If you are passionate about health and wellness, chances are you may have heard the buzz about Fascia (pronounced: FAH-sha). Fascia is an incredibly overlooked structure found throughout our entire body — and scientists are just beginning to explore and understand its potential! Learn more about what it is, what it does, and its huge influence on our overall health.
Fascia is defined as a three-dimensional fibrous network of specialized “stretchy” connective tissue, varying in texture and thickness throughout the entire body (some superficial, some deep). It forms our largest uninterrupted system, integrating and interlacing every square inch of us from head to toe. In fact, without this internal scaffolding, we would be reduced to a big pile of mush.
To get a feel for what fascia looks like and how it moves, imagine a spider web with its gossamer-thin threads. These threads are inherently weak on their own, but once tightly woven together, they become strong and flexible. If you tug on one part of the web, you will simultaneously create movement elsewhere – impacting the overall strength and integrity of the entire structure. Now, imagine this single spider web is interconnected with thousands of other webs, and you begin to get a picture of this incredible inner-world living within all of us.
Fascia has a Rich Presence of Sensory Nerve Receptors…
It Contributes to Almost all Communication in the Body.
It is the Body’s Living Matrix.
– DR. HELENE LANGEVIN, Director of the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health
The scientific community has recently recognized fascia as a sensory organ.1 In fact, this body-wide webbed network contains almost 10 times the number of sensory nerve endings as muscle, making it nearly as sensitive as skin!2 When stressed, fascia tightens up and restricts. And because this soft tissue is so highly innervated, it can communicate a wide variety of pain signals to the brain at any given moment. That muscle pain you’re feeling may actually be your fascia.3 Now that’s a big deal!
This fibrous connective network also plays a primary role in regulating our movement patterns, alignment and posture. Ounce for ounce, fascia is stronger than steel4 – it’s our built-in (webbed) suit of armor. Despite its Kevlar-like exterior, fascia is designed to stretch as we move. Just as the ocean’s waves affect the shape of the sand on the shoreline, our movements (or lack thereof) directly change the shape of our fascia. It not only gives us shape – it also shapes us.
When our fascia is healthy, it swims in an oily-bath made up largely of water, collagen, and some elastin (scientists refer to this as the “extracellular matrix”), allowing for easy slide and glide between structures. Our muscles rely on healthy fascia for gliding, as do the nerves and organs. Like hand cream that needs to be rubbed into your skin to get the full benefit, the oily-bath needs the friction of movement to be able to melt and then lubricate. If the oily bath loses water content the fascia will become dehydrated and sticky like honey. In other words, if there is no movement, the oily bath will go from super-lubricant to super-glue!
When Fascia is Unhealthy, It Becomes Brittle and Inflexible
Making it Ground Zero for the Aches and Pains
We Often Chalk up to “Getting Old”
For most of us, our fascia is no longer 100% healthy. What leads to unhealthy fascia? A sedentary lifestyle, repetitive movement patterns that create imbalances, injury, and inflammation to name a few. So, how do we know if our connective tissue isn’t healthy? Imagine walking around in a pair of pants and sweater that were two sizes too small. How do you think you would feel after wearing these clothes for an entire day? How about over the course of a week, a month, a year? Probably, pretty uncomfortable! Well, that’s exactly what happens when fascia is unhealthy. In a less than optimal state, fascia becomes brittle and inflexible, making it ground zero for some of the aches and pains we often chalk up to “getting old.” Fascia craves movement! When we don’t move, fascia forms adhesions that restrict and obstruct the sliding of fascia’s layers, making us feel tight and tense, and inhibiting our ability to move freely.
But here’s the good news! Fascia is flexible and adaptable, capable of restructuring and regenerating. Have you ever wondered why you feel so good and energized after an Essentrics class? That’s your fascia saying, “thank you”! Science has caught up with that we have intuitively known all along – gentle full-body quality movement in all planes of motion engage, stretch, and hydrate the fascia.
We sometimes get asked why we move slowly in Essentrics. This is deliberate. Slow movement done through a gentle range of motion produces more fluid, lubricating the fascia and the joints and reversing stiffness caused by years of overtraining, poor posture, or being sedentary. Essentrics creates balance, strength, and flexibility – resulting in a more youthful and streamlined body that moves with ease. As for the length of time it will take to reshape and restore your fascia, that varies with each person – just know that as long as you are moving on a daily basis, you will experience positive (even life-changing!) results. Aging backwards, indeed.
Click the video below and follow along with Miranda Esmonde-White as she takes you through a short full-body sequence that will work on hydrating your fascia.
Contributing writer Lisa Mozo-Gleason