You may have gathered that I like Pilates, yoga and dancing for my personal fitness and posture maintenance. But here’s the thing--both yoga and Pilates train muscle tone and muscle flexibility, but don’t directly address the fascial system. Scientists have only recently become interested in fascia, so there’s much learn about keeping this pervasive part of our bodies healthy and resilient enough to last a lifetime.
Fascia is Ubiquitous
Your body’s fascial network is ubiquitous. “Superficial fascia” is an encompassing body suit just under your skin, but every structure within your body—every organ, vessel, nerve and muscle has its own fascial wrapping, as does every cell within all those parts. I picture the fascial system as a body-wide honeycomb of irregularly shaped silky pockets and tubes containing all our tissues.
Fascia's Special Talent
Fascia’s natural endowment is to bounce. When you look at a healthy kid, you’re looking at healthy fascia. You see springiness, resilience, and enthusiasm. Fascia stores kinetic energy much like a stretched rubber band. Human bodies are proportionally as fascia-rich as are kangaroos’—and you know how much they bounce.
Healthy fascia’s consistency is both fibrous and watery. It looks a bit like Halloween spider webbing—but it’s largely composed of water, so it behaves like a sponge. When we don’t use our fascia according to its talent—when we sit too much, when we plod more than we skip--our fascia literally dries out. And, it stiffens along lines of use. That means that the more repetitive and restricted the choreography of our daily living, the more we reduce our capacity to adapt to unexpected movement demands, like tripping over a curb.
It could happen to you....
The elderly people you see on city streets are examples of dense, matted fascial systems. Whether walking on eggshells or shuffling along in broken slippers, there’s no spring in their steps. The less we move, the more our fascial compartments become glued together, inhibiting muscular work and stiffening joints so that fewer and fewer movements are available. The “pockets” can no longer glide against each other. When that happens, posture as well as movement degrades.
Your Inner Gazelle
The bouncy movements characteristic of healthy fascia keep it hydrated by pumping water in and out of the spongy tissues. And that’s what you need to do to restore your fascia. Robert Schleip tells us that fascia can be restored in as little as three or four 15-minute fascia-specific workouts per week. But you have to stick with it. Your fascia will be 50% better in 6 months, but it may take two years to fully restore it to health.
There’s no particular routine to follow, though in time there’s sure to be Fascial Training in every gym. Fascial movement involves playfulness, elegance and rhythm. If you like to run, practice spending more time in the air than on the ground, and allow the rebound energy of your fascia to spring you up and forward into each step.
Seek variable ranges of movement. In the case of running that could involve sometimes running sideways or even backwards. Cultivate a lilting rhythm. Skip. There’s an old Disney song that for me epitomizes a “fascial attitude” – Zip A Dee Doo Dah.. It’s a cheerful, light-hearted tune that makes your eyes twinkle. You can’t engage your fascia when you’re feeling grumpy.
Fascial health also involves cultivating elegance through whole body expansion. Robert breaks elegant motion into three phases: a preparatory arc in the direction opposite to your intended movement, and then movement initiated from your center with a sequential follow-through of the rest of your body. Watch the gazelle in the video below to see that in action. Elegance is most often associated with dance, but it is also equated with efficiency. We identify elegance in a baseball pitcher stretching his body in a great arc opposite to the eventual thrust of the ball. Or in a golfer taking a perfect swing. (What prevents such athletes from maintaining healthy fascia is that they perform the same motions over and over, degrading the involved fascial chains.)
I hope this will get you started preserving the spring in your step as well as your healthy posture.