Gry Bech-Hanssen discusses the benefits that strong and functional hip flexors could have on your backside and range of motion.
Looking to relieve neck pain? Try these Yoga Medicine exercises from Tiffany Cruikshank and Diane Malaspina to help release tension and tightness in the neck.
By Bee Creel for Yoga Journal.
Before you book that massage or get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns about your neck pain, try one or more of these yoga poses and stretches.
Whether you woke up with tension in your neck or you often have low-grade pain because you spend so much time hunched over your phone or laptop (hello, tech neck!), you know that neck strain can be terrible. What’s worse, it can also lead to poor posture, irritability, and even migraine headaches.
If you’re dealing with neck pain, it’s important not to do anything to make it worse. Avoid deep stretches, says Tiffany Cruikshank, an acupuncturist, yoga teacher, and founder of Yoga Medicine®. And if the muscles in your neck are in spasm, Cruikshank recommends taking an epsom salt bath to help calm the inflammation.
When you’re ready for some gentle stretching, try this sequence created by Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist Diane Malaspina, Ph.D. Grab a foam roller, block, and strap and practice one or all of the following yoga poses designed to ease neck pain—fast.
Yoga for Neck Pain: A Home Practice
Neck Stretches with Strap
Trapezius and Neck Release
From a comfortable seat, bring your left hand behind your body, resting your left hand on your right thigh. If you are unable to reach your thigh, rest your hand on the floor behind you. Drop your head to the right and hold for 10 slow breaths, then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Thoracic Extension on the Foam Roller
Charlotte Johnson for Yoga Medicine® shares how yoga for athletic recovery can help during long-haul endurance sports like multi-day cycling tours.
Yoga at an Endurance Sporting Event
The JoBerg2c is a 9-day mountain biking race from the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, to the coast – 900 kilometers away. Over 800 riders enter this event every year. And this year I joined the recovery team to offer yoga and myofascial release sessions to the riders. It is an incredible learning experience to work with a mountain biker after one long day in the saddle. But to do this nine days in a row requires a different application of yoga and recovery techniques as the athletes’ bodies wear the stress over the course of the race.
The mind of the athlete is key
The long-distance triathlete Sebastian Kienle said; “Your body drives you to the line, but your mind makes you cross it”. I instantly became aware of the role that the mind plays on an endurance race. I would argue that the mind is also what drives you to the line. The athletes who gained control of their minds were clearly having a different experience than the other athletes. Athletes who were invested in the enjoyment and the experience of their sport, rather than solely their performance or ranking, appeared to wear the physical effects of the race better than those who allowed themselves to be weighed down by fears, uncertainty, pain, and performance. In particular, one athlete stood out to me. He was over 60 years old and his sheer enjoyment of mountain biking seemed to keep him (somewhat miraculously) pain-free throughout the race.
So how did I apply yoga? After noticing this, I spent time in every session inviting and guiding the athletes to take control of their experience. I would invite them to mentally recap their day and to think of a few things they were grateful for, such as the things that went right that day. I encouraged them to recall all the reasons why they enjoy their sport. Many of these athletes are riding it for a purpose beyond themselves – for a charity or in memory of loved ones lost. It was helpful to reconnect with these purposes. It was also good to acknowledge that although the race held many factors that were beyond personal control. The one factor that did remain in their control was the choice of how they would respond to adversity or the unexpected.
The immune system of the athlete needs TLC!
In the JoBerg2c, the average athlete spends about 6-8 hours in the saddle daily and therefore, would have anywhere between 12-16 hours of recovery time before getting back in the saddle. However, the body’s recovery rate starts to slow down over the course of nine days as you keep loading the body with stressors without giving it enough time to fully return to homeostasis.
My perception is that from Day 1- 3, the athletes experienced general muscle soreness, cramping, and fatigue. Yet they were able to return to a somewhat rested state between these days. From Days 4-7, the recovery time noticeably slowed and the athletes’ immune systems became compromised. Many athletes picked up head colds and stomach issues. This was also the time period during which I noticed the mental fatigue, resulting in more accidents and errors occurring on the bike.
During this time, I took particular care with addressing the immune system through yoga. Imagine being taken out of the race of your life over a runny nose! During these yoga sessions I focused on boosting circulation, reducing stress, and facilitating relaxation.
These were my main focus points:
- Boosting circulation assists the body in processing toxins faster. To do this, I offered poses that incorporated gentle compressions such as twists, child’s pose, or a modified version of broken toe pose.
- Stress reduction is important because when one is on a bike descending a sheer cliff face, there is a good amount of adrenaline pumping through the body as the sympathetic response kicks in. This sympathetic response is good for keeping one alive and negotiating obstacles on the bike with acuity. However, too much time spent in this heightened state starts to impact the body on multiple levels, including adversely affecting the immune system. I spent time cultivating breath awareness and deepening the breath. The movement of the diaphragm during slower, deeper breathing . massages the vagus nerve, in turn tbreathing.he parasympathetic response which reduces stress.
- Facilitating relaxation when you have a limited amount of time to gain the maximum amount of recovery is important, however, not all relaxations are made the same. This means there are ways to quickly ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response versus times where you can slowly slide into relaxation, like putting your feet up with a beer in hand. The former being the method of choice when your body has limited recovery time. To ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response, I offered restorative or yin style postures that made use of props for support. I also incorporated myofascial release techniques into the practice. It is best to try ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response within the first 2 hours after exercise.
Here’s what I didn’t expect…
I expected a consistent decline after the effects of fatigue kicked in. I expected my exhaustion to compound. Instead around Day 7 or earlier, many athletes had adapted or compensated to reach a strength and resilience plateau. They felt physically strong, mentally capable and were enjoying their sport. Noting how quickly the athletes were able to adapt, I came back to the importance of the mind in an endurance race. It is impossible to ignore the correlations between the strength of the mind (affected by among other factors, the enjoyment of the sport) and an athlete’s recovery rate or their perceived need for recovery.
I also pondered on the effect that nature had on recovery. For nine days we were steeped in the most remote and beautiful landscapes that the South African hinterland has to offer. It made me think of what the author Henry David Thoreau described as “wilderness tonic”. I dug a little deeper on this one and found that, indeed, there is scientific evidence backing the positive effects that being in nature has on the immune system and recovery rate.
You can recover “too much”
By this I mean that in the body’s return to homeostasis, inserting too many recovery methods can, in fact, hinder the process. At the race, there were various recovery options available – physio, sports massage, dry needling, yoga, myofascial release, compression boots, and more! There were athletes that would come off a bad day on the bike feeling cramping, sore and shattered, then work their way through every therapy available. But it’s important to remember that many of these modalities also requires a recovery period for the tissues to respond and adapt so more isn’t always better.
In myofascial release for example, we are triggering an inflammatory response to instigate the healing process that allows the tissues to adapt and recover more quickly. As the body heals, it lays down the collagenous fascial wave in a stronger, more orderly configuration indicative of healthy fascia. However, with deeper, more aggressive work, there is also more inflammation. And thus, more recovery time is needed. When an athlete is low on recovery time, it is very important to mete out the amount of therapies one applies. To take care in this regard, I applied gentle myofascial work, in the initial days of the race. I stayed away from highly inflamed areas of the body (due to over-exertion), such as the legs. And focused on areas of secondary stress such as the quadratus lumborum and semispinalis capitus.
It was important to assess the need of each athlete and for some, I had to prescribe the feet-up-beer-in-hand recovery option as their tissues would not benefit from the additional inflammation. For these athletes, it was also important to reacquaint and reassure them of their body’s ability to adapt and recover because in many cases, the angst around recovery sat within the mind. Many athletes needed to be reminded that their body had a keen sense of its own recovery process and that their success or failure did not hinge on a myofascial release tool or a massage table.
Watching and working with these athletes over nine days shattered many preconceived notions I had about how bodies function in certain conditions. It ultimately reminded me anew of the magic that is the synergies between the mind and body and how important it is to engage all of ourselves in the way we move and heal.
Bridging Eastern and Western healing: with Tiffany Cruikshank
Why do you practice yoga? Do you come to the practice to help heal an injury, support spinal health, or perhaps, release some stress? Maybe yoga is your spiritual practice, and the physical benefits are an afterthought. A fusion of all these things?
For Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine®, the magic of yoga — and what had her create a yoga school — is an appreciation for how yoga can support the whole person. We spoke with her about how her approach fuses Eastern and Western medicine. Learn why this might just be the future of yoga as a healing modality.
Chinese Medicine & Healing
“I think the beauty of both, yoga and Chinese medicine is looking at who this person is,” she says. “I love teaching our teachers… not, ‘here’s this pose for headaches’ or ‘here’s this pose for hypertension’, but really understanding: who is this person? And, what is it that unlocks the mystery of their health journey?
It’s not necessarily that I can just look at someone and know. It’s not a magical thing. Truly it’s not a clear-cut approach but really learning how to understand the human being, both from a physiological standpoint and an anatomical standpoint. What makes sense to me is the Chinese medicine context as well. Because for me, that’s where it starts to tie in the whole person. It starts to bring together the psychological aspects, the physical aspects, and the physiological aspects.”
What Does it Mean to be Healthy
Her experience forms the philosophical foundation for her Yoga Medicine® approach to movement and health. It’s not about creating a one-size-fits-all program, Tiffany says, but answering a broader question: what does it mean to be healthy.
“I think there is a healthy concurrent to enjoying your exercise, but there’s always the sense that we have to beat ourselves up to be healthy and I really believe to be healthy is about supporting your body’s natural capacities. Yes, we get lazy and at times have to push ourselves to get out and do something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to beat ourselves up. I’m not saying there’s no place for intensive intervals and things like that, I think there’s a place for everything.
For me, [it’s about] questioning what it means to be healthy and where these ideas come from… What drives it… and how that feeds my priorities. I think the beauty of yoga is the lifestyle that it creates, the mindfulness that it creates for us to look at and examine and take ownership of our health, of our lives. And as I get older, for me it’s also just recognizing that you only have so much time in this world, you only have so much time in this life. How should we use that time? For some people that might be running, and for others that might be with their families or doing yoga.
You know, the beauty of yoga is that it can fit seamlessly into that. It can just be a few minutes of meditation, it can just be a few minutes a day, and be something that really supports everything else that you’re doing. I think that’s why it has caught on fire all around the world.”
Interested in herbalism from the young age of 14, Tiffany now has a breadth of training that bridges both classical Eastern medicine, in the forms of yoga and acupuncture and oriental medicine, with Western medicine in the form of rigorous anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. She dreamed of playing professional tennis. Because of this, sports medicine drew her interest in school. This created a foundation to be the link between the traditional practices of yoga and oriental medicine. Tiffany explains that doctors and practitioners are wanting to increase the inclusion of yoga in their work.
“I feel that a lot of the desire for doctors wanting to use it is there, they just really don’t know how to. And fair enough, the reality as a healthcare provider is if you refer your patient to go to yoga, you might get in a lot of trouble because they can end up in an Ashtanga class, they might end up in a Yin Yoga class or anything in between, all of which could be fantastic, any one of those could be the cure to all their problems – or potentially not. Because it could potentially make things worse.” And this is where Tiffany and her school are raising the bar on teacher trainings. Although she doesn’t believe yoga teachers are meant to be diagnosing students’ ailments or injuries, she does believe her students can be prepared to better interact with the medical world.
Engaging the Medical Community
“My purpose was really just to train teachers on a deeper level, to be a resource of teachers to serve the medical providers. My school, Yoga Medicine® is not a style of yoga but a school that trains teachers to think for themselves and apply the appropriate style and techniques for the individual. I really believe that there’s a place for every style of yoga out there. It’s just knowing how and when to use them and in what context it would be most helpful for people. Especially if you are talking about people who are injured or sick for whatever reason.”
If that means she can get medical professionals into her training, whether to gain perspective for themselves or to learn how to better use yoga in their practices, she’s thrilled. “For doctors, I think it’s changed a lot. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for us to see in a training of 70 people that 20 of them are healthcare providers of some sort. From surgeons to anaesthesiologists to radiologists, and obviously, there’s been physiotherapists coming into the yoga world for a while, massage therapists, but the doctors I think is a new thing, at least for me in the past few years. Surgeons and doctors who are already set up in the medical world, in hospitals, are wanting to come in and learn how to teach yoga in those facilities, which is crazy.”
Crazy amazing, in our opinion.
Erica Yeary for Yoga Medicine® shares some key information on what the erector spinae is, what it does, and how to treat it.
5 Steps to Release The Erector Spinae & Balance Organ FunctionThe more time I spend studying the anatomy of the human body, the more I am fascinated I am. Both the function of individual systems and how the systems are intricately interconnected are astounding. To dive into both, we are going to look specifically at the function of the erector spinae muscles, how they connect with other systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how to use myofascial release (MFR) techniques to address issues throughout the body.
Erector SpinaeFirst, let’s get to know the function of the erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae is a group of muscles that extend on each side of the spinal column from the skull to the thoracolumbar fascia in the pelvic region. The three muscles, from medial to lateral, are the spinalis, logissimus, and iliocostalis. These are powerful, movement-oriented muscles that create bilateral extension of the spine and unilateral rotation and/or lateral flexion. Without the strength of the erectors, we would not be able to stand up straight. While strength in this muscle is imperative, many people can have overly tight erector spinae muscles and present with lower cross syndrome, which is a condition where the lumbar spine is overly curved with an anterior pelvic tilt and hyperlordosis. As a result, many people could benefit from utilizing MFR techniques on this group of muscles. But what if you feel along the sides of your spine and the muscles don’t feel tight or tender? You could still benefit from MFR because of the interconnected communication between these muscles and other systems of the body. Much like our physical hips are related to our “emotional junk drawer”, the erector muscles are more than just physical movers of the spine. Specific points along the erectors are direct links to major systems of the body, as explained in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The following steps explain how to use tennis balls or MFR balls to not only release the muscles themselves, but also aid in the function of specific internal organs. As a general rule of thumb, stay at each step between 30 seconds and 2 minutes for the full effects to settle in.
Step 1Place two balls that are touching at the center of your mat. Lay down on your back on top of the balls so that they are on either side of the spine (not on top of the spine itself) at the level of the top of your shoulder blade or T1. The knees can be bent or straight. If the intensity is too much, place a blanket on top of the balls and then lay on top of the blanket. Feel free to move the arms in a manner that is appropriate for you, which could include giving yourself a hug or just letting the arms fall to the sides. This location is known as the UB11 acu-point and it relates to the lungs by spreading and descending Lung Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Stimulating this location can help with coughing or an inability to connect with your breath.
Step 2Roll the balls down the back until they are at the level of the bottom of the shoulder blade at T7 on either side of the spine. Relax the shoulders down on the ground. Stimulating this location, known as UB17, can invigorate the blood to aid in any blood or cardiovascular related conditions because it is the converging point of blood.
Step 3Roll the balls down just a little further to T9. If you wear a bra, this is about the level of the horizontal bra strap across the back. Continue to let the entire body be heavy down on the ground with the balls on either side of the spine. This location would be particularly important to address if you consume alcohol on a regular basis because UB18 acu-point is related to the liver and gallbladder.
Step 4Remain on your back as you roll the balls further down the spine to the base of the ribcage at T11 and T12. This is slightly below the level of the belly button. Continue to breathe deeply and relax the muscles in contact with the balls. For increased intensity, you may bring the knees in toward the chest slowly. Known as the UB20 acu-point, stimulating this location can help with bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and any spleen conditions because it is related to the spleen and stomach.
Step 5The final MFR location is at start of the lumbar curve of the spine at L2. Make sure the balls are still touching and on either side of the spine. This location, the UB23, is known to strengthen and balance the kidneys. After 30 seconds to 2 minutes, remove the balls and lay flat on the ground to reflect on any changes you feel.
Quick Tips for MFRAlways look for an area that you can calmly breathe and relax in without pain, sharp and/or shooting sensations. Avoid nerves, bones (in this instance, especially the spine!), visible swelling or bruising, and broken skin. Always consult healthcare provider first as this is not meant to replace medical care.
Michelle Dickey for Yoga Medicine® on what the interstitium is, what it does, how it can affect your yoga practice, and how to keep it healthy.
The Interstitium: Breaking Down the Mystery
What is all this talk about our “new human organ”? Did scientists really NOT know about an entire organ in the body? You might have heard that a new human organ has been discovered. On March 28, 2018, scientists named the new organ the “Interstitium”. Upon first reading this, my instant reaction was to wonder how scientists could possibly discover a new organ. We’re all aware of our heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, etc. being organs, so how is it that one got overlooked?
In 2017, I was lucky enough to take part in Yoga Medicine’s cadaver lab where we dissected untreated cadavers. Untreated means that the body is not preserved with formaldehyde nor had the body been previously deconstructed. Throughout this dissection, Master Dissector Todd Garcia would name the various tissues that we were handling and moving through. This included all the organs. Not once in this dissection, did the trainer stop and hold up anything and say “this is a thing without a name,” and then move on. So, it baffled me when I saw the headline about discovering a new organ. Especially because my hands had been in a cadaver, learning about all the different components within the human body.
What is it?
The newly discovered interstitium is defined as “a contiguous fluid-filled space existing between the skin and the body organs, including muscles and the circulatory system.”  That means that this organ covers the whole body from head to toe and is underneath our skin but before our body organs. Our skin isn’t that thick; it’s about the thickness of a few pieces of paper. Somehow this new organ lies under that single piece of paper before the muscles? That seems pretty crazy.
Now it becomes a little easier to see why this organ was hiding from us for so long. With the more common organs such as the heart and lungs, etc, we have a large mass of body tissue that is palpable. These more common organs are able to be seen right away within the body as they have their own individual texture and feel to them that differentiates them from the other body tissue surrounding them.
Where is it?
But this interstitium, it’s the king of hide-and-seek. In a cadaver, peel off the skin, first layer of adipose, and fascia, and you’re left looking at, what appears to be, the beginning of the silvery layer of deep fascia that covers the muscles. At least that’s what was previously thought.
In the video link below , you can watch as Fascial Researcher Gil Hedley dissects various parts of the body and finds in each area that between the skin and the muscles and organs of the body, there is this layer that is extremely difficult to see unless you know to look for it. Watch as Gil Hedley expertly dissects through this “fuzzy layer” or “perifascia” and shows that this isn’t just a slimy goop of boogers hanging out on top of things, but it’s a very fine layer of collagen and elastin that has rebound properties and tensity.
This tiny, tiny layer of fuzz, is so thin it’s transparent. This is the “new” organ that is finally coming out into the open. The layer is tricky though because when exposed to the elements, it hardens and turns brown and doesn’t seem to be of any true importance. This hardened layer was thought to be a densely-packed stack of connective tissue, lacking moisture. It wasn’t until a team of researchers, using a new in vivo microscope technique called confocal laser endomicroscopy, discovered this layer while investigating a patient’s bile duct for cancer. They found that within this fuzzy layer are microscopic subcompartments of interstitial fluid (aka lymph fluid) that wrap around the entire body and connect into the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system connection that the interstitium has could be a key player in cancer metastasis .
Just like the other organs in our body, there are ways to keep this newly defined interstitium healthy and strong so it can continue to act as a shock absorber (because of the rebound properties) and help protect you from damage.
How to Keep It Healthy
Taking part in a yoga class works many different areas of the body from the cardiovascular system to the muscular system and everything in between. To focus in on the interstitium during your practice, pay attention to longer holds of poses and work into a gentle “bounce and recoil” within these holds.
For example if you’re in low lunge, pretend your back leg is a rubber band and deepen your stretch to your body’s most comfortable depth and then let your body rebound naturally to the natural lunge stance. Try not to control the rebound but let the body’s natural elasticity bring you back to the starting pose – thus working the elastic properties of the interstitium.
2. Myofascial Release Techniques (MFR):
MFR is a great way to work the interstitium as well as multiple fascial lines throughout the body. As an example, while standing, take a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and place it underneath the middle of your foot. Then, roll the ball from the base of the heel to the toes in a straight line. Next move the ball to the outer side of your same foot and repeat rolling in a straight line from heel to toes.
Move the ball to the inner side of the foot and repeat once more from heel to toes. After you’ve rolled the middle, outer, and inner sides of the foot, go back to a spot that felt it needed more work, place the ball under that spot and set your heel down. Wrap and unwrap your toes around the ball. Repeat on as many spots as needed then switch and repeat on other foot. This can be done throughout the entire body in a variety of ways and will reduce and eliminate restrictions.
Drinking water will help keep the moisture and elastic properties of your fascia, including the interstitium. Try to get at least eight – 8 oz. glasses of water each day to help keep your body and interstitium at peak function.
- Wiig, H; Swartz, M. A (2012). “Interstitial fluid and lymph formation and transport: Physiological regulation and roles in inflammation and cancer”. Retrieved April 11, 2018 from Physiological Reviews https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00037.2011
- Hedley, Gil – Somanaut (2018, March 28). “Interstitium aka: Perifascia: Gil Hedley dissects “the fuzz” on camera.1” [Video File] Retrieved April 11, 2018 from Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=407&v=gf_2TSnlagM
- Olena, Abby (2018). “Is the Interstitium Really a New Organ?”. Retrieved April 11, 2018 from The Scientist https://www.the-scientist.com/ articles.view/articleNo/52168/title/Is-the-Interstitium-Really-a-New-Organ
Tiffany Cruikshank, LAc, MAOM, E-RYT, discusses the importance of caring for your connective tissues, and how myofascial release can be a powerful tool for relieving tightness and discomfort. Reprinted from Well Being Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2 print edition. See digital and more at www.wellbeingjournal.com.
Connective Tissue Health & Myofascial Release
Connective tissue has a long history of being overlooked. It has always been ignored in favor of what seem to be more important features in the body. In medical school cadaver dissections, the connective tissue is carefully extracted and thrown away to reveal the more precious structures and organs. But, finally, our low prioritization of it is finally being reconsidered. Recent research is putting fascia and other connective tissue in the spotlight. With so many new studies opening our eyes to the crucial functions of this tissue, we need to reexamine our understanding of it and its potential contributions to our health.
Fascia is a type of connective tissue. It has a broad array of functions, including linking nearby tissues, supporting organs, reducing friction that comes with muscular force, forming compartments that enclose groups of muscles and other structures, separating tissues, investing the tendons (thereby adding to their strength and resilience), creating functional chains of muscles that allow us to move more smoothly and efficiently, and much more. This tissue also contains important immune cells, protective adipose cells, myofibroblasts that assist tissue healing, and a complex communication system to help oversee it all.
Another important feature of fascia is that it is a continuous intermeshed system of fibrous tissue that weaves through the body, from head to toe. This interconnected system can be the reason your pain in one area may be influenced by changes in another part of your body. It is also a big part of how we adapt and respond to stress via a body-wide tension-distributing system. Every year, half the fascial fibers (collagen) are replaced in a healthy body, providing us with a powerful intervention point to steer these changes in the tissues at any time.
The term myofascial release refers to any technique that works on the muscles and the fascia. There are many different modalities; however, the most common self-myofascial release (SMFR) techniques usually involve the use of balls or foam rollers. The beauty of SMFR is that it can be done with simple tools and training. Which means, it is a very accessible tool. There are numerous articles and studies showing positive outcomes for these modalities. The main limiting factors of these studies are that many of them are small and their methods can vary considerably. Nevertheless, most of them show significant positive outcomes with only minor side effects, which usually involve temporary soreness and/or bruising.
Fibroblasts, cells within the fascia that are responsible for producing the fascial matrix. They play a large role in how the tissues remodel over time in response to the demands placed on them. These demands can have relatively positive (as in yoga, stretching, exercise, or myofascial release) or negative (in the case of poor posture, repetitive motions, or injuries) effects on the way the fibroblasts remodel the components of our connective tissue. Myofascial release is thought to both stimulate and regulate fibroblasts; it helps break down excessive connective tissue deposition as well as stimulates them to produce new, more resilient connective tissue. It also enhances the hydration of this tissue.
Uses of Self-Myofascial Release
Probably the most well-known uses of SMFR are to increase mobility and relieve pain and injuries. The effects of SMFR on mobility are probably the most commonly studied, with positive but often temporary effects seen. Immobility, repetitive movements, poor posture, and injuries can all cause excessive collagen deposition that leads to fibrosis or adhesions between the tissues, resulting in diminished range of motion and mobility. SMFR helps to reduce and prevent excessive collagen deposition by increasing collagen turnover to keep the tissues strong, elastic, and resilient. This feature is critical both for working with injuries and helping to prevent them. Also, one of the great advantages to using SMFR is that the increases in mobility do not initiate the temporary decrease in muscle power and performance seen with stretching.
A key feature of connective tissue that we are still learning about is its function as a communication system. With six times as many sensory neurons than are found in any other tissue (besides the skin), the fascia is a huge sensory organ important both for proprioception (spatial awareness) and interoception (internal body awareness). One of the often-overlooked benefits of myofascial release is this increase in proprioception, which you feel right away. Try, for instance, rolling out your feet before attempting a challenging balance position, and you can experience this firsthand. Research suggests that increasing proprioception can also decrease pain. What’s even more interesting is the new research pointing to the fascia having its own internal communication system, which functions independently from the nervous system via vibration, crystallinity, and electricity. This suggests an inherent body-wide intelligence within this system.
The Recovery Rounds by Yoga Medicine® + RAD
Fascia & Immunity
There are also other body functions that SMFR influences—the parasympathetic response, the blood and lymph circulation, and possibly many more that may be revealed as the studies continue. In addition, there are mental and emotional implications of the connective tissue system that we don’t fully understand yet. Practitioners may observe this in their clients as an unexpected emotional release that may spontaneously arise with SMFR.
The beauty of SMFR is that you don’t need to understand the emotional history of a trauma or injury to let it go; you need only provide the space to allow it to pass. Studies suggest that receiving SMFR just once or twice a week will yield a more resilient fascial system in six to twenty-four months, so slow and steady wins the race for connective tissue health. As with any healing modalities, it’s important that you consult your doctor before using SMFR and seek the help of someone trained to use it.
Though there is still a lot of research needed to show the extent to which the fascial layer may be involved in many pathologies, there is already more than enough to indicate the need for further inquiry into how the health of this tissue can affect so many interconnected systems. Myofascial release techniques show promising outcomes in enhancing mobility, increasing proprioception, supporting injury prevention, promoting tissue healing, regulating inflammation and immune function, and optimizing tissue resilience. As SMFR has so few side effects, I believe it’s our opportunity to pursue further study to see how we can best use this simple, cost effective modality that could have a significant impact on pain, inflammation, injuries, tissue health, and possibly pathologies such as cancer.
Within the fascial layers, we also find important immune cells that help to modulate inflammation and tissue healing. Many people think of the fascia as just surrounding the muscles, but this tissue also interweaves through the muscles and surrounds organs, bones, nerves, and blood vessels throughout every part of the body. Since it envelops just about every structure of the body, you can imagine how important the immune function in this protective internal fascial layer is.
There is increasing evidence that the physical and mechanical environment of the tissues can influence cell behavior and tumor progression. In fact, some of the newest research on fascia focuses on its effects on cancer and suggests that healthy fascia could be an important component in treatment and prevention.
The hydration of the connective tissue is a key component in its health, influencing communication, adhesions, and immune function. Imagine dry tissues rubbing over each other with every movement. Impaired hydration of the fascia causes increased friction, stimulating the fibroblasts to lay down more collagen cross-links between layers of tissue, eventually leading to adhesions between the layers. You might think drinking more water would solve the problem, and though that may be part of the answer, it doesn’t necessarily equate to connective tissue hydration. Gentle SMFR techniques help to increase the hydration of the connective tissue to decrease adhesions, enhance communication, and facilitate healthy immune function. Think of the connective tissue as being like a fishbowl; not only do you need to add more water, you also need to clean it out from time to time.
Thanks to the Fascia Research Congress for promoting the work of so many researchers who help bring this information to the public, and many thanks to all the researchers out there doing the work.
- Beardsley, C., and Škarabot, J., “Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review,” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 19, no. 4 (2015): 747-758.
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