Did you ever wonder why we need to move every day?
Have you noticed that often when you wake up in the morning your body feels stiffer and tighter? Every night when we sleep, we spend approximately 7-8 hours barely moving and during this time the tissue in between our muscles adheres or gets a bit ‘stuck’ in different areas, contributing to that stiff feeling. Movement helps us break down those adhesions in order to improve our range of motion and the quality of our movement.
This tissue is called fascia. A great way to visualise the fascia is to imagine a peeled orange. Within the orange there are separated wedges that are held together through their own tissue, and on the inside, there are lots of little individual pods where the orange juice is contained.
Our bodies have a similar kind of connective tissue. Imagine a body suit covering your entire body from the feet to the top of your head, and surrounding every muscle, bone, ligament, tendon, and organ in the body. This body suit helps keep the shape of the body, by surrounding every muscle individually, but through its continuous connection, it links muscle groups together.
What is the function of the fascia?
A hot topic of debate, it’s commonly assumed fascia’s main function is to ensure the muscle tissue is able to functioning efficiently and to assist the communication between the brain and the musculoskeletal system. It also assists with transmission of load and contraction forces between linked muscles so that when you walk or run, your muscles are balanced and your movement pathway is coordinated. Finally, it protects damaged or weaker areas by creating adhesion’s that will limit range and muscle activity. This may limit flexibility in the short term but will stop muscles from tearing and with correct release work and understanding of muscle firing patterns, can be rectified easily. Fascia is a communicator, a facilitator and a safety net for our musculoskeletal system.
One school of thought is that there are different fascial lines that are relevant to movement practice, something that we as practitioners consider when planning a Pilates session. Fascia is so deeply interconnected that we could into a lot of detail but I’ll try to keep it simple and precise with the following examples;
Thomas Myers (the author of Anatomy Trains) describes one fascial line as the ‘Superficial Back Line’. “The Superficial Back Line connects and protects the entire posterior surface of the body like a carapace from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head.” This particular line includes the plantar fascia under our feet, our achilles tendons and calves, up into our hamstrings, through our pelvis, then back extensor muscles next to our spine, all the way up through the back of the neck and over our head to finish just above the eyes.
Another example is the ‘Superficial Front Line’ which opposes the ‘Superficial Back Line’ in function and connectivity, so both balance each other and work together to maintain an upright position. This line also functions when we are doing a forward bend movement, like roll downs or curl ups in Pilates. This line begins at the top of our toes, then moves up to our muscles next to our shin, up our quadriceps, six pack (rectus abdominis), middle of our chest, splitting at our neck muscles to finish back of our head, behind the ears.
Why is knowing any of this important?
Now that you understand how deeply connected our body is, it is easier to understand the reasoning behind what we do. Sometimes you might say your lower back is sore and as practitioner we might choose to start doing neck and thoracic movements in all directions to release your lower back tension without necessarily working directly on that area. Often moving the fascia in the areas close to the tight or sore point is more beneficial than the sore area, and releasing that tension is the first step in preparing the body for core activation and then more complex movements.
Our body has its own natural way of maintaining healthy fascia through pandiculation. According to somatic movement center: “Pandiculation is generally defined as the act of stretching oneself and yawning”, if you have seen the stretching babies, cats and dogs do when they wake up, that’s a pandiculation movement - it’s a systematic stretch to help regulate the body’s natural tensions. When a pandicular response occurs the nervous system contracts and releases the muscles at the same time, resetting the level of tension. Pandiculation can prevent chronic muscular tension habits from developing, prevent poor posture and encourage efficient movement pathways. Our sedentary lifestyle and stressful habits can create chronic muscle tension at a higher rate, inhibiting the pandulation response, or we simply forget to pandiculate because we rush out of bed the moment the alarm goes off!
How can you help your fascia?
It’s really well recognised that drinking lots of water helps the hydration of the body and therefore the fascia, as well as lots of movement in many directions and differing intensity and tempos - this loads the fascia and asks it to get supple. Letting your body pandiculate when you wake up every day is also excellent, as it’s your body reflexively telling you to move in a way that’s going to be beneficial for you. You will notice how much happier and freer your body will feel just by giving it some extra opportunities for movement.