You have probably noticed the increased prevalence of the term ‘Fascia’ in recent years. Maybe you’re wondering what all the hype is about? Is this just the next goji-berry, fad-diet, conspiracy-theory BS? Well, it depends on how it’s used and applied.
To say that a form of bodywork or movement is “Fascial” or “Myofascial” is to specify an intention, not a technique.
Any and all movement and bodywork unavoidably contacts the fascia, whether we realize it or not. To specify an intention with Fascial or Myofascial work is to acknowledge the unique properties of fascia, and the interconnected nature of the body, through the Fascial web, but to be clear, moving and pressing on the fascia is unavoidable. It’s the alignment with the pathways and tendencies of this web that makes bodywork or movement ‘Fascial.’
First, it’s important to understand why fascia appears as a recent discovery. The Fascial Web wasn’t deliberately obscured. It was simply ignored for the most part, due to the prevalence of reductionist thinking in biological science, and our tendency to isolate parts out of the whole in the search for clarity and knowledge.
In the quest to dissect and identify every part of the human physiology, we inadvertently removed and discarded the thin connective tissue (fascia) which wraps and connects everything. The surgeon slices through it to access the the muscles, bones and organs, and while good surgeons work WITH the directional fibers of the fascia, they’re mostly concerned with what’s under it. While reductionist thinking is certainly a precise and powerful tool which has allowed us to catalogue the cells, nerves, bones and muscles, at a certain point we see the necessity of looking at how things actually work together. Our somatic (bodily) awareness is not compartmentalized into isolated cells, bones and mechanical levers.
-When we consider how our our consciousness relates through our body, it’s the connections that are arguably most important.
-We don’t ‘see’ individual muscles in our mind map.
So if there is one biological system that represents this interconnectedness, it’s the Fascial Network. Fascia connects every cell in the body, and it distributes strain through broad bands and slings, using tension and compression to transmit mechanical input, and it’s important to note that this aspect of mechanical tensegrity actually works independently from the central nervous system. But the Fascial web is also rich in nerve receptors, especially the Ruffini and Golgi receptors (which DO relate directly with the central nervous system), sensing pressure, stretch and vibration, thereby giving us our spatial awareness.
The fascia responds both immediately to mechanical pressure (faster than the CNS) and over time, laying down thicker layers of directional collagen fibers in response to repeated stress and strain over weeks, months and years. Fascia is NOT a problem or pathology which we are trying to remove, but the patterns which we develop through habit and repetition can become pathological, keeping us locked into chronic tension, lack of adequate range-of-motion, and leading to chronic injury.
When we practice Myofascial Release in a Structural Bodywork context, our intention is to release harmful patterns of adhesion in the Myofascia (muscle-related fascia), and encourage a more responsive, resilient and supple quality in our fascia.
This is where conscious myofascial movement comes in.
I’m not talking about a specific brand of movement (although “Anatomy Trains Slings In Motion” and “Functional Range Conditioning” are both excellent movement forms if you’re looking for something highly specific and precise), but simply taking what you learn and feel during the Myofascial Release work and gradually applying it to your favorite movement forms can yield great results over time.
It’s best to start with a simple, controlled movement form such as foundational Pilates, while avoiding anything that has too rigid of dogma, as you need to be able to adapt, shift and feel what’s happening. The point is to tune in with your body and see what it’s telling you.
Notice the connections from the feet to knees, knees to hips, hips to shoulders, spine through the fingers, and sacrum to occiput. Holding a subtle inner core presence, tuned in with your breath, allows you to activate the long, more superficial slings of myofascia which guide you through bigger movements.
As you practice in this way on the mat, you cultivate more functional body-awareness, and your fascia gradually becomes more supple, elastic, and responsive. Your comfortable, useable range opens up, bringing new options for movement which may have caused too much strain or instability before. I’m not talking about end-range flexibility, I’m talking about USEABLE RANGE. We want to encourage supple and elastic movement through a comfortable range.
The emphasis when we’re moving with the Fascia in mind is on suppleness, resilience, and integration of the whole body. We can develop this ‘skill’ of body-awareness, and gradually refine our movement patterns. There’s no immediate fix, or one-size-fits-all approach to posture and movement. It’s dynamic and adaptable, not static and isolated.
This is a physical, visceral and somatic practice. One of the great things about working with the Fascial system is that it allows you to feel constant, direct feedback and know if what you’re doing is working or not. You don’t need to place faith or belief outside of yourself. It’s quite the opposite: it’s using your somatic awareness and direct experience as a feedback loop to gradually develop your form in a way that allows you to connect with your environment in a more complete way.
This somatic awareness becomes less of a cerebral concept, and more of a presence. That’s when it starts to really connect into more challenging situations, whether that means at work, at the crag, in the water and on the trail.
I've really only just scratched the surface on the science and the current body of fascia-based research in this short blog post. My intention is to present just enough information to understand the concept, without ‘front-loading’ too many concepts and theories, but I encourage you to look into recent fascial research.
The Fascial Research Society (fascialresearchsociety.org) is a good place to start, along with my group and individual online classes for your own personal exploration into your Fascial Web.
Brian Cork, MSAOM, CMT