At its most basic definition, fascia is connective tissue. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “a sheet of tissue that covers or connects parts inside the body (such as muscles).”
It’s basically the fabric that holds us together.
Given fascia’s integral role in our bodies, it’s important to take good care of it. I spoke to world-class yogi and fascia guru, Charles Maclnerney to uncover what we should—and shouldn’t—do to keep our fascia healthy and happy.
In talking with Charles, I found out that healthy fascia is well hydrated with a gel-like consistency. You should read the first part of our conversation together if you want a more in-depth look at what, exactly, fascia is. Here’s how to treat it right.
So how do you keep fascia in the healthy, fluid-like state?
Hydration is essential to the fascia, but you can’t necessarily chug a liter of water to do the job. The fluid has to work its way through the fascia, but unlike blood and the heart, for example, there’s nothing pumping it through the body. So it’s the types of movements and stretches you do that get fluid moving into the fascia. The best thing in the world is any type of rhythmic contraction and relaxing action. Stretching, turning upside down—all of these help.
Knowing fascia can be stiff in the morning, what’s the first thing you do when the alarm clock goes off?
We should watch animals, because every time they wake up they stretch really big and yawn. And that’s good! So my favorite thing to do is to set my alarm about an hour before I need to get up and then when the alarm goes off, I hit snooze. And I just lay, kind of like in savasana. And usually after about 10 or 15 breaths I’ll get the urge to stretch. I keep it small and contained to just the core and take a few breaths. And usually after a minute or two, it’s kind of like a yawn, where the urge comes up from somewhere deep within and I get the urge to stretch again. And I keep doing that until I’m wide awake and ready to start the day.
So what does fascia not like?
Fascia doesn’t like to stay static for too long, it immobilizes. Inactivity can cross-bond with the fascia sheath, so when you don’t stretch, instead of gliding inside that nice smooth facial sheet, you get oxidation and the nerve gets attached to the sheath and it can’t move freely. Other things like isolating muscles, training in the same tempos, or training too fast are also bad.
So if you’re a runner, for example, don’t run everyday?
Well if you did, run differently. Run with hills one day and on flat terrain the next. Try running for less time, but faster. And do a leisurely run the next day. The greater the variety, the healthier the fascia becomes.
You say to always choose boredom over pain—how do you know when you’re pushing yourself too far as far as fascia is concerned?
The longer I have practiced yoga, the more I am coming to believe in subtlety and the power of less. I believe in focusing on efficiency over brute force, because with very few exceptions, pain is never good. And when you are pushing into discomfort, your brain starts signaling to muscles to tighten up. And with any type of stress or strain, the fascia tends to grip down and crystallize, which is the worst thing.
And does it stay that way?
When you work with people with chronic pain, it seems to be locked down. But I think initially, it grips at first and then releases when the pain goes away. But if that pain comes too often, too quickly, it goes “why bother relaxing?” And it gets into this frozen state, which is very unhealthy.
So when you injure any one of these anatomy parts—be it bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, fascia—they all have to heal together?
Yes, an injury in one area affects your entire body. IT bands are a good example. Many runners suffer from tight IT bands. If you palpate in the mid-thoracic spine, it will be hard and painful. And if you put two tennis balls there and lay on them and spend a half hour working your way down your back, when you get to the mid-thoracic area to release, the IT bands will release. Because the problem wasn’t the IT bands, it was the mid-thoracic pulling that was pulling on the IT bands and causing the pain.
As far as tennis/lacrosse balls, foam rolling, etc., what do you recommend for daily upkeep?
Those are all great. Typically what I do is use a foam roll or tennis balls once or twice a week. If I have a really key area, I might do two or three days in a row, but I don’t do it daily. And remember, you want variety. So doing the same thing everyday won’t be good for the fascia. Roll along the fibers one day and across them the next. I would also vary the softness and firmness of your roller.
I’ve found that when using tennis balls, I can sometimes hit resistance that is pretty painful. How do you know when to push through or back off?
There’s a fine balance there. And one of the ways I know what edge I’m at of that equation is by my ability to surrender and breathe. When I get to an area that is tight, I try to send my consciousness to it by relaxing the area and breathing into it. So it’s not about letting the ball break up the fascia, it’s about the ball bringing my attention to that area and then I use my breath and heaviness to lean into it and release it. And if I can’t, that’s my indication that I’m at too high of a level. If my body refuses to relax into it, then I back off, going to a smaller ball or softer roller to soften it and then I try it again.
Want to learn more about fascia? Check out the first part of my interview with Charles in Fascinated By Fascia.
Charles Maclnerney is an E-RYT-500-hour certified yoga instructor living and teaching in Austin, Texas. He began practicing yoga at 11 years old and has spent the last 44 years dedicated to the practice. He teaches a fascia workshop and is a co-founder of the Living Yoga Teacher Training Program. For information about the variety of yoga retreats that Charles offers throughout the year, please visit his website: www.yogateacher.com or email him.
Laci Mosier is a copywriter living and loving in Austin, Texas. She and her one-eyed pirate dog live for exploring and discovering life’s magic. She is most inspired by yoga, running, Kundalini meditation, good books, great jams and even better coffee. Getting lost is where she is most often found. Follow her on the Twittersphere or Instagram.