Fascia refers to a band or sheet of connective tissue, made up primarily of collagen which is found beneath the skin. Without this tissue, our bodies would lack the structure needed to hold everything together, as it’s the fascia that attaches, stabilises, and separates muscles and other internal organs.
So it’s clearly important stuff, and the basic knowledge that I have tells me that there’s a lot more to be learned on the subject, which is why I decided to consult the people in the know. I caught up with three Dubai-based fitness professionals to find out more about the fascia phenomenon.
Paul Thornley, Neuromuscular Therapist & Lead Merrithew Instructor Trainer at Real Pilates describes fascia as “the architectural tissue of our body; it’s the first tissue to develop after our embryonic phase and it determines our shape. Following this phase our muscular fibres are then interwoven within the fascial system.” Allie McLaughlin, Master Trainer for Rad Roller in the Middle East describes this network of fascia as a net that holds our bodies in place and as a result “fascia has the ability to change the way we exist in space.” Nikki Meyler-Allam, yoga instructor and Co-founder of Core 8 uses the analogy of a spider’s web, “which covers everything from the tip of our toes to the crown of our head. Fascia both separates and connects body parts at the same time.” It’s this fine line that I find fascinating – both the connective and separation qualities, and the intricacy of its assembly within the body, showing us just how interconnected our bodies are.
“We are so connected that pain in our neck could be coming from tightness in our feet,” says Allie, who works with Rad Roller, a company which distributes self massage tools to help with fascial release. This involves a method of stretching and rolling to flush water back into the muscles, to regain the range of movement that helps us function on a daily basis – including the most simple daily tasks, like rolling out of bed, or reaching for food on the top shelf! It’s crazy to think that feeling pain or restriction in one part of the body can be directly linked to something totally unrelated, or so we think. And that’s the whole point – it’s all completely related, because of this intricate network of fibres. Nikki explains that “fascia is like a silk scarf. If you get a small pull in one place, it can affect the whole thing. Working on one part once won’t completely address something you have been tightening for months or even years,” you’ve got to take a holistic approach and address the whole body in order to get to the root of the problem. So there’s a mix of education and general awareness involved here, and as we become more body aware, we start to see how everything links up, and how we use our minds to engage the intricacies of our structures. “We have the power to change our bodies, with mindful movement,” says Allie, and this is due to the elasticity and adaptability of the fascia network.
So we understand the general consensus of connectivity and forming an interconnected structure within the body, but that’s simply scratching the surface of the topic. Bear with me on this, I know this isn’t a medical journal, but it’s such a hot topic and these recent studies are challenging and questioning the established modalities of the biomechanical approaches upon which the theories of traditional anatomy and physiology are fundamentally based. “This new model is called Biotensegrity, where every system within our body works symbiotically to achieve harmony of movement, and fascia plays a pivotal role in ensuring the whole system interacts and maintains structural integrity as a whole. We call that effect a continuum, where tissues integrate continually without a start or an end to their interaction,” says Paul. So it’s like one continuous thread that intertwines throughout the network of the body? Well yes, “Fascia ensures that you cannot move any part in isolation as everything is directly connected to everything else.” This is part of a much wider debate, and the argument here is simple: the more we learn about our bodies the better – challenging traditional practices, allowing us to develop a more modern approach to movement assessments, diagnoses, training and rehabilitation techniques.
So now that we have a general idea of what’s going on, how do we apply this information to our daily lives? Here’s a few tips from the pros:
Pain is not gain. When you try to release tight areas in the body, you should be able to relax over the tool and breathe. We recommend breathing for about 10 breaths in each area. Keeping a relaxed state of mind is the key principle of Rad Roller. We are proponents of brain based mobility. This means, we work to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (Rest and Digest) so you can get the best possible release! This is why our products don’t have spikes. How can you relax on that? Ouch!
Chose quality and precision; you’ll move better, get stronger and live happier. And secondly, breathe – this is essential to all good movement.
Pay attention to your body and then address that. Look at yourself in the mirror, look at how you’re standing. An easy example of this is to look at your shoulders. If you have one shoulder higher and tighter than the other then it’s likely that you will benefit from some kind of movement or release therapy.
I’ll be talking more about fascia on the blog, delving a little deeper into the application of the Biotensegrity theory, because it makes a lot more sense when you actually put these things into action. Watch this space, and listen to your bodies.