after waking in the morning or going for a long period of inactivity, our fascia can be stiff and feel tight, cramped and uncomfortable, so slow, whole body stretches can be extremely beneficial. Fascia stretches more gradually than muscles, so take your time, stretching into each movement for at least two minutes. Take slow, deep and controlled breaths to increase oxygen to the area you are working on. Yoga, for this reason, can offer significant relief and, especially as a continued practice over time, brings a great deal of unity to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Due to the fact that fascia holds onto patterns, variation in our exercise routine is also necessary for its continued health. The goal here is to create multiple tracks of strength and agility rather than limiting ourselves to one, which generally leads to a higher risk of injury from strictly repetitive motion.
Another useful practice is utilizing a foam roller. These are great for working on the really tight spots that have built up over time. You will find that certain sides and areas of your body will respond quite differently. This gives you an in-depth perspective into the functioning of your own body: how and where you carry your stress, tension and habits. When you find a spot -- as one of my favorite teachers would say -- “speaks to you,” breathe into it and do your best to relax. Keep breathing and when you feel the area begin to relax, take a few more breaths and then move on. It’s really very interesting to see how differently each person reacts to various areas in the body! Calves, front, back and inner thighs, side body and the infamous IT band are all great places to start with when using a foam roller. For more acute areas, a tennis or yoga ball can also be a wonderful tool to use.
Various types of massage, such as Rolfing Technique or myofascial release, are other methods for releasing tension in the fascia and increasing circulation. The overall goal is to keep the fascia pliable, loose and hydrated which also re-emphasizes the importance of drinking plenty of water! Make a point during your day to take a few moments to stand up, stretch and check back in with how your body is feeling. While we are built to be exceptionally resilient, maintenance and continued care and consideration for our body lead to a life of longevity and optimal health, something I think we can all appreciate and aspire towards.