Even before the days of Covid-19 and our new pandemic culture, many of us were suffering from fascial dysfunctions, postural imbalances and mobility restrictions. This is an invitation and a simple introduction to the world of fascia and the body’s core. Every breath relies on the musculature and fascial net to sustain life. How are you breathing today? Does your rib cage expand in all directions or do did your shoulders elevate? We will start with a discussion fascial of the core of your physical body, which is sustained by a key fascial structure known as the Deep Front Line. Cultivating an intimate relationship with your core will empower you to be the strongest, deepest breathing , and most empowered version of your innermost self. The Deep Front Line literally lifts you up from the inside out. With a bit of insight into the routes and relationships governed by these fascial structures, we can start to unravel the secrets of a pain-free body.
Is your body adapting to the new normal? It is now almost Fall and, unless you are one of the lucky few who have converted the spare bedroom or living room into a gym, your body is likely taking on a new shape, with or without your approval. Staying home dictates a slower pace. Some of us have a little more time on our side, while others are confined to a desk and handcuffed to their screen more now than ever. This is our new normal. Introvert that I am, even I miss the comradery and motivation derived from workout socials. Unfortunately, for now, classes and class sizes are limited and, let’s face it, risky. Many of us have suspended our gym memberships and are working out at home. Online fitness is trending, and you have probably noticed the incredible variety of mobility drills, strength work, and stretching exercises for you to practice at home. This vast variety of information can be helpful, at best, but it can also be confusing if you are not well informed on how to integrate these movements into your routine. If you are lucky, you haven’t had to contend with the inflated prices and extended ship dates for home gym equipment.
Dumbbells may be expensive these days, but a little knowledge is priceless. Here is a little tutorial to understand fascia and your body from a bodywork practitioner’s perspective.
As bodywork pioneer Thomas Myers says, “We are islands of compression floating in a sea of tension.” He is referring to the forces supporting and articulating our skeletal body, in concert with the tensional forces of our soft tissue system of myofascial, aka fascial meridians, which balance these opposing forces. To put it simply, our body is made up of fascia: connective tissue that runs up, down, around, and through our body. Fascia is specialized internal tissue, composed primarily of collagen, that attaches, stabilizes, encloses and separates muscles and other internal organs. These connective tissues exhibit tremendous variety and exist in multiple distinct layers including superficial, deep, visceral and interstitial. It can be fine and delicate in some areas and thicker and denser in others, particularly when positioned nearer to joints or in areas where it is subject to tension over time. The primary function of fascia is to reduce friction between layers of tissue caused by muscular force and movement. In doing so, it provides a supportive and movable wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they slide and pass through and between muscles. In some cases this critical function can become impaired: chronic areas of strain become congested as cross fiber bindings form from overuse, preventing free movement, and scar tissue builds from over use or invasive trauma such as surgery. Fascial tissues are frequently innervated by sensory nerve endings. These perform proprioceptive (spatial perception), nociceptive (pain sensing) and interoceptive (tactile) functions. This dynamic and sensitive driving tissue is always listening and responding. Dense tissue, such the iliotibial (IT) band, provides stability and support and can deliver increased power and thrust (up to an additional 30%) when these structures are hydrated, tensioned, and tuned optimally. This is energy producing capability is known as Hydraulic Amplification, and is one of the great benefits of healthy fascial tissue. Beyond coordination, balance, and fine neuromuscular control, there is an effortless ease to our movements when our fascia is tensile and hydrated, allowing our movement patterns to feel effortless and our autonomic nervous system to be fully awake and responsive.
The Deep Front Line is a facial “superhighway” which starts at the medial plantar tarsal bones and runs deep through the posterior compartment of the lower leg, wrapping around the knee into the anterior septum of your thighs and up through the pelvis to the low back, further synthesizing with the head via the neck. This fascial line connects the feet and ankles to your hips, and pain that you feel at one end, such as the hips, may originate from imbalances at the other end. When working in unison, the healthy tissues along this line not only stabilize your body from the ground up, but when well-maintained, allow for you to catch yourself in mid fall, such as when you misstep off a curb or start to trip. In mechanical terms, the deepest layer of connective tissue, “ground substance” acts in a variety of ways. Its viscosity reduces the sudden forces to minimize damage to tissues. Its elasticity allows for the change of shape to return to normal when forces subside. Its plasticity allows it to remodel in response to gravity and scar tissue. Its dense and highly innervated scaffolding forms a guide wire running up and down the body, acting like a physical early warning system. Our nervous system can turn parts of this fascial system on or off, as in frozen shoulder, or bypass and re-route movement. All of this is to say, we are highly adaptive from moment to moment — more than you might think.
The somatic and emotional price of the stress and unease we are all feeling during these challenging times can create fascial distortions that in turn can cause tremendous discomfort and pain, leading to a vicious cycle of even greater emotional strain, disruption of once loved activities, and sleepless nights. All fascial lines working together make for broader adaptability in your posture rather than requiring perfect symmetry. We are always moving, even when standing in stillness or sitting, and all the postures we express are opposing gravity and present opportunities to improve our quality of life in motion, especially in times of unprecedented stress and unpredictability.
According to Plato, Heraclitus once said that “all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.” We can all hope this statement still rings true in 2020. Highly adaptive bodies move intentionally. Nerves that fire together wire together and that can be incredibly useful, but can also turn into a counterproductive habitual movement that needs to be unlearned as soon as possible. If you can train your body towards being more adaptable, your movement will become both positive and instinctive. It’s never too late to start correcting your bad postural habits. You can start to release deep fascial adhesions and distortions, rehabilitate, train, stretch and activate your core today. Before you know it, the gains will pay off with a lifetime of better balance, coordination and timing.