fascia

It's Not About Effort

3682269259_316ef32678_bWe just kicked off the first Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge today- which is like a "cleanse" that is more about your movement nutrition than your dietary nutrition-  with a fantastic group from all over the world (don't worry, there will be more in the future!), and we're starting our first week by focusing on letting go of efforting in our bodies. Why? Because feeling good in our bodies is not about effort! It's about connecting with our innate support- the glorious architecture of you from the inside out, from the cellular level on up. We are all born with support built right in.

Yet more often than not, in my practice my clients always want to know if I hold the magic answer to the age-old question, "How can I effort in my body the right way." Only the question is never phrased that way. It usually sounds like some variety of these, "What should I do with my shoulders?", "What should I do during the day to fix my lousy posture?", "How should I hold my neck?" You know the questions, because if you're like me you've asked them of your body and yourself plenty of times.

There's nothing wrong with these questions. All of the people who ask them are asking because they are suffering in some way- whether it's from their perception of their posture as failing, or chronic pain, or movement restrictions- it all boils down to physical suffering.

So to seek answers isn't problematic (it's downright heroic when you think about how easy it is to hide from our "stuff"), it's the presumption behind the questions that is problematic. The presumption is: "I have no support, how do I get some?" When a more useful, and more anatomically correct (heh heh) question would be, "I have lost my ability to feel supported in my body, how do I find my way back to my natural effortless state?"

First, a word on the word effortless: I kind of hate it. It's been corrupted by people trying to sell us things like "effortless hair" and "effortless weight loss" and "effortless investing" and they use that word because they want to associate it with people thinking that effortless = checking out, not having to work for anything, and generally drooling on the couch while magic happens.

So let's clarify: effortless = strain-free connection with innate support.

And oftentimes to find it we have to go on a journey- in this case one that is about awareness of our own physical selves. We have to get inquisitive, dial in, explore, tinker, and perhaps most of all know that we are looking for something that has been obscured, rather than trying to build something from scratch.  We have to trust-fall into ourselves rather than bullying ourselves.

Much of this can be explained by tensegrity which, to be fair, is something that it took me a decade to start getting a handle on. (But then again I can be a slow learner.) Whether it instantly makes sense to you or not, it's a beautiful framework for understanding what I'm talking about and it also happens to be anatomically and physiologically true! How handy!

I wrote in Why Fascia Matters (which P.S. is free), "In tensegrity- in this case in regards to the human body- structures are stable and functional not because of the strength of individual pieces, but because of the way the entire structure balances and distributes mechanical stresses. Tension is continuously transmitted through the whole structure simultaneously. Which means that an increase in tension to one piece of the structure will result in an increase in tension to other parts of the structure- even parts that are seemingly “far” away."

I love that our bodies are built this way because it's like this delicious reminder that balance is strength. Not strain, not effort, not achieving, not strife; balance. Which, not to get too woo-woo on you, can extend to our worldviews as well. Are we dragging ourselves by our fingernails to our goals or are we getting into flow? Can we allow ourselves to believe that we have what we need, and we just need to find our way to inner resources that already exist? Sorry I just can't help digressing in that direction! I think it's so interesting.

Back to tensegrity: whenever the Olympics are on I have this fun game I play with friends or family who I'm watching it with: I like to pick who is going to win the event at the beginning, before they have begun moving, based on how balanced their structure is. This is especially easy with runners, swimmers, and power lifters. Not always, but more often than not, the people who triumph are the people who are the most balanced, because they have this whole structure to draw on for strength, speed, and agility, rather than blowing out one region of their body. Go take a look at high level power lifters on YouTube and you can see that these people are tensegrity in motion- every part is doing its right job to lift that weight. If not, ouch. It doesn't go particularly well.

And so it goes for us, in our regular non-Olympic competitor lives, if we can't rely on the whole by finding our way back to our inherent balance... ouch.

Of course this a dance we're engaged in forever. I think we assume that we have two options: perfectly balanced, or a mess. Really we're always tinkering, so ideally we make that a compassionate dance. Finding balance can be a delightful exploration or self-flagellation but I think it's clear which one I'm voting for.

photo by Erik Meldrum

 

 

Why Fascia Matters

why-fascia-matters-cover-300A few months ago I put a post up on Breaking Muscle, The Top 5 Ways Fascia Matters to Athletesand I was delighted to hear from so many wonderful teachers, practitioners, and trainers who wanted to use the article with the clients/patients/students. So I decided to edit and very much expand on that article- and to of course address the reality that fascia matters to everyone who is living in a body, not just athletes...-and I created a free resource for people so they could do just that.

Why Fascia Matters is a free ebook which you can download, print out, share, use as a micro textbook in classes, turn into a festive hat, scatter into the wind and pretend you are a hosting a ticker tape parade- whatever floats your boat. You can download it here. 

Here are the chapters so you can get a feel for what is covered. It is intended as a short and informal guide to how fascia impacts our ability to live well in our bodies and how we can best recover from and avoid pain, injury, and erosion. Much of the current research is covered and cited throughout.

Chapters:

1) Meet Fascia: A definition of this tissue system and why it is getting so much attention these days. 2) It’s All Connected: Changing our viewpoint from seeing ourselves as assembled parts to a unified organism. 3) How We Actually Move: Just as there are no local problems, there are also no local movements. 4) A Masterpiece of Tensegrity Architecture: The way the entire structure balances and distributes stresses. 5) The Domino Effect: Understanding the dreaded compensatory pattern. 6) A Fluid Tensegrity System: How fascia is both a support structure and a fluid structure. 7) Its Springiness Wants to Help You Out: How and why to nourish the elastic quality of fascia. 8) Variation Matters: We become the shapes and movements we make most of the time. 9) The Original Information Superhighway: Fascia as our most important perceptual organ 10) Loving Your Fascia: Now that you better understand it, here’s how to best take care of it!

Again, you can grab it for free here. 

You may notice this is also the much anticipated (heh heh, to me anyway) launch of Liberated Body Guides! Hooray! It exists! Stay tuned for upcoming books which will not be in ebook format as Why Fascia Matters is, but will instead be available in print and on Kindle and iBooks. Stay tuned!

A Fascia Primer for Athletes

  Loose Connective Tissue

Since fascia is such a hot topic right now, and, er, I have a site with this tissue system in its title, I wrote a "Fascia 101" of sorts for athletes in my monthly column on Breaking MuscleBut since it is also just plain old a fascia primer for anyone, you might want to check it out. If you're curious about why fascia is getting so much attention these days, and how it relates to living well (pain free!) in your body, you can give it a read. Here is the beginning of the article:

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You may be noticing the word “fascia” (aka connective tissue) is a hot topic right now in all body related fields. But before we get to why fascia matters to athletes, here is a brief primer about why it’s getting so much attention these days.

First, many think of fascia as a glorified body stocking - a seamless piece of tissue that Saran wraps you just underneath the skin. While this is true of the superficial fascia, it’s important to understand it is a richly multi-dimensional tissue that forms your internal soft tissue architecture.

From the superficial (“body stocking”) fascia, it dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. Imagine what it looks like when you bite into a wedge of orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice. We’re like that too! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.

So imagine for a moment you could remove every part of you that is not fascia. You would have a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like. Not just in recognizable ways like your posture or facial features, but also the position of your liver, and the zig-zig your clavicle takes from that break you had as a kid, and how your colon wraps. To say it’s everywhere is far from over-stating things.

In fact, it turns out fascia’s everywhere-ness is one of the reasons it was overlooked for so long. Until recently it was viewed as the packing peanuts of soft tissue. Therefore, in dissections for study and for research, most of it was cleanly scraped away and thrown in a bucket so the cadavers could be tidily made to resemble the anatomical texts from which people were studying. Poor, misunderstood, and underrated fascia. Sigh.

Fortunately research is catching up to what turns out to be a remarkably communicative sensory and proprioceptive tissue. What fascia researchers are discovering is pretty amazing not just for fascia nerds like me, but for anyone who wants to put their body to good, healthy use. (Like, for example, all of us at Breaking Muscle!) So without further ado, here is some of the newly emerging information about fascia and how you can use it to maximize not just your athletic performance, but also just your plain old ability to feel good in your body.

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And you can read the rest of the juicy (pun intended) information if you head on over to Breaking Muscle!

The Ubiquitous Keyboard and How It's Setting You Up for a Shoulder Injury

This is a new article of mine that came out on Breaking Muscle today on how the things we do when we're not training, specifically the things that involve screens and keyboards, set us up for shoulder injuries. Here's an outtake of the article, but if you want to read the whole thing and view the 2 corrective videos I made to address the issue, you can do that here. 

keyboard typing

"We are how we move. Our soft tissue is always responding to the demands we put on it, willingly complying by creating tissue patterning that makes it easier for us to do what we do more, well, more. This means our tissue is staying hydrated and gliding where we keep moving, and gluing us up in the ranges that we avoid.

Fascia (your connective tissue) can be your friend when it is adapting to support you in healthy ways, and it can be not so friendly when it starts to put the blinders on and gum up the works. It’s a basic use it or lose it set up. This is excellent news when what we’re doing with our bodies is perfecting the form of our deadlift. As we get more sophisticated in our movement, our tissue patterning allows for and adapts to this sophistication. However, this is not such great news when it comes to the sheer quantity of time we spend doing other less than helpful things.

Enter the ubiquitous keyboard. Whether it’s on a desktop, a laptop, or your phone, the odds are if you are reading this article you log more hours as a typing slave than you would like. Hey, look! I’m doing it right now! And while I love the fact that my keyboard means we all get to have this nice chat here at Breaking Muscle, it costs me. Specifically, it contributes to the plague of internal rotation that we are all living with these days. YOU CAN READ THE REST AND WATCH THE 2 CORRECTIVE VIDEOS ON BREAKING MUSCLE

 

DIY Friday: Plantar Fasciitis

diyfriday (2)

*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

A recent chat with the Facebook tribe started to go down the plantar fasciitis rabbit hole, so here I am dedicating a DIY Friday to it! I also have an interview coming up next week with Jae Gruenke, founder of Balanced Runner, and since so many runners struggle with plantar fasciitis it seemed like a theme was emerging.

First, what the heck is plantar fasciitis? The short version is that the plantar fascia (fascial sheet on the bottom of your foot) begins to pull away from it's attachement on the calcaneus (heel bone) and you wind up with some pretty gnarly burning heel and foot pain. In the book Born to Run* author Christopher MacDougall describes it as the runner's version of a vampire bite, because, as runner legend has it, once you're "bitten" with plantar fasciitis many feel you are never the same again. Well breathe deep because I'm here to tell you that plantar fasciitis is one of those things that I actually have in the "easy" category in my brain simply because I see it resolve so often and so readily. Which isn't to say it doesn't take some doing, but here's how:

  • Erik Dalton is a brilliant manual therapist and teacher, and this video is the clearest description I have found of what is actually going on in plantar fasciitis. The article that precedes the video also does a fanstasic job of explaining how it's not just your foot. It's never just one thing. Never, ever. But it's always helpful to be educated on the more global view of any condition, which is what this article handily does! If you are a manual therapist, there is also great content here on how you can treat it in your clients. If you are not a manual therapist, please don't go grabbing your friend's leg and shoving and shaking stuff around! It actually takes a good bit of learning in order to effectively contact fascia and to know how to appropriately work joints like he does in the video, so just mashing on your buddies is likely to cause more harm than good. The article is here, and the video is at the end of it.

 

  • Speaking of taking a global view, as Dalton mentions in his article, "Plantar fasciitis often results from lack of individuality of motion in the calf muscles due to adhesions." That is very true, and taking it a bit further, it is an issue with the whole posterior chain of fascia. Otherwise known as the "superficial back line" as defined by Tom Myers Anatomy Trains work. Here is a great image of that line. So, if you want to resolve your plantar fasciitis, give due attention to everything here along the chain as well.

superficial_back_line_copy

  • Oh look! Here's recently interviewed Sue Hitzmann of the MELT Method preaching it like she teaches it, and is also talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue:

  • Oh wait! What do we have here!? It's Katy Bowman of Restorative Exercise talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue (in particular those persnickity hamstrings with some data that talks about why). Hmmm, maybe it's not just about the foot...

Ok, ok, taking all this good input about how it's not just your foot and moving forward with a healing plan for yourself here's what I actually like, a lot, for treating plantar fasciitis:

Smart fascial manual therapy from either a practitioner, or you can MELT at home.

Softness! Learning how to soften your foot is a game of coaxing it to let go, not of yanking it around. I like hamstring stretches that have a fully dorsiflexed ankle (bring toes toward shin) so that you're not missing tight bits in your calves. This would look like lying on your back with a strap around the ball of your foot, and flexing at your hip to bring the foot closer to the ceiling. Though stop when you hit your own end range with the flexed ankle (rather than pointing the toe to get farther). You can also stretch standing on a slant board like this one, again, I like a soft surface to a slant board, and it is also very helpful to think about really letting all the musculature of your foot soften into is as you stretch. Think of your plantar fascia as warm, gooey silly putty that is just oozing onto the slant board. Do not hyperextend at the knee or shove your pelvis forward ofyour ankles while standing on a slant board.

Alexander Technique. Speaking of letting the musculature go, I find so many people micro grip in their feet as a result of stress, or strain and pain patterns elsewhere in the body. I love Alexander Technique as a way to learn about your own micro grips and how to find a way to let them go. I recommend working with a teacher, rather than doing this alone at home, as you will need trained eyes to point out things you have become totally blind to in your own body. Most people are amazed at how much they are subconsciously clawing at the floor with their toes. No really.

* Footnote: If you haven't read Born to Run I highly recommend it. And if you are a runner, I practicaly require it (if I could do such a thing). It has a lot of  fascinating information, particulary when it comes to the evolution of highly engineered running sneakers paralleling the evolution of highly unpleasant runner injuries, and is also a beautifully written and engaging story.

Sue Hitzmann Interview

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SueHitzmann_IMG_1511 (1)I recently had the great pleasure of having a fascia nerd chat with the founder of the MELT Method, Sue Hitzmann. Sue is incredibly well informed and has created a thoughtful and remarkably useful system out of studying the emerging research on fascia, and her dedication to helping people out of pain. You can read the FFF review of it here.

We got into a lot of fascinating topics including how to slow the aging process, what the root of chronic pain actually is, and how you can't exercise your way to a strong "core". There is so much more! Say glycosaminoglycans 5 times fast! (I bet Sue can... ) Anyway, on the the interview. Also check out the time log below if you're hoping to skim it or just to see some of the many other things we chatted about:

:35 I explain my erroneous view that I thought Sue was “the foam roller lady” and how MELT is in fact a much different thing.

 2:53 Sue talks about the common misconceptions of what fascia is as a system.

3:38 How can a fluid system be a stability system? How does fluid make something stable?

4:58 Sue talks research on fascia and dehydration. Compression (as in sitting for long periods of time) and repetitive motions create strain that makes it harder to keep your body stable and increases stress and strain in the whole system.

 5:41 The dehydration issue is not just about drinking more water. If you’re a frequent urinator, you may have poor cellular absorption.

6:39 Sue talks about the importance of looking at fascia on the micro  level of nutrient absorption, cellular stability, and neurological information going through your body, rather than just the macro level of posture and performance and muscles.

7:22 Q: What’s special about MELT that you can access it on that micro level and not just the macro level?

8:00 You can adapt connective tissue very quickly in a light touch way. Monumental global changes can be made in people’s bodies with that light touch.

9:03 Sue talks about the shift in her own private practice after years of more strong touch practices, as she learned about the properties of the cells of connective tissue.

 10:38 The trouble with actual foam rollers. Why you don’t want to actually “iron yourself like a shirt” and why you can’t “pop a bubble of pain”. When you have connective tissue dehydration it is going to increase the sensitivity of your nerve endings.

12:55 How MELT can help such a broad spectrum of people- from someone who is 90, to someone with chronic pain, to a performance athlete, or children who are managing ADHD, or even stress issues.

13:31 Q: How does the aging process (and cellulite too!) get impacted by MELT?

14:55 The dirty little secret is that 85% of fitness people are in pain.

17:20 We take for granted that we can pull on our skin and it goes back to where it was. What allows that to happen is the deeper layers of connective tissue that provide the support for every aspect of your body, which includes our skin staying taught. It’s the flexible scaffolding, and it is completely continuous. From skin to bones you can follow one piece of collagen and see it pierce through every structure down to the bone.

18:40 Microvacuoles work and adapt to our movements but only when hydrated. So when you sit for long periods of time, you are pooling the connective tissue in a specific way.

20:28 Fibroblasts are reactive cells. When you compress them for short periods of time and then let it go (as with MELT), it fills the system back up and brings fluid back to those microvacuoles. It is a restorative system, and it doesn’t take a lot of compression, time, or effort.

21:39 Connective tissue dehydration is the cause of pain.

23:00 What is the NeuroCore? The word “core” is really trendy and therefore misunderstood these days.

23:36 Instead of just strengthening all your core muscles, you can be supported. What actually keeps you stable is the neuro-fascial system. The connective tissue is the environment that your sensory nerve endings live in, so if the environment is not stable, your nervous system is going to have to work harder and harder to relay this information to the brain to get an adequate response.

25:59 If you ask someone in fitness, “What is the core?” they’re going to define it as a muscle system that stabilizes the spine, but they can’t answer the question, “how does it work” beyond defining the muscularity of it. We’re trying to define a “core” in the musculoskeletal model, but it’s a dual neuro-fascial stabilizing system that works involuntarily, i.e. you can’t strengthen it via exercise.

27:40 Sue describes how she and Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy dissected a cadaver layer by layer to find the NeuroCore, and demos what they found.

29:55 Sue weighs in on the debate about if the psoas muscle is actually a hip flexor. It’s actually the communicator between your head and feet. It’s where in embryology we see the cells divide to create the compartments of the human body.

30:40 The “core” is not the muscles. That is the least important element of how the system stays responsive, flexible, and adaptable. Many of us we are so dehydrated in the connective tissue that we cannot hold stable. We become less and less efficient. and our bodies can’t compensate anymore, then we get muscle imbalance, joint pain, etc. But these are symptoms of the NeuroCore not functioning.

34:10 How if you do the 10 min rebalance sequence to access the NeuroCore before doing core exercises, you would actually strengthen your body more in a much more efficient way and would get more benefit from any exercise.

36:40 Your brain doesn’t see muscle. As far as your brain is concerned you have one muscle with 700 compartments.

37:45 We take for granted that as long as we’re moving, we’re moving efficiently, but the connective tissue is the stability architecture and your nervous system relies on that architecture to send information through the body.

38:50 Sue’s goal for people is to understand that the autonomic nervous system needs our care, and if you go to the environment that it lives in, the connective tissue, you’ll make a bigger change. And it is so simple to do.

40:31 Sue’s recent MELT tour of middle America. The general population assumes that if you’re having a problem, you go see your doctor and get a pill. But with chronic pain, the medication is not helping them.

42:18 There are 100 million people in chronic pain, so there is some piece of education missing. Our pharmaceutical industry is the leader of how people are taken care of, so Sue’s hope is to expose  the general population to the fact that we’re out here (bodyworkers and this work in general).

45:20 MELT is giving people the tools of tapping into the connective tissue and the nervous system in order to give them a baseline skill set to use at home. Pain does not need to be a day to day event!

DIY Friday: MELT Method

diyfriday (2)

*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

sue hitzmannI recently had the privilege of interviewing Sue Hitzmann, the creator of The MELT Method®*, and she will kick off our Interviews With Geniuses series next week! Yippee! So before you get to hear from the brilliant, fascia-nating mind (I couldn't resist) of Sue, I wanted to write a review of The MELT Method so that those of you who are not yet familiar can get a sense for what her system is all about. Plus, MELT is literally an entire system around teaching people how to work their own tissue, so it seemed pretty perfect for DIY Friday.

First off, let me just say that it seems like people who are in the fitness world are creating a new "method" with their name attached to it roughly at the rate of one new method per second (which I believe is the same rate as new blogs?), and so I realize that it's easy to dismiss yet another method considering that most of them are built around the founder's ego and more blab about tinier middles and firmer rears. If I haven't made it clear yet, MELT is absolutely no where in the vicinity of this type of method.

Sue has managed to take her expertise as a body worker, fitness educator, and extreme fascia research nerd and smoosh them all together to create a truly holistic hands-free bodywork system, which intelligently affects your fascia, and which you can learn to do on your own. Wowzers. It's kind of a big deal.

When I picked up her book I had her in the interesting, but not exactly mind blowing, category in my brain which was labeled "girl brings foam rollers to the world". Yeah, hmmm, so I'm here to tell you that if Sue occupies a similar category in your brain, please take her and The MELT Method out of there. This is not her deal. At all.

First, while it looks like The MELT Method is employing foam rollers, they are in fact a whole different animal, albeit a similarly shaped one. The foam rollers that Sue has designed for MELT are much softer than a conventional roller. So much softer in fact, that you can bend them in half easily. This is a nod to the vast amount of research she has delved into which tells us that if you use a hard implement too quickly, you are likely to smash and compress fascia, rather than to lengthen or re-hydrate it. The softer surface allows the kind of access and stick that, when paired with the MELT Method sequencing, can restore vitality to our beloved and (ideally) juicy organ of structure, the fascia.

Speaking of sequencing, MELT helps you to self-treat your tissue by using the four R's every time you MELT: Reconnect, Rebalance, Rehydrate, and Release. I'll give you a mini breakdown of each so you can begin to glimpse the yumminess and effectiveness that MELT has in store:

  • Reconnect techniques help you to heighten your awareness, or body sense, so you can better "see" yourself from the inside. This is crucial to a body's healing ability.
  • Rebalance techniques directly addresses your body balance, grounding, and organ support by getting you in touch with your NeuroCore, which I talk with Sue about in detail in our upcoming interview. That whole graceful, move with ease thing is all about activating your NeuroCore.
  • Rehydrate techniques are where you clear out the crunchy bits in your connective tissue, and restore the fluid state of the web. This has a huge impact on effortless alignment, decreasing pain and inflammation, and fluid and nutrient absoprtion at a cellular level.
  • Release techniques decompress your joints to help keep you mobile and pain free.

If you're like me, after reading that list of what MELT accomplishes you are now drooling from the intense yearning your tissue now has to MELT! It's pretty right on. And with only a teeny bit of MELT in your regular routine you have a very powerful preventative (and restorative if you're working through something) self-care tool which is vastly less pricey than hiring a live-in massage therapist to be at your beck and call. MELT is a wonderful tool for dealing with chronic pain, pre-pain conditions like the discomfort you feel at the end of every workday, and is also profoundly impactful as an anti-aging tool. Yes, I mean that in both the "look cuter longer" way as much as I mean it in the "don't get joint replacements" way. Sue and I chat a lot about that in our interview too, so stay tuned.

Lastly, for those of you who are looking for a thoughtfully written primer on fascia, which is research based, and which helps you to wrap your brain around how this tissue system actually impacts you, the MELT book is the best resource that I have found for that thus far. I highly recommend.

Check out our interview coming up on The FFF next week!

*MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique

Are You at War With Your Fascia?

3965901338_8b663c765f_b“Stand up straight!”, “Don’t slouch!” Blah, blah, we all had childhoods, and particularly teen years, filled with phrases like these. Sadly, most of us learned how to “have better posture” from vague admonishments like these from our parents. But here’s the thing, if all it took was for us know that we should to stand up straight* or to stop slouching, well then we would all have flawless and effortless posture. Clearly something is off, because judging from what I hear all the time from readers and clients in my private practice (not to mention friends, family, etc) we all universally think our posture sucks and want it to be better. We pull ourselves up, but something pulls us back down again into our familiar slouch. To a certain degree that something is gravity, but more precisely it’s how gravity is interacting with our fascia, aka our connective tissue. If we are aligned well fascially, i.e. we have happy soft tissue and joints, then we are what we call “on our line” in gravity. Which is to say we are supported in gravity rather than dragged down by it because the organ of support and structure in us, our fascia, is doing its fabulous springy upright suspension bridge thing and keeping us aligned and upright.

But for most of us we have a myriad of compensatory patterns in the fascia that get us “off our line” and therefore we feel pulled down in gravity. Let’s visualize the fascia a bit first to get a better handle on this; Imagine that you have a tightly knit sweater lying just under your skin. This is your superficial fascia. From there,  this sweater under the skin dives deep to wrap each and every muscle (and organ), spinning continuously into tendon which attaches muscle to bone, and ligament which attaches bone to bone.  From there, this tight knit sweater dives yet deeper, forming the interior architecture of each muscle in your body. To visualize this interior architecture fascia, I often tell people to take a bite out of an orange slice and then look at it. What you’ll see are tiny pods of juice that are contained by these thin, translucent fibrous walls. Without those walls, it would just be juice with no structure. Our muscles are similar. Without fascia, we’re just juice (we’re somewhere around 78% water, remember?).

Now attach this tight knit sweater in your mind to the nervous system. As in, it’s not an inert sweater, it’s a living sweater. And the nervous system tells it when, where, and how much to knit more based on the sensory input it is receiving from you. So for example if you work at a lab hunching over a microscope, your nervous system detects your constant forward hunch position and says, “Ah! I get it. You want to maintain this hunched, bring the shoulders around the ears and strain the neck forward position more easily. I’m on it! I’ll help you out by knitting the fascia up nice and tidily to hold you there. Aren’t I super helpful!?” The same goes for anything you are, or very importantly aren’t, doing with your body on a regular basis*.  Which, of course, means that when you leave your job at the lab, or more likely leave your desk or couch at home and go to straighten up, you meet with some pretty fierce resistance. This is being at war with your fascia.

Because he’s A) a gifted genius and B) he explains this more elegantly than I do, I give you the famous fuzz speech from Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy (be aware that if you watch this video you will see some cadavers):

So what’s a knit-up-in-all-the-wrong-places person to do? First, we are you, you are us, we are all dealing with fascial restrictions to one degree or another. So take a breather, this is not dire (yet). Before it turns into unpleasant pain conditions or surgeries however, you have two options which, naturally, work best when combined.

  • First, move regularly in multi-dimensional ways. You’re best off moving in ways our ancestors regularly did , which makes MovNat  and things related to it a good option. But you can also just work on your squat, carry stuff, balance, walk, reach for stuff, and lift yourself up and over things (go climb a tree while you’re at it!). Or just go have some fun. It's also no secret that I love Yoga Tune Up® and Restorative Exercise™ for smart movement. 
  • Second, you can check out some of the manual therapies that free up the fascia. Rolfing® and other forms of Structural Integration are great because they deal with the whole which tends to have more thorough and longer term results (I’m biased), and there’s also myofascial release and ART.

Imagine feeling supported by your body from the inside out, pretty appealing right? I encourage you to check out some of the resources I just mentioned above. It's never too late to wave the white flag and make friends with your fascia.

*Footnote: "Stand up straight" is an unfortunate and vague sentence that typically elicits a movement wherein people flatten out their spines, tug their head up, and shove their shoulders back while flaring their ribs forward. Sadly, this is ripe for creating a host of new compensatory patterns and the chronic pain conditions that come with them, so please avoid making this shape, and just try to forget that anyone ever told you that this weird military meets ballerina posture was good for you. It's not. 

Photo by Marmite Toast

When it's Better Than Just, "I Feel Better."

Woman Forming Heart Shape with HandsI am writing to you on the plane home from Munich, where I just spent the weekend presenting at the European Rolfing® Association’s annual conference* and, while I normally talk here very specifically about how people can feel better in their bodies, a weekend of being surrounded by Rolfers in Munich has brought back to the fore for me just how valuable that is beyond the straightforward, “my knee feels better”, or “my headaches are gone”, so I thought I’d jot down some of those thoughts here. The mission here at the FFF is to liberate bodies from chronic pain, mobility issues, and subpar performance. Which (and I think those of you who have come out from under pain, mobility, or performance issues will back me up here) is pretty dang fantastic. So fantastic in fact, that we normally end the story with, “I feel better! Hoorah!”

But I would argue that an additional, and pretty interesting, story starts to unfold both during and after the “Hoorah!” That, once your body has been positively impacted in this way (once you have, as we say in the Rolfing and SI fields*, more structural integrity), you are changed. Not just your knee, and not just your headaches. You.

I have the great pleasure of watching it occur on a regular basis with my clients. As they go through a Rolfing 10 series with me their anxiety attacks cease, or they decide to change careers or leave a relationship that isn’t serving them. All kinds of stuff unrelated to their bodies gets stirred up. It seems that, even though it isn’t a psychotherapeutic process at all, for many people working in their tissues in this framework of a larger organizing process (i.e. Structural Integration) does change people’s “life stuff” and not just their “body stuff”. In fact, Dr. Rolf once described Rolfing as “an approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body.” Whoa.

Considering that our goal, at least in Rolfing and SI, is to better align a person in gravity- to make them more upright, more at ease, and less at war with this whole gravitational field that we live in- its implications are pretty profound. In fact, at one of the talks I attended this weekend given by Pedro Padro, he said that Rolfers are, “consciously doing work to change the evolution of the species.” Wooowee! If you read this and it sounds creepy, like we’re fancying ourselves puppet masters of humanity, please instead just turn your attention to how your body feels while you read this, or while you stand in line at the grocery store, or while you take a long drive in your car, and you should start to better understand what I mean. We’re just trying to be helpers to uprightness. Gravity is so ubiquitous that we forget about it and the thousands of micro-wars (like standing uncomfortably in the grocery store line) that we have with it every day.

But what if we didn’t have to be at war? What if we instead felt buoyantly lifted and supported in it? Well if we can say that one of our biggest goals of evolution has been getting upright (and I think we can pretty easily say that), then to stop struggling against gravity and be yet more upright is a piece of our evolution. We’re not “finished” evolving, it’s an ongoing process, and one glance at any teenager texting on their phone should tell you how easy it can be to lose what we’ve collectively worked so hard to achieve. (But I’ll leave the question of whether our uprightness is guaranteed, including a rant on staring at screens, which I am doing right now on an airplane, complete with downward gaze onto my fold out tray table, for another post.)

Sitting at the conference this weekend and ruminating on what it meant to be better organized physically in gravity brought back a memory that I honestly don’t think I’ve considered since it happened. It was on the day of my 10th session (the last session in my initial Rolfing series, though I’ve had boatloads of Rolfing sessions in the 17 years since then) and my Rolfer, Joe Wheatley, had a journal available to people in the waiting room in case they wanted to jot down anything. I remembered how reading through the brief impressions of all the “Rolfees” who had come before me on the day of my first session had soothed my nerves, and so decided to contribute to the journal. For posterity’s sake I guess.

But of course there is always something about the power of writing a thing down that allows surprising stuff to spring forth and grab your attention. After all these years I doubt I’ll quote myself precisely, but I wrote something along the lines of, “I didn’t even know what a gift this work had to give me! I have a body! And now I get to enjoy it for the rest of my life! You’ve given me back to me.” After writing it I thought it was a little corny and amusing, so I wondered what I meant by “I have a body!” or “giving me back to me”? I mean, duh, yes we all have bodies, and obviously I belong to myself. But as someone who grew up with chronic pain, mobility issues, and a seizure disorder, I had gone to great pains to forget that I was stuck inside of this very inconvenient and often unpleasant thing called my body. I had split away from myself without realizing it.

After (and during) Rolfing I was not just pain free, but suddenly self sufficient, capable, and even giddy in ways I hadn’t ever touched into before. Pain and physical limitation, it turns out, are kind of like the metaphoric frog who gets put into the stovetop water at room temperature, which is then turned up so slowly that he never notices he’s being cooked until it is too late.

But I had gotten out of the boiling water! “I have a body! What can it do!?” Was the simple but gleeful thought that bounded through my being. It was like a grand adventure- that of having a body- had been right under my nose and (for me) I needed Rolfing to unlock it. I was free! And I was changed far, far more than as a physical being. Being given a sense of yourself as capable, self-sufficient, and transformational will do that to you. And here I am 17 years later, with that grand adventure still unfolding.

(Shout out to all the amazing European, American, and Brazilian Rolfers who made up this weekend’s conference! Thanks for the inspiration!)

*Footnote1: Had I presented on body nerd goodies I would have included that here, but alas I presented on practice building, which, while still valuable, probably doesn’t quite get people excited here at the FFF.

*Footnote 2: Rolfing is the original form of Structural Integration and so those who call themselves Rolfers have studied at The Rolf Institute, which was the school Dr. Rolf founded (that is definitely the sentence with the most “Rolf’s” in it that I’ve ever written…) but there are other schools of Structural Integration, such as The Guild, KMI, or The New School of Structural Integration, and the graduates of those schools go by the name “Structural Integrators”.

Photo by Patricia Mellin

The Fountain of Youth in Your Fascia

2791037745_74d1e51438_bWe've been on a bit of a roll here about how a healthy physical structure can have pretty significant anti-aging and even reverse aging benefits. In my recent post on the top 5 ways to age-proof your body, I talked about the large role that fascia plays in aging. To get into that a bit more I wanted to put up this video of Tom Myers, creator of Anatomy Trains and founder of Kinesis Myofascial Integration because it's a great and succinct bit of info on how we "dry out" as we age, and the profound aging benefits of keeping your fascia hydrated and healthy. Come meet the fountain of youth in your fascia: (The video was made by the good people over at Wellcast Academy.)

Photo by martineno

5 Keys to Age-Proofing (and Reverse Aging) Your Body

5525366853_71d9cf2ba5_bSure we're all going to get crow's feet and, to one degree or another, age. That aging happens is inevitable, but what that means is the interesting conversation. I think in our culture we have been fed the idea that aging means an inevitable downward spiral of ever more medications and surgery (ahem, hip and knee replacements shouldn't be a norm) which ends in a frail, unattractive, pain filled body shuffling towards death. I heartily disagree. Yes, I'm thirty-eight and so many of you out there may be arguing that I'm not allowed to talk about this until I have a few more decades under my belt. To address that, first off, I had a birth injury which meant I grew up with pain and mobility issues until my body gave out on me at the ripe old age of 21. Since that time I have been rehabilitating my own body, which is now light years younger and more capable than it was in my childhood. So I've been reverse aging a body that felt like a ninety-year-old's since I was in my early twenties.

"Yes but you weren't actually ninety!" Ok, ok, secondly I can tell you this: I work in a field where I get a chance to see a lot of bodies, and those bodies in general are the ones who are self-selecting to take care of their physical self. I don't mean in the ripped biceps, botox injecting  model, I mean in the receive bodywork, eat real food, move with integrity model. And what I can tell you is that these people, some of which I've had the chance to watch into their eighties, have a very different experience of aging. And with my colleagues in the field I've just had to accept that I'm always going to assume they are  ten to twenty years younger than they are. Curious? Here's your how-to guide to have the same aging experience that they are:

1) Fascia: There is a fountain of youth, and it lives in your fascia. Your fascia, or connective tissue, is found everywhere in your body. It is your organ of support, and it is also a fluid system which every cell in your body relies on for proper functioning. In fact, connective tissue is mostly fluid, and I often refer to the process of differentiating your fascia (as through some of the methods I will list below) as a process of becoming better irrigated. We have all this information (most of your sensory nerves live in the fascia), and all this nutrition and waste that needs to move through, so you've got to keep yourself well irrigated in order to stay supple and healthy. Sue Hitzmann puts it perfectly in her book The MELT Method"Think of a sponge; when it's dry, it's stiff, but when it's moist, it's flexible, adaptable, and resilient. You can twist, squeeze, or compress a moist sponge, and it returns to its original shape. Your body's connective tissue is similar: when it's hydrated it's buoyant and adaptable. But when it's dehydrated, it gets stiff and inflexible."  It is this hydrated and supple quality to the fascia that I believe yields the most miraculous anti-aging and reverse aging benefits.

Want to get that fascia all supple and re-hydrated so you can look younger, move younger, and be pain free? Some great methods (and there are many so forgive me for not having them all here!), are Rolfing®, or other forms of Structural Integration (Kinesis Myofascial Integration®) , The MELT Method®, Tune Up Fitness/Yoga Tune Up®, Active Release Techniques®, and Strain Counterstrain.

2) Feet:  Ready? Set!? Picture an old person’s feet! Did an image of a gnarled up, bunioned out, tendon popping hammer toe mess spring to mind? Not a pretty picture, right? (Sorry to do that to you by the way.) We all have this image in mind because, sadly, a person’s age often shows very clearly in their feet. Most importantly, those aged feet show in a stiffened and rigid movement pattern in the whole body upstream from those feet. Indeed, if you want to pick one joint complex to be attentive to between now and your ninetieth birthday to dramatically alter your own aging process, that joint complex should be the toe hinge. As an example of how the toe hinge works, when you take a step, there should be a point in your gait pattern where your heel is lifted off the floor, and your toes are still in contact with the floor. This movement, which is also what allows everything upstream from there to move (particularly your spine), is courtesy of your toe hinge. Yep, foot mobility is the key to mobility everywhere else.

Generally speaking your feet are also the key to a healthy and independent life as you age. If you can’t move your feet, mobility shuts down everywhere and you become rigid, in pain, and have an unstable gait and poor balance and coordination. This all puts you at greater risks for falls and their resulting long recovery periods which bring yet more atrophy to your whole body, which is harder to recover from in older age.  So if you want to be springy and young now, mobile feet are the key to your springy-ness.  And by keeping that up through the years, you will also be preparing for an independent and mobile life in your eighties and beyond.

You can make better friends with your feet by regularly walking in nature on uneven surfaces, wearing neutral heeled shoes, reading this great resource, or rolling them out as I do in video #2 here.

3) Food: I’ll fess up that I am not a nutritionist or any other kind of –ist or –ician that has any business giving people advice on food. In fact, as a manual therapist I almost never open my mouth about food to people in my practice. However, I can unequivocally tell you that when we’re talking about age-proofing your body, you are, indeed, what you eat. Having put my hands on lord knows how many bodies over my years in practice I can tell you that the people eating a lot of processed food and sugar have tissue that feels more like a tree trunk than like human flesh. I’ve even encountered some people whose tissue quality was closer to marble. Ouch! I’m not going to tell you that you need to adopt some specific dietary regimen because, as I said, that’s not my expertise. So this is not my big moment to tell you to go Paleo or go vegan or go whatever. But what I can say is if you want healthy tissue, glowing skin, and the juicy hydrated fascia that leads to all that, you should eat food that is food. So if you go the vegan route, um, soy bacon is not food. And if you go the Paleo route, a paleo “nutrition” bar is not food. Eat clean, eat food, live long, prosper.

4)Move Well: Everything we do with our bodies is input. If you sit slumped all day, your nervous system gets the idea that that's what you want and supports it, thereby gradually shutting down other movement options. We have so much gorgeous intricate movement available to us, and we’re generally using such a small percentage of it in our day to day lives. Yes, move it or lose it really does apply. And if you lose savvy and diversified movement patterning, like your body’s version of putting the blinders on, you lose what goes unexplored and develop ever more body blind spots. The old folks shuffle that everyone can imitate is the physical embodiment of living with many unused avenues of movement potential.

Generally in the fitness world, loads of emphasis is put on moving your body more and being more physically fit. What we don’t hear about all that much is the importance of moving well. One of my favorite quotes from Gray Cook is, “First move well, then move often.” [italics mine] More commonly in our culture people will first sit on the couch or in front of the computer for many years thinking about how they should be more physically fit while atrophying all healthy functional movement patterning. Then they will decide enough is enough and get off the couch and work their asses off at the gym, or training for a marathon or what have you to “get fit”. And lastly they will injure themselves through overuse or poor mechanics or a combo platter of the two, and will have to either stop being active or back way up and learn how to move well as they recover and slowly get back into activity.

But there is a better way! Before you throw yourself whole hog into some new fitness frenzy please, please, please dedicate some time to learning smart movement as you ramp it up. I believe that much of the plague of chronic pain that we see nowadays comes primarily from a culture that reinforces poor movement patterning with all of our sitting, and sitting, and well, also there is the sitting. Oh and the inactivity that comes as a package deal with the sitting. Did I mention sitting? This is my way of saying that you are not immune to this one even if you have a six pack and think you are way past learning how to move intelligently. If you live in our current culture and haven’t abandoned modern society to go create a new hunter gatherer tribe, then you are affected. Even with a career in this field and with spending the last 17 years rehabilitating my own body, I am still constantly uncovering and eradicating my own body blind spots.

To ferret out your own body blind spots, become a smart sassy mover, and injury-proof your body while reverse aging it, some excellent systems to check out are Tune Up Fitness/Yoga Tune Up, Restorative Exercise™, Functional Movement Systems®, and MovNat®.

5) Move Often: Now that you are moving well (P.S. that’s a lifelong endeavor, so keep it up) now you can move often! Hooray! Do I really need to do the thing where I repeat what we all know about how important physical activity is? That as humans we are born to move and when we don’t we break down in a myriad of ways? I didn't think so. You guys are totally on that, so what I will say is that you should move as often as feels good, while still remembering that recovery is a super important part of the training process. If you start to feel tired and cranky all the time and you notice you are recovering from your workouts more slowly or are getting injured or dealing with pre-injury nagging aches and pains, remember to take some recovery time. Beyond being attentive to not over training  all you have to do is to find movement that you can fall in love with and embrace it! I don’t know that anyone ever fell in love with walking on the treadmill at the gym while watching The View, so I give you full permission and encouragement to chuck that, but when you begin to explore the endless choices for moving your body, you’re bound to find several things that will resonate with you and put you in your happy place. Hiking! Stand Up Paddleboarding! Capoeira! Yoga! Rock climbing! Powerlifting! Kayaking! Break dancing! Parkour! See, lots of options. Go explore the wide world of movement, find what you love, stop dreading your “workout” and instead fall in love with moving your body.

Photo by ShelterIt

DIY Friday: Posture

diyfriday (2)*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

2499047949_47fb90e481_zI predict that FFF will ultimately have somewhere approximating 63 gajillion posts on posture. That would make this the first of them! Oh, posture. Such an overused and misunderstood word. Quick! Have good posture! Did you just yank your spine up straight, tuck your butt under, and shove your shoulders back while puffing up your chest? Well stop it. Stop it I say! That sh*t is exhausting and will only sow the seeds of chronic pain. Like I said, 63 gajillion posts coming your way over the years on posture, so I’ll get into the nuance of that more later but for now I need you to trust me on 2 things:

1) “Good” posture should be effortless. It should involve standing in a way that allows you all the glorious support you are designed with so that you can feel that sense of poise when upright without efforting or gripping your way through it. Forget anything you ever learned about posture in ballet class or the military. Or from your harping parents. Please.

2) Today’s 3 DIY posts have been chosen because they will help you to experience and attain that effortless sense of poise. Have fun!

  • First up, yep, this is a re-post of yours truly on the Yoga Tune Up® blog. I am slightly obsessed with getting people to stop shoving/pinning/pulling their shoulders back (it causes so much unnecessary pain!), so a few months back I wrote this article. It also has a video on how you can release your own pec minor, the main culprit in forward shoulder position, using therapy balls. If you are therapy ball-less at home you can use a tennis ball or a rubber dog ball. Lacrosse balls, baseballs, and softballs (or anything of this consistency) are too hard in this area. This is one of my favorite end of the workday things to do: When your pec minor becomes a major pain.
  • Second, Whole Living just posted this fascia focused workout creator by Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune Up (and, full disclosure, my teacher). While they don’t talk about this workout specifically as a posture improver, it really does hit so many of the key areas that need to be addressed in order for you to have a shot at experiencing ease in your body. Give them a try, they’re harder than they look! And my one caveat is to be super, duper, uber mindful when you do any of these movements (especially Matador Arm Circles and Sliding Chest Extension) to turn off your upper trapezius! It’s the part of your upper back/shoulder that you’re always groaning about at the end of the day, and it is, if you’re like most people, hyperactive. You will need to keep telling yourself to let that area soften as you go through the movements in order to open up your posture instead of just reinforcing old habits: Fascia Focused Workout
  • Lastly, the woman who literally wrote the book on posture, Mary Bond, has this great post on how spatial awareness/support can affect your posture. It might sound kooky, but try it! Go for a short walk seeing primarily with your peripheral vision. Or try sitting in your work chair while being aware of the space above your head and behind you (and try to avoid the temptation to pull yourself up when you notice the space above you). It can be powerful stuff! Spatial Support for Your Posture. Oh and that book I mentioned is The New Rules of Posture.

Now get out there and strut your effortlessly sassy pants stuff!