Fascinating Fascia: Five Ways to Tap into Your Connective Tissue
When you think about anatomy as it relates to asana, you probably think first of the muscles and bones. If pressed, maybe you’d then think of the tendons and ligaments that connect your muscles and bones to each other. But there’s another type of connective tissue that impacts movement, pain reduction, and more: fascia.
Fascia is a fibrous tissue made mostly of collagen, and it coats the muscles, bones, organs, and other tissues. Healthy fascia is supple and malleable, helping you move with ease. But when fascia is unhealthy, it becomes stiff and tight, making it harder to move and stretch. If you struggle with flexibility or mobility, you may have assumed it was due to your muscles – but it could be caused by unhealthy fascia.
Fortunately, because lifestyle has a huge impact on the health of the fascia, there are many ways to improve it.
Using a foam roller, you can find trigger points and knots in your muscles and fascia. Contrary to popular belief, though, foam rolling doesn’t literally “break up” the knots. However, thanks to fascia’s intimate connection with the autonomic nervous system, foam rolling coaxes the brain to tell the fascia to relax.
If it’s in your budget, professional help can also go a long way toward healing the fascia. Some massage therapists even offer myofascial massage or myofascial release therapy. Like foam rolling, it is used to address knots and stiffness in the fascia. Deep tissue massage, which focuses on trouble spots, also usually targets the fascia. Our Bliss Spa here at Vikasa offers various incredible treatments that address fascial tension and scar tissue.
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top causes of unhealthy fascia. The less you move, the stiffer and more rigid the fascia will get. But moving the body through cardio exercise helps keep the fascia supple. No matter what kind of cardio you prefer, doing it regularly will prevent a lot of common fascia issues (as long as you make time for recovery).
Like the rest of the systems and organs in the body, the fascia needs to be hydrated in order to perform well. When fascia gets dehydrated, it becomes sticky and less elastic, making it harder and more painful to move your body. Well-hydrated fascia can move more easily, like how a wet sponge is more malleable than a dry one. To keep your fascia hydrated, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water every day.
There’s also an entire style of yoga dedicated largely to working with the fascia. Developing a regular yin practice is one of the most useful (and accessible) things you can do to improve the health of your fascia. Yin Yoga differs from flow and most other types of yoga in that it’s a passive practice. The poses are held for three to five minutes with the muscles unengaged, and each pose is intended to deeply stretch the fascia. Familiar poses like lizard, pigeon, and butterfly all have yin equivalents, and they’re a great place to start. Here are 5 things to know before you start a Yin practice.
Next time you feel stiff or tight, remember that what you’re feeling may be in your fascia. Try taking these steps, and see if it helps you feel looser and experience less pain.
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.