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Don't Forget Your Fascia

What is fascia – and why does it matter?

Fascia is what holds us together. This truly remarkable connective tissue surrounds everything - our muscles, organs and bones – separating some structures from one another, joining others together. Think of it like webbing, keeping everything in its place and integrating us as a whole. In some places this webbing is fibrous, like bungee-cord, in other places it’s more gel-like, but together these fascial tissues connect every part of the body with every other part – weaving our muscles, bones, organs, nerves, and blood vessels together into a complete, interconnected network – the ultimate representation of oneness within our own bodies. It’s the reason why a leg stretch might soften a stiff neck, or a hip opener can relieve back pain – what happens in one part of our body has a ripple effect, via our fascia everywhere else. Through our fascia, everything is connected.

When we exercise we tend to think about our muscles – making them stronger, more flexible, more toned. Or maybe about our bones – improving their density, keeping them strong. Or even our cardio-respiratory system – strengthening our hearts, boosting our lung capacity. Our fascia is all too often overlooked – the forgotten fibres. But just like muscles – if fascia is neglected, overstressed, locked into repetitive behaviour patterns, it can get weak, tight, ‘stuck’, or damaged. And because of its unifying nature – fascial problems in one area, often have body-wide repercussions.

Fascia is also a major organ of proprioception – our hidden sixth sense – our body’s ability to sense its location and movement without input from our eyes. Without proprioception we wouldn’t be able to touch our nose with our eyes closed, or walk without looking at our feet. Fascia is filled with sensory nerve endings that are constantly communicating with our brains about our body’s position in space. We all possess an adequate level of proprioception to be able to move without thinking about it, but research is now showing that high levels of proprioception offers many more benefits - from healthier aging, to decreasing levels of pain in the body.

So how do we look after our Fascia?

The key to keeping fascia healthy is movement. If we don’t move, fascia can get dehydrated (more about that in a moment), bound up and a bit stuck. Think about that first stretch of the day when you wake up – stretching your arms overhead, usually with a big yawn – what you’re doing is opening back out all the fibrous fascia that has bound together overnight. That's what fascia does when we're static - a bit like felt or velcro – it starts to adhere to itself and tangle up. Now think about those parts of your body that you rarely move and stretch – parts of your body that stay stuck in the same position for hours on end. The less often you move and stretch your fascia, the harder it can become to release, and the greater the knock-on effect throughout your body.

BUT, when it comes to keeping fascia healthy, not all movement is equal.... what fascia craves is varied movement, in every direction - just the kind we get from (you guessed it) Yoga!

If we load our fascia in the same way all the time (eg through running, cycling, or even just sitting at a desk for eight hours a day), it can grow weaker and more prone to injury. But if we feed our fascia a variety of movements – like yoga, walking on varied terrains, building snowmen, climbing trees (channel your inner child here!), our fascia will respond by adapting – by rebuilding itself to become stronger, maybe longer, and more resilient.

Yoga is also great for keeping our fascia hydrated, which is key, as water is the main component of fascia – especially the more gel-like webbing. When we hold a yoga pose, stretching or contracting our muscles, water squeezes out of our fascia. When we come out of the pose, our fascia rehydrates – and not just back to its original level – yoga gives it a super boost and it soaks up even more water than it lost. Hydrated fascia is happy fascia! It may take time for our more fibrous fascial webbing to thin out and un-adhere – maybe weeks or even months, but our more gel-like fascia can change to a more liquid state over the course of just one yoga practice – allowing more sliding, less resistance and less pain.

Research into the importance of fascia is still in its infancy – there will no doubt be more fascinating finds to come! In the meantime, let’s take care of our fascia through a diverse, and regular yoga practice (other varied forms of movement are available) and work with that sense of oneness that fascia represents within our bodies. Whatever asana you are in, can you put your attention everywhere – not just to the obviously stretched bits that are talking to you. Scan through your body, stay curious, enjoy that process of self-enquiry. Does adjusting your hand position help your neck, does softening your jaw ease your hip?

Can you create a full body experience and feel that oneness, as you nurture and nourish your fascia, so that it can continue to support you - from the inside out.

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