What is Fascia?
Fascia is a type of fibrous connective tissue in the body that surrounds all the organs, nerves and muscles. Fascia is widely distributed throughout the entire body. Not only does it surround the major muscles, but further encapsulates muscle bundles within muscle groups. In fact, without fascia, you would be a blob of goo and a pile of bones and organs. The fascia, in general, shrink-wraps the organs, muscles and nerves. Another type of fascia is in the skin itself, but for the purposes of this article, we will be addressing what is commonly called the deep fascia or the myofacial system. After an egg is fertilized, it differentiates into 3 main systems; the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. Generally speaking, one can think of Ectoderm forming the outside of the body, the Endoderm forming the organs and the Mesoderm forming the bones, tendons, ligaments and fascia. Fascia forms from the mesenchyme, a subdivision of the mesoderm. Fascia is a type of connective tissue which is avascular (without a blood supply), translucent, tough and has a certain degree of contractability. Taoist Master Mantak Chia suggests that fascia is responsible for providing muscle tone and that “low blood pressure is associated with a hypertonus condition of the fascia and hypertension with a hypertoned condition of fascia.” (Iron Shirt Chi Kung). Some have put forth the theory that the fascia system is the method by which the Qi of the Acupuncture Channels travels. There is no conclusive evidence to prove this, but one thing is certain: The fascia system is a NETWORK, it is connected and it is everywhere in the body. It is becoming a hot topic in science these days and many ‘new’ (and many Ancient) methods of stretching, releasing, and nourishing fascia are becoming more popular. Let’s explore a few….
How to Care for Your Fascia
1. QiGONG & TAI CHI: These exercises develop Qi FLOW and strengthen fasciae, tendons, bones and muscles. This may be the single best exercise you can do. There are many many systems of Qigong to explore. Tai Chi is often considered an advanced form of Qigong. With over 5000 different forms, it is highly recommended to find an instructor you trust to teach you a strong foundation in QiGong and/or Tai Chi. William Potter has over 20 years of experience and would be happy to assist you in either beginning or continuing your journey in these movement and stillness exercises.
2. Movement Training: As a wonderfully responsive organ in our bodies, our fascia needs to be trained to retain its elasticity and springiness. This is done through any movement that loads the fascia over multiple extension ranges and utilizes its recoil function. Examples of this would be medicine ball slams where one lengthens up while holding a medicine ball, all the while the fascia is pre-tensioning upward and even slightly backwards, then slams the ball forward and down onto the ground like a catapult. Other examples are bouncing pushups on a wall, kettlebell swings, woodchoppers with a medicine ball, and practically the full Sun Salutation in yoga! In addition, movement training that emphasizes agility and plyometrics is excellent for training fascia to become free and elastic. Just make sure any jumping or hopping is performed correctly with soft landings, and that any agility training is performed with gradual deceleration and then change in direction.
3. Slow and Fast Dynamic Stretches: There are many ways we can improve our muscular flexibility through stretching. However, improving the flexibility of your fascia requires a very specific kind of stretching. Dynamic stretches allow you to move within the stretch, utilize multiple planes of movement, and are ideal for keeping our fascia loose.
4. Self-myofascial release (SMR): Myofascial release is a specialized massage technique that can serve to break up adhesions in the facial tissues as well as relax muscles thus reducing imbalanced pressure on the facial network. Myofascial release can include a general structural assessment, deep tissue massage and stretching. Self-Myfascial release (SMR) is self administered with the use of a foam roller. The beauty of these exercises lies in their simplicity. Once learned, you may quickly release your fascia pre and post-workout in a short amount of time. This will reduce pain, increase flexibility and decrease recovery time. Christina Sirmons is well versed in structural assessment, yoga and facial release techniques and would be happy to schedule a session to teach these valuable techniques.
5. Hydrate yourself: Like all other tissues in your body, fascia is like a sponge. Hydrate yourself by drinking water, herbal teas, soups, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables with high-water content so that your fascia can drink up!
6. Acupuncture and Massage:Many studies have been done in regards to Acupuncture Meridian Points and fascia. It has been suggested that most of the Acupoints are located where the fascial networks converge. “When an acupuncture needle pierces the skin, it penetrates through the dermis and subcutaneous tissue, then through deeper interstitial connective tissue. Langevin hypothesized that a Qi blockage can be viewed as an alteration in the composition of the fascia and that needling or acupressure may bring about cellular change in the fascia” (Langevin & Yandow, 2002).