1. What is fascia?
Fascia is an intricate web of connective tissue surrounding everything inside our bodies – our blood vessels, nerves, bones, organs and fascicles in the muscles are all encased in this fascinating tissue.
Fascia is alive and, just like the rest of the body, requires certain conditions in order to be able to function optimally. Its myriad of functions, such as moving nutrients and eliminating waste through our system, are best performed when it is happy and healthy. In order to keep our fascia healthy, we need to know how to take care of it. If the conditions for fascia to thrive are not present, we will feel it in our physical bodies, the same way we can feel when our muscles are tight and need our attention.
Below, I take you through some steps to help keep your fascia supple and healthy. These are simple suggestions that don’t require much time or investment, yet are crucial to keeping our fascia, and thus our bodies and movement, functioning well.
2. Fascia and stimulation
In my classes, I frequently refer to compression and stretching as actions that help stimulate fascia. Why are these actions so important, and how exactly do they help keep our fascia healthy?
In the left image, the tissue around the left shoulder blade is being compressed. It might be felt as a squeezing and digging sensation right into the knots that can form underneath the edge of the shoulder blade.
For the muscles and connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia etc.), once the compression is released, the area is flooded with fresh blood again helping to shift toxins out. This re-energises all that sits within it and also frees up anything that was stuck. In addition to positioning the body for targeted compression, massage is another technique that can work with compression and stimulation of connective tissue.
In the centre image, the hamstrings of the left leg, the quadriceps of the right leg, muscles of the right shoulder and arm, and all associated, tendons, ligaments and fascia are being stretched.
Fascia is constantly moving and separating as you move. Stretching your body helps to facilitate this movement of fascia, giving it space and keeping it free and agile. This, in turn, contributes to your overall ability to move with ease.
In the right image, the body is at rest.
I mention rest in this section as an important partner to the two actions outlined above. While stimulation and movement are essential techniques for keeping fascia healthy, it can also become overworked if it doesn’t get enough down-time. Your fascia needs time to rest in order to balance and rejuvenate.
3. Fascia and hydration
Your fascia contains an environment that is sticky and filled with fluid and protein. Imagine this environment as a store for nutrients, as the place where cells are able to feed, drink and eliminate waste. There is a permanent turnover of fresh nutrients coming in, and waste being moved out. This environment also works as a conduit for nerve impulses that communicate between your body and brain.
Fundamental to aiding these functions is hydration. You need to drink plenty of pure water. This goes hand in hand with keeping up a consistent exercise and stretching programme, complimented by massage for example – such a practice will help to move the water to where it needs to be in your fascia.
Why is it so important to facilitate the movement of water through your fascia? Imagine what happens to an old rubber-band or sponge. They can become hard, brittle and dried out. The rubber-band loses its elasticity, and the sponge its ability to compress. Dried out fascia responds the same way – it becomes hard, brittle and stuck, and is unable to sustain the proper management of nutrients and waste. This may be felt in the body as a multitude of physical complaints, such as reduced mobility, pain, lethargy or respiratory restriction.
Coupling the actions of consistent stimulation and hydration help to facilitate the gliding, twisting, squeezing, separating, extending and compressing that fascia does – movements essential to its major function of managing the travel of nutrients and waste.
4. Fascia and stress
Mental and emotional effects on fascia
As we know, mental tension, anxiety and a wired nervous system can have adverse effects on our physical body. Fascia is no different. Similar to what can happen to our muscles, emotional and mental stress can cause fascia to tighten and become stuck and painful.
As many of us have likely experienced, if you feel pain in a particular area of your body, the tightness and possible inflammation there will be affecting muscles in that area, and beyond – tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and fascia. Without the targeted help of a physiotherapist or remedial massage therapist, it is difficult to establish whether the pain is muscular or connective tissue-related, and to pinpoint what the source may be. If you are feeling pain or tightness and aren’t yet sure of a physical cause, you might be reacting to emotional stress.
With increasing awareness of the link between the mental, emotional and physical comes the awareness of how mental or emotional tension affect our physical bodies – this includes our fascia. Any work you do on balancing your mental and emotional stress can have a positive effect on fascia that has tightened, become stuck, and is causing physical discomfort or pain.
How to help manage potential or immediate emotional stress
A slow rhythm of breath has significant calming effects on the nervous system and rest of the body. Controlling your breath is one of the easiest techniques to balance nervous tension and stress. The beauty of it is that it can be done anywhere – at home, work, even standing in a queue at the supermarket. You just need to draw your awareness to your breath and consciously slow it down.
There are many other things you can do to help calm your nervous system and induce relaxation – meditation, walks by the sea or in nature, restorative yoga, tai chi, qigong, cooking, painting … Whatever works for you!
5. Plan of action
1) Stretch, exercise, massage and get quality relaxation and rest
2) Drink plenty of pure water
3) Manage emotional and mental stress, as best you can
You may find some of the resources below helpful in beginning to live for your fascia.
6 . Resources
Work directly with your fascia by practising Yin Yoga. This practice is developed to go beyond the muscles and target fascia directly. This floor-based practice encourages the body into different postures that are held for a number of minutes. Using the natural effects of gravity, you enjoy long stretches and levels of compression that get right into the heart of your connective tissue, helping to hydrate and re-energise it, and release toxins.
Try it with me here: Mini Grounding and Yin Yoga Practice video
Stress and anxiety relief
If you’re short on time, and you need an easy way to balance, calm, and ease tension out of your mind, body (and fascia!), take 10 slow breaths…
You can try it with me here: 10 Slow Breaths video
Author: Claire Martin
Copy-editor: Kelly Girardi