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Fascinating Fascia

Research in the world of fascia continues and we are becoming increasingly aware of its importance in terms of movement. – “all the collagenous fibrous connective tissues that can be seen as elements of a body-wide tensional force transmission network” – Fascia Research Congress.

In training fascia (and I am convinced that we can), we want to optimize elasticity, adaptability & resilience. In other words, we want to make it strong, flexible, and better able to resist injury (most movement practice injuries are those of connective tissue) As we age these myofascial qualities alter significantly and elasticity is lost when the tissue structure changes. The categorisation of these things was just one missing link for me! Half my students are amazingly resilient, but inflexible, and the other half are so adaptable that they can hardly hold themselves together. And elasticity IMHO has been disappearing at a stunning rate since I started teaching 18 years ago. People are plain stuck!

Karin Gurtner has developed exercises for Fascial training. They look somewhat like Pilates and somewhat like Yoga! But, the difference is in the intention. Here are just few thoughts that might assist your Yoga and Pilates to be slightly more integrated from a fascai perspective.

Rhythm and Glide play a huge part in this myofascial training.

Rhythm can provoke a wonderful thing called elastic recoil. Elastic recoil uses the energy that has been stored in the more elastic tissues. like tendons, to help us move with less muscular effort. Less muscular effort = less energy output = efficiency. Every dancer (and successful movement teacher) in the world seeks this – a muscular hour is way more depleting than an elastic one. When you practice Yoga or Pilates for a while, you begin to feel the difference between a session that leaves you energised, upright, strong and centred from one that, although on the face of it feels like it is building strength, ends up making you feel fatigued and sometimes in pain.

So how can I make my Pilates and Yoga more fascia orientated ?

To help us find out here are some of the tools suggested by fascia experts, and how they might be available in Yoga and Pilates.

Preparatory movement – elastic recoil – rhythm

This principle refers to the elastic storage capacity (potential energy) of fascial tissue -we are significantly more elastic than previously thought. The release of this potential energy (kinetic energy) is involved in activities such as running and jumping. It is the elastic recoil of the fascia that ensures muscular efficiency. Elastic recoil is best (but not uniquely) utilised when the ground force (the floor) is a component in this elastic storage. For example, when we walk our heel strike on the floor takes some of the energy from the floor and uses it to bring us forwards more efficiently. Think about how difficult (muscularly inefficient) it is to walk on sand.

But, this recoil can also be found by sending simply the tissue a little further than an un-tensioned length and bouncing back. The classic example in Yoga is the step forwards from Three – legged Down Dog in a flow class or Sun Salutation. Us teachers see an array of fascianating (get it! ) techniques. Some people are able to step forwards with ease and others just cannot get it. so why is that? Try it and see.

  • If you stay in three legged dog for too long- the step forward it takes muscular effort.

  • If you can’t (don’t) lift the leg high enough, the tissue at the front of the body cannot be taken to a position to employ it’s stored energy= muscular effort.

  • It you move the leg forwards too fast, momentum helps initially, but the foot hits the floor with a crash as the muscles assisted by gravity go too fast.

  • And if you lift the leg too high and you go beyond the “point” and the storage is displaced- again muscular effort is needed to bring the leg forwards.

And than there is that “Goldilocks moment” where it is just right. The leg is lifted to it’s “point” then there is a swift and rhythmical lift just a little higher, the tissues at the front of the hip happily recoil to swing the leg forwards into position for high lunge or warrior. It’s magic, esthetic, flowing, graceful and efficient.

Using this principal in The Pilates Roll Up is another great example of claiming back the energy built up in the entire front line of the body to assist in smooth flexion. Mr Pilates knew this and “bounce” or “pulse” was a big part of his sessions. It has always been a shock when I hear people talk about how “tough” Pilates is- and now I know that their classes are not employing this elastic energy.

In Roll Up, we want to first find oppositional tension from our fingers to toes and fully elongating the front line of the body when lying back at the start of the exercise. Remember- not too fast, not to slow, don’t reach to far, just right like Goldilocks and we can then transition smoothly into flexion utilizing some of the stored energy to assist the roll through the spine.

Glide- Not “Slip” or “Stuck” – training deceleration (for some)

In Pilates, we are all about the play between concentric and eccentric phases of movement, and of course, Flow. Fluidity and Glide are essential guiding principles in fascial training. We also find these principals in flowing Yoga.

This smoothness- Glide- happens when the muscles are asked to slide over each other with control, in both concentric and eccentric phase. Both in multi-directional moves, and most importantly for the hyper-mobile, on the way back out of a pose! When we make the intention of glide available as an option to students either through verbal cuing or the use of physical tools, and we make sure that the route IN- AND- OUT of every pose is balanced energetically and the positive tension in the body works a treat. Resillience and adaptability! This might involve the use of massage balls or other kinisthetic awareness implements by way of educating the sensory network in the area to be glided.

For many in your class glide is found when movements are kept shy of end-range for those capable of hyper-mobility. And for the less flexible, training relaxation of the force to the local stabilisers can assist their let go without feeling vulnerable. The aspiration of glide can inform all students to find their own way. This can create a true balances between velocity and oppositional force. By simply cuing our students to keep a fairly consistent load and velocity in transitions especially in flow we can create smooth transitions. This will also help to ensure the transmission of sufficient load into the centre of the body and protect balance and the lumbo-pelvic region.

Let’s take the example of Yoga standing forward fold or Pilates standing roll down. If we inform the student that the aim is to find a glide in the tissues of the back body. Both moving in AND out of the pose.That glide is not slip, but neither is it stuck. If we inform the students back line tissue with balls under the feet, or in the lumbar fascia as a preparation, we may begin to educate those that need awareness of the decelerating properties of the back line- those with the unstable Sacro-Illiac region for example- at the same time as teaching the inflexible people that tissues do move over each other and smoothness is available.

Training fascia is lie the WD40 of movement- it helps stuck thing to move and moving things to glide.


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