The fascinating fascia…. redefining how we move

For those of you who do not hold a degree in physiotherapy, medicine, body science or the like, or hold a keen interest in the body (meaning I’m 10 years late to the fascia party) then please allow me to introduce the concept of the fascia to you.

After all my years undertaking either personal training, running, yoga and pilates, the fascia seems to have only just captured my consciousness and quite literally, it blows my mind. Check out the youtube video below “Fascia and Structural Integration with Robert Schleip”, which is a great introduction to this previously overlooked part of the body.

To make  this concept easier to understand (remember this topic is well and truly beyond my expertise), I’d ask you to imagine that your body is made up not just of muscles and bones, tendons and ligaments, as you have always been taught, but includes millions of tiny elastic bands. Little bands that interconnect and wrap around each and every cellular structure in the body. To get slightly more technical (as described on the Anatomy Trains website), the fascia is “all the collagenous-based soft-tissues in the body, and the cells that create and maintain that network”.

Fascia forms a continuous tensional network throughout the human body, covering and connecting every single organ, every muscle, and even every nerve fibre.” Sam Moore quoting R Schleip in his article Tai Chi, Fascia & Whole Body Movement. The fascia “is elastic in nature and exhibits this quality even more so when in good condition, facilitating connected and fluid movement ….if you can imagine wearing an elasticated wet-suit that permeates your body entirely, adapted and yet ever adaptive to how you most commonly use your body, then this may give you some idea of this incredible stuff”.

The fascia is fast gaining traction in the body-science community for being of significant importance in our ability to move, perhaps just as responsible as our tendons and ligaments. The fascia could potentially mean redefining how we view pain, human movement and injury avoidance.

Trevor Aung Than, physiotherapist to the WA Ballet and myofascia expert in Perth, explains in his article from InTouch Magazine that ‘release’ through the body can be achieved simply by rolling one’s foot on a spikey ball.  I have experienced this fascial phenomenon first hand during my pilates sessions. Each week I arrive at pilates with almost zero ability to touch my toes. The first exercise usually starts with rolling my foot on a small spikey ball. The effect of this is that I go from not being able to touch my toes to being able to touch my toes, within just a few minutes. So how can such a simple exercise have such a huge effect on the body?

Trevor Aung Than, Circus Conditioning

Trevor Aung Than, Circus Conditioning

In a quest to understand the fascia more deeply, I recently attended a workshop by Trevor that I found as fun as it was fascinating. Trevor is a man of many talents. A qualified physiotherapist, he has worked with and studied the human body for almost 20 years. Following many years practicing traditional physiotherapy, Trevor embarked on a career with Cirque de Soleil. The incredible acrobatic feats Cirque performers achieved confounded Trevor and challenged his previous understanding of how the body was designed to work. Searching for answers, he went on to study at an ‘Anatomy Trains’ workshop in Hong Kong in December 2011.

This career changing moment for Trevor spurred a number of new endeavors. Returning to Perth, he became the head practitioner for the West Australian Ballet. Here he continues to provide physiotherapy services with a new understanding of the body and how it can be trained, maintained and treated in a holistic manner. Adding to his stable of myofascial offerings, Trevor offers Circus Conditioning and Air Yoga classes in Perth. Trevor has agreed to enlighten us on what the myofascia means. Here’s what he shared…

Trevor, explain your understanding of the myofascia and its potential for influencing human movement, training, sporting endeavors and general wellbeing?  

The myofascia really gives us some of the answers of how and why our bodies can do truly amazing things. Our myofascia is the reason why runners in Kenya and Mexico can run marathons barefoot with zero injuries; why old tai chi masters can push younger men double their size and weight with ease and how practitioners of yoga can bend their bodies in seemingly impossible shapes.The answers can only be found in the myofascial system.

How accepted are your beliefs in the medical community?  Do you think traditional medicine would concur with your understanding of the fascia?  

I think it is gaining more acceptance. I believe more and more practitioners are becoming aware of its importance.  It’s only a matter of time and these will be traditional thoughts.

Circus Conditioning Workshop

What sort of exercises are the best options for working the fascia?  

It’s thought that exercises that replicate the nature of our connective tissue is important for our fascia.  And what that is is 3-dimensional.  Looking at an anatomy textbook it is often hard to really get a good grasp of our anatomy from a 2-dimensional construct.  It’s almost like we need to have anatomy texts with 3-D glasses!  So exercises that are variable are important for the fascia.  What that means is constant changes in angle of motion in the body. So it means actually getting away from machine based exercises which restrict our movements to only a single plane of movement.  Using free weights is better but then again, we need to be moving in different directions.  Think of capoeira, vinyasa style yoga or dance – activities where we are constantly moving in different planes of motion.

How can myofascia based training complement more traditional training methods?  

I think they are a perfect mix.  You can’t really replicate the benefits of Olympic lifts for strength training so in my opinion, this type of training is essential if you want to get strong and big. Period. But if you want to feel good, be flexible and have less injuries, it is essential you mix this strength training with more movement-based training.  So it is a bit of the old case of the big guy that’s always in the gym, he should get to a yoga class.  And vice versa, that really bendy girl in the yoga class should include some strength training into her regime.

Fascia Workshops conducted by Trevor Aung Than

Fascia Workshops conducted by Trevor Aung Than

When people feel soreness and tightness in their muscles, what is the cause and what can they do about it?  

Well if they’ve just done a hard workout it’s understandable :). But if people are just sore and tight for no reason there’s something definitely wrong. Most issues are postural issues. We sit too much. We really do. We sit on the way to work, at work, home from work and then at home again. These issues are related to the myofascia getting essentially tight or bound up in common places ie,. Anterior hips, chest. Movement again is key here, get moving. Walk, crawl, run, hang, jump. If you need a release see a qualified therapist that works with the myofascia.  Do some yoga. Get stretching. Get a foam roller and learn how to use it. We all know what to do so just do it!

You offer courses on myofascia.  Who should attend these courses and why?  

My courses are suitable for anybody wanting to get more flexible and feel better in their bodies. I’ve had professional dancers attend, physios, osteos, yoga teachers, pilates people and just people keen on learning more about their bodies.  My next event is on 15 March and details are here: http://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/circus-conditioning-3606807145

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This post is not sponsored. All views and opinions are the author’s own.