by Robyn Capobianco
There has been a lot of buzz lately about fascia, and as a self-professed fascia geek, or as I prefer an “afascianado”, I’d like to point out some key features of fascia — the “Cinderella of orthopedic tissue.”
Fascia creates a 3 dimensional, continuous tensional network throughout the entire body.
- It is thickened in areas of high stress such as the:
- Bottom of your feet (plantar)
- Connection from your hips to your knees (iliotibial band)
- Continuity from the upper back to the low back (thoracolumbar fascia)
- It acts as a functional conduit through muscle chains (see Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers).
- It is a force transmitter, distributing tension along pre-determined lines throughout the body.
- It is a neurological transducer with a line to the brain that travels faster than the nervous system.
Fascia acts as a mechanical strain gauge to help lighten the load placed on our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This amazing tissue even shifts some of the load to other muscles along the fascial network, up the kinetic chain.
If left alone as in a sedentary lifestyle, or stressed during our daily activities, fascia can become dense and tissues can start to stick together like Velcro. When this occurs, muscles do not glide smoothly over one another, joints tighten, and the very important receptor cells residing within fascia that communicate with the brain go into hibernation. In cases where muscles connect into already thickened areas of fascia, such as the feet, outer hips, and low back, a tightening of the fascia leads to inhibition of the local muscles. If the local muscles are inhibited, other accessory muscles, along with tendons and ligaments, will have to bear the entire force burden. It’s like hiking up a mountain and your friend passes out. You now have to carry all of your own gear, along with your friend and his gear. No fun at all!
As bipedal beings, our feet are our first conduit to the earth, communicating force via the plantar fascia extending upwards through the superficial back line (see Anatomy Trains). This interconnected highway travels from the plantar (bottom) aspect of the foot through the toe flexors, calf muscles, hamstrings, pelvic ligaments, the erector spinae, and all the way to the occipital ridge and epicranial fascia (your forehead). A disruption of any part of this fascial network, beginning with the foot, can create turbulence in movement patterns, causing pain and dysfunction anywhere and everywhere up the kinetic chain.
Additionally, it is impossible to strengthen a muscle that your nervous system isn’t using. For example, a computer can be a powerful tool, but if you can’t turn it on, you can’t use it. Consider the foot as the power button and the fascial network as the components that distribute the energy. For a lot of people, the power button of the foot, meaning the intrinsic foot muscles, isn’t functioning. Do you know what’s on the bottom of your foot? A thick band of fascia!
Stimulation via manual manipulation or self-massage helps you not only break apart the Velcro, but you also stimulate the cells in the fascia to start talking to the brain. You can finally turn on the computer! Once your brain is talking to your feet again, start mobilizing them by performing the Barbie foot (shown in the second half of the video clip below).
P.S. – If you’re as excited about Fascia as I, definitely check out Brooke Thomas’ Why Fascia Matters (it’s free e-book and it’s awesome!). For you anatomy dorks, Brooke’s site FasciaFreedomFighters.com is a must.
image Applied Anatomy: The Construction Of The Human Body by Gwilym G. Davis.
Robyn Capobianco, M.A., E-RYT200, RYT500 teaches yoga out of a desire to help others feel empowered, strong and happy from the inside out. Robyn has been a student of yoga for over 15 years and started her formal teacher training in 2004. She has since completed multiple teacher trainings in Vinyasa, Anusara, yoga therapeutics, and Yoga Tune Up, and considers herself always a student first, attending multiple trainings and workshops with senior teachers each year. Read more about Robyn.
This is great Robyn. More articles like this, please!
That’s a great article. Most yoga instructors don’t seem to have much of any idea about fascia and those who do seem to be a bit in the dark.
Your reference of Anatomy Trains seems to be the center of the explosion on fascia and although it’s a fantastic resource, it’s written for bodyworkers primarily. This means that if you have someone to do some sort of a manual release to allow you back into a better mechanical working position then that’s fantastic. Fortunately, most yoga teachers haven’t fully adopted the role of full time physical manipulator (way too many jokes here that could apply). Although yoga asana for the most part is marketed as a stretch-centric practice, it’s appropriate activation work that seems to best integrate joints and allows better precision in stretching and in many cases can also impede the activation of over tight myofascial areas and allow for better release in myofascial regions.
Until you begin getting fully manipulated in every posture, your asana practice is still mostly based on muscle use for positioning the body and performing activated stabilization even if it’s restricted by fascial tension (that’s also very often related to synergist or antagonist muscle imbalances) While release techniques are fantastic when you have someone to do them, they still don’t retrain any neural networks, develop coordination, perform activated stabilization and more.
The information from Anatomy Trains really is fantastic and should be learned by yoga teachers so they can understand Global and Local stretching and begin to contemplate some of the disfunction’s. **Here though is probably the most useful part of my rant, rather than become a trained massage therapist for teaching yoga (in which you should quit teaching yoga if you really want to put your hands on people that much) you should entail on a journey of learning about muscle chains and how work with the unique nature of them in yoga asana. It will primarily be the work of the muscles by which you move the fascia, better balance the stress in local areas and perform more balance global stretches of it as well. There are many models of muscle chains and some of them mimic most of if not all the Anatomy Trains. And they existed way before an anatomist ever teased each of the myofascial tracts of the Anatomy Trains out.
The information was teased out correctly I believe and done so beautifully, but for a different purpose than practicing yoga asana. Asana today is at the surface a physical activity and if anything relates the most closely to it today for science it would be Kinesiology or Bio-Mechanics. Of which understanding the myofascial meridians, sutra lines and more all help in the putting into practical use of.
Please don’t release all of your fascia, for every tight – over’integrated area there is a more lose under’integrated area (for most folks). And if you are a yoga instructor, please don’t go shoving your fingers in every stiff shouldered persons armpits either, for heaven sakes. Less fondling in yoga!