By Eryn Dioli for Yoga Medicine®.
Recovery can occur in many different forms, and at many different times in our life. For some people, recovery means spending time in a Yin Yoga class. Others may enjoy a relaxing walk on the beach, and for some recovery means truly resting (full horizontal time) and enjoying an afternoon watching a movie. Fantastic Fungi maybe?
Whatever form your recovery takes, what matters most is it feels good to you. One of the ways to optimize recovery is to include myofascial release (MFR). Whether we are in a prolonged period of recovery, or simply enjoying our rest and recovery day during the week, MFR can be a tool to bring us to the next level of performance, function and ultimately health.
Myofascial release (MFR) is a technique to release restrictions through the body. These can be things such a trigger points, muscle tightness, and dysfunctions in soft tissue that may cause pain and limit motion in all parts of the body  . MFR can be an especially useful tool for releasing emotional restrictions that have found ways to live in our body, even after we have processed and worked through an emotional experience in the mind.
MFR is therapeutic not only for our fascia, but for the entire body the fascia communicates within. Similar to the mycelium found in a forest, the stronger and healthier our fascia is, the stronger and healthier the body is.
Recently, the value of MFR for treating mental health conditions has been highlighted, particularly for those experiencing depression. Many people who experience depression are familiar with the decreased energy, sensation of mental and physical numbness, and an extreme sense of lethargy and exhaustion when exerting any mental or physical effort. Like most mental health conditions, depression can exist on a spectrum. Some people may experience all of the hallmark symptoms of depression, while others may only experience one or two. Wherever someone falls on the spectrum, depression can lead to long periods of time with limited movement, which can lead to muscle atrophy and a feeling of disconnection between the mind and body.
MFR helps keep the communication network that lives in our fascia activated and hydrated, so even if a period of depression keeps a patient or student more sedentary than usual, those fascial networks are still able to communicate. One of the challenges in depression recovery can often be re-creating the mind body connection. The communication network of the body in the fascia needs to be ‘woken up’ if it has spent a long period of time in a sedentary state.
One of the reasons MFR can be such a useful tool for those recovering from depression is students can put as much or as little energy into it as they have available. They can also be supported by a teacher or manual therapist who can perform MFR for them as they focus the mind on the sensations and experience they feel during the session. By keeping the fascia hydrated and healthy, the communication through the body occurs in a more easeful manner. When experiencing depression, anything creating a more efficient use of energy can go a long way. By keeping the fascia available as the communication network through the body, it allows the body to rest and recover better.
Some people are very familiar with the sensation of physical release being tied to an emotional release. Whether you have experienced this in yoga, running, cycling, dance, massage therapy, or any other physical activity, at times we need the body involved to fully release the emotional build up. For others, they may not have found the mind-body connection that allows for the release of emotions yet. MFR can be an exceptional tool for finding it, particularly with challenging emotions and experiences.
I recently worked with a student who suffered from extreme anxiety for a number of years. Their breathing pattern felt uncomfortable, even though they spent a great deal of time practicing asana and pranayama. They found yoga practices helped alleviate some anxiety, however they felt there was still something ‘blocking’ them from fully releasing the tension in the body. We began to use MFR and this was the tool that helped them to fully release the physical tension pattern anxiety had created in their body. After our MFR session they were able to take more full and balanced breaths. By releasing the tension in their fascia, they literally improved their ability to breathe.
Our fascia is incredibly strong, and the tension patterns it can create may restrict or limit us not just in our asana practice, but throughout the entire internal landscape of our bodies. From our digestive system, to our respiratory system, MFR can help us to release patterns of tension or dysfunction all throughout the body. And when it does, it can be a truly unbelievable experience. It feels for many people like they have been granted access to their bodies again. When working with students, clients or patients in recovery from an injury, a mental health challenge, or an illness, this can be a moment of profound healing and take them to the next phase of their recovery. From being in recovery, to feeling recovered. To feel like they have access to their mind-body connection again to establish a new version of health and strength.
Whether you are training for the Olympics, to run your first 5k, or to feel your best when doing the activities you love, recovery is a crucial component for sustainable and long term strength and health. Including MFR in a recovery program is a great way to keep your body balanced, and your fascia functioning optimally.