Inner Breath Yoga

How does to much time sitting in chairs damages our ocean’s reefs? 

By Renee’ Fulkerson

You might be thinking what does sitting in a chair haft to do with an ocean’s reefs? I would be thinking the same thing if I had not made the connection personally on my last adventure out snorkeling.

A little back story:

Last year in the middle of April 2018 Kauai received 50 inches of rain in 24 hours that devastated the island. The north shore communities of Wainiha and Haena were cut off from the rest of the island due to countless mudslides that covered the only two lane road in or out of these communities. It took over a year to repair the road to a safety standard that would allow all non Wainiha and Haena residents to re-enter the area.

YogAlign Inner Breath Yoga Kauai (18)

During this one year period the only folks allowed in and out of the above mentioned communities while massive road repair was taking place were the full time residents. As a full time resident living in Haena I saw with my own eyes the land transform.

Myself and many of the locals had an opportunity of a lifetime to spend time on the secluded and empty beaches. We began to see the fish returning, turtles nesting that had not been there since folks could remember and the reefs were coming alive again.

DCIM100GOPRO  DCIM100GOPRO

This is when I began my regular snorkeling adventures!

During this time I continued teaching and practicing YogAlign – pain-free yoga from your inner core. I began realizing much of my movements in the water reflected my movements in YogAlign. Not to mention breathing through the snorkel replicated the SIP breath in my practice. Like snorkeling a full body activity we too in YogAlign engage the entire body in practice and view the body as a whole.

The primary muscle groups engaged while snorkeling include:

Hip flexors, ham strings, upper and lower abdominal’s, quads and gluteul muscles

A fair amount of flexibility in the ankle region as well as the ability to point the toes like a dancer is necessary (if you prefer to avoid leg and foot cramps).

A  strong core (abdominal, Oblique and back muscles) help to create a stable platform for legs to kick as well as a balance in your front and back leg strength.

Here is were the sitting in a chair comes in as none of the above mentioned muscle groups are engaged during sitting – it is quite the opposite. (the average American spends 7.7 hours a day sitting)

Having said that you take an average person who sits 7.7 hours a day in a chair and he or she decides one day to go snorkeling chances are the ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystem) and themselves are going to suffer.

How because he or she would be expecting their bodies to preform in a way it is incapable of preforming. The primary muscle groups that need to be engaged while snorkeling have amnesia from sitting. Flexibility in the ankles and pointing of the toes  would be limited – due to the shortening and tightening of the front line while sitting. Their core would be void creating an unstable platform for their legs to kick not to mention the unbalance between the back and front leg muscles.

How does all of this effect the oceans reefs?

On my last snorkeling adventure I realized I had gained greater endurance, strength and stamina (all supported by my regular YogAlign practice). However when I looked all around me as far as my eye could see people were STANDING ON THE REEFS! Why? Because they were tired and or had leg/ foot cramps and difficulty breathing (and yes I asked).

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I swam up and said do you realize you are standing on a fragile underwater ecosystem that has had a years gift to repair itself from the endless years of damage it has received? Usually the response was I was so tired I could not get back to shore or I was having trouble breathing and got a leg cramp. lol

I encourage everyone to get out and get moving including snorkeling however, not at the sake of our ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystems) or their safety. #getupstandupforyourlife

See you on the mat!

Top 10 benefits of Snorkeling 

Low Backs, Glutes & Lats

By: ERIK DALTON

The gluteus maximus was probably the muscle most responsible for pulling us up onto two legs and now look what’s happened to it. Our flexion-addicted lame-ass (no pun intended) society had forced it to be neurologically bullied about by tight hip flexors. If reciprocal inhibition doesn’t completely rob its massive power, injured SI joints and low backs certainly will. It attaches and is continuous with the biceps femoris, long dorsal SI ligaments, thoracolumbar fascia and crosses over to form the posterior spring system with latissimus dorsi (Fig 1).

The g-max and lat dorsi are not only dynamic lumbar spine stabilizers, but when working in conjunction with other spring systems, play a major role in coordinated cross-patterned gait (Fig 2).

It’s easy to spot those with weak glutes. Due to reciprocal weakness, these folks tend to stand with the pelvis tilted one way or another with their butt kinda “hanging off” the hip capsules and lumbopelvic ligaments. If the muscles, tendons, and fascia are relatively weak in relation to the demands of a particular sport or repetitive activity, the vertebral joints (usually beginning with the disc) will deteriorate (Fig 3). When deterioration becomes severe it can be difficult to carry out the functions of daily living, let alone any high performance athletic endeavor. Any attempt to manually lengthen or stretch weak intrinsic and extrinsic spinal stabilizers causes greater forces to converge on the spinal discs and facets resulting in premature degeneration.

Spindle-Stim Technique

OK, so the glutes are typically weak….whadda we do about em? Even though the clients love it, the last thing we want to do is start massaging and digging around creating more stretch weakness. We could always send them to the gym for squats, leg presses, lunges, or…we could try to tonify them during the therapy session using fast-paced spindle-stimulating techniques.

Try this Spindle-Stim ‘test & treat’ routine:

• With client prone, ask them to lift their left leg as high as comfortably possible and get a sense of how high the extended leg comes off the table…then test the right.
• Place the left foot against the right knee forming a “Figure 4” position with the leg. This places g-max on the stretch.
• With arms extended, use soft fists and begin bouncing on the left hip..
• Now, drop your body weight so all the energy is coming from your legs.
• Working the tissue in all directions, begin to gradually pick up speed until you see the entire body rocking & rolling. (This is not tapotement folks…use your body weight)
• The goal is to kick in a mild stretch reflex via muscle spindle’s dynamic gamma motoneuron system..
• After two minutes of rapid spindle-stim stop and retest their degree of hip extension.
• Results are often dramatic depending on your use of the technique and the degree of weakness the client presents with.
• Repeat on the opposite side and take notes on the degree of improvement so you can test them next session to see which g-max needs more work.

What about the tight lats?

Gotta love these guys. Considered a lower quadrant muscle, lat dorsi is innervated by the cervical ganglia and instrumental in all shoulder and arm movements, i.e., chopping with an axe. Two major structural/functional problems can occur in the presence of lat hypertonicity:

• Due to their attachment at the lesser tubercle of humerus, they work with teres major and the clavicular fibers of pec major to internally rotate the humeral head leading to upper cross syndrome patterns, forward head postures and rotator cuff injuries.
• Optimal functioning of the posterior spring system during cross-patterned gait demands there be precise length/strength balance between g-max and lat dorsi. In the presence of tight lats and weak glutes, the posterior spring system fails to participate with the other spring systems to wind up the lumbar spine and propel the legs forward in the gait cycle.

Try this ‘lat-lengthening’ technique:

• The client is left sidelying, knees flexed with his/her right hand grasping the top of the therapy table.
• With your left hand behind your back, grasp the client’s right ilium and lean against your arm to brace the hip.
• Place a soft right forearm along the lateral border of the lat fascia and get a good fascial hook.
• Establish a counter-force by anchoring with your left hand and slowly hooking and gliding up the lats with your right forearm. The goal is to lift the rib cage off the pelvic girdle and open up the lateral side of the body.
• After a few strokes, stop and this time ask the client to inhale to a count of 5 while gently pulling up on the top of the therapy table.
• As they relax and exhale, hook the deeper fascia so you can really decompress lat adhesions and activate the posterior spring system.
• Repeat on opposite side.

GOAL: Help your clients maintain a strong, mobile spine and spinal spring system to minimize injuries and maximize sports performance. Advise against overexertion during competitive or recreational activities to avoid microfailure (fatigue) and eventual spinal degeneration. Remember, the spine cannot support itself without help and that’s where these spinal engine spring system routines come in handy. Restoration of optimal range of motion, length/strength balance and proper firing order are essential components of the Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques(TM).

The SI Joint Whisperer Tells All (Part 2)

By Bizz Varty and 

PART TWO

Rehab – How can I be BFFs with my SIJs?

Disclaimer: While I have lots of personal and professional experience helping people heal their SIJs, I am NOT, in fact, a doctor. If these exercises help you, that is wonderful, but if they do not or if your pain gets worse, PLEASE see a medical professional – ideally one who has experience working with dancers.

I’ve provided a number of options for each step because I’ve found that every SIJ joint issue has a personality of its own, and different bodies respond better to different therapies. I recommend giving all of them a try to find which ones whisper the sweet nothings that your SIJs need to hear. The best course of defence against future issues in the SIJs is to do a little work on them every day, from a minimum of 5 up to an ideal-world 20 minutes, either all at once or a few times a day, as needed. Once you become familiar with the exercises and with the difference between the way a functional and dysfunctional SIJ feels, you’ll know what your body needs and when, and you can address any weird twinges before they throw off your alignment and set off a zigzag effect throughout your body.

Step 1: Loosen Up

Since so much SIJ drama is caused by tension, the first order of business is loosening the f#$% up (something most over-achieving dancers prefer not to do) (note from Monika- HAHAHA! So true).

This is as much mental as it is physical – you need to get into your happy place so that you can let go of the anxiety that pain and injury cause. In extreme cases, I often recommend a glass of wine to promote relaxation (you gotta do what you gotta do!).

Bouncing: with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly making sure they point over your second toes, and simply bounce gently up and down, letting go of tension throughout your body. You can let your head roll side to side as you bounce, and try bouncing on one leg at a time while you stack your joints over one another from your feet to your head.

Pelvic Tilt: laying on your back with your feet hip width apart on the floor and your knees bent, gently tilt your pelvis towards your head, rocking your tailbone up off the floor and slightly flattening the curve in your low back. This is a subtle movement that wakes up your deep muscles, so you need to keep it small. Your obliques, transverse abs and adductor magni can rock your pelvis, but only if you relax your glutes and try not to push with your legs.

Step 2: Align

The second most important thing you can do to improve your SIJ function is to embrace inward hip rotation.Turnout is not your enemy, but over-reliance on turnout muscles is, so do yourself a favour and learn to love parallel feet, hip width apart. In yoga, the opposite of turnout is called ‘inner spiral’. A balance of inner and outer spiral appropriate to the body’s position is the key to SIJ stability. A great way to learn to use inner spiral is to use an image I call the “pelvic smile.”

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Pelvic Smile: When you activate your pelvic smile, you turn on your deep abdominals and activate your inner spiral while releasing your outer rotators. To do it, imagine that you are able to look at a cross-section of your body, as though you were cut in half just below your navel at the level of your ASISs (the bony points at the front of your pelvis). A top view from here would reveal the two halves of your pelvis connecting at the SIJs in something like a semi-circle.

If you make your index finger and thumb into a semi-circle on each hand and connect them at the tips of your thumbs, you can simulate this image. Without proper alignment, your hip bones can feel (and your hands will look) kind of like a ‘W’. We want to make them into a ‘U’ or smile shape. To accomplish this, there are three main actions:

First, you will imagine widening across the back of your pelvis, pulling your low belly muscles in towards your sacrum (pulling your thumbs out to make a rounder shape) Next you’ll use your deep abdominals to narrow your ASISs (hip points) towards each other in the front of your pelvis (pull your index fingertips towards the centre to make your fingers perpendicular to your thumbs). The third action deals with the body in space. When you are standing, the pelvic smile (fingers and thumbs) should be parallel with the ground, and when you lie on your back the ASISs will point up towards the ceiling. When on your stomach, the pelvic smile forms a bridge from one hip point to the other, with the sacrum at the apex. When you are moving through space, the pelvic smile should move with you, maintaining its position between your head and your feet.

Once I experienced the magic of pelvic smile, I couldn’t help but do it everywhere – in the shower, while washing dishes, grocery shopping…. it works wonder to get you in alignment, and you’ll find that after a little practice, you’ll develop a smirk on your face to go along with it, one that says “bet you can’t guess where I’m smiling right now ;)”.

Step 3: Warm Up

Developing a mental picture of your pelvis by using imagery (such as the pelvic smile) will help you to understand what does and doesn’t work for your body. If the pelvic smile doesn’t work for you, there are lots more options – ask around or check out Donna Krasnow’s dancer-saving Conditioning with Imagery.

Muscles, like people, have trust issues, and when dancers focus all their attention on the outer rotators, the inner ones will weaken and retreat, sulking in a corner and refusing to do their jobs. Being an especially touchy and stubborn kind of joint, the SIJ responds better to attempts at realignment once it’s been flattered with a little attention, so be sure to warm up before you try any of the release techniques.

You will find the exercises below described in my free workout video “The Pilates Quick Fix on youtube (or visit my website to order a DVD). Here is a quick list of the most important exercises to improve your relationship with your SIJs, so if you don’t have time for the 25 minute video, you can choose the exercises you need the most.

Abs: Imprint

Multifidus: Cat/cow

Glute medius and Adductor magnus: Hip release

QL & Latissimus dorsi: Back extensions

Ilio-psoas: Hip fold

Step 4: Release

Retraining involves three things: releasing tense and spasmed muscles, strengthening weak ones, and then stretching and massaging to lengthen the short ones. Because SIJ dysfunction affects so many parts of the body, it would be inefficient to try and strengthen the weak muscles without first putting things back into place.

Releasing is not the same as stretching. While stretching involves pulling on the ends of a relaxed muscle to make it longer, releasing places the body in a position that brings the ends of a tense or spasmed muscle closer together so that the muscle can relax. It’s important to release before you strengthen (and before you stretch), because it will help maintain your alignment as you retrain your body.

Some people hold more tension in their piriformis, while others focus theirs in the glute medius or QL. Releases are best held for 3 minutes, but the longer you stay, the more your muscles will remember what it feels like to loosen the f$%# up.

Outward rotation (releases glute max & piriformis)

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Laying on your stomach with feet hip width apart, bend the knee of the affected side so the shin is perpendicular to the floor. Take the bent knee out to the side, about 30-45 degrees from the midline of the body, and place the knee on top of a pillow or cushion. Now allow the foot of the bent leg to drop towards the straight leg, passively rotating outwards. You need to relax the entire leg on the affected side, so you’ll want to prop the foot against something so you don’t have to use your hamstrings to keep the leg bent. I like to do this in a doorframe or near a table, but a chair or stack of heavy books would also make a decent foot-stopper. Once you’re there, focus on breathing deeply and relaxing the outer rotators on each exhale. I also like to reach back and use my hand to give the butt muscles a good jiggle to make sure they’re loosening up. This one is way easier if you get a friend to help, but it can be done on your own when necessary.

Inward rotation (releases glute med & IT band)

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Laying on your side (with the affected side on top), make sure your body is in one straight line from head to toes. Bring your top knee forward, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the body and place the entire shin on a pillow or bolster. Roll forward slightly so that your weight rests on the cushion (you might like to cuddle a pillow to your chest as well). Make sure the foot and shin of the bent leg are at the same height as the knee. Once again, breathe deeply and go to your happy place, and add a little jiggle if necessary.

Seated fourth (releases glutes, piriformis and IT band)

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This one is a great quick release you can do just about anywhere, no props required. Sit in fourth position with the affected leg behind you (bend the unaffected leg in front of you as though you were going to sit cross-legged, with the unaffected leg curled around behind you near your butt). Align your upper body with the thigh bone of the back leg, and lean away from the leg and rest on your hand or elbow. While relaxing the glutes and thigh muscles of the back leg, massage the piriformis and glute med. I often twist and wiggle around some in this position to find the ideal spot for release.

Bolster release (SI and QLs, etc)

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For this release you’ll need a prop that is at least 8-12” in length and not much wider than your SI dimples. A foam roller will do but you can also use a tightly-rolled yoga mat or a bolster if you want something softer. The roll will line up with your spine, and you will lay on it with the bottom at your tailbone. If your prop isn’t as long as you spine, you’ll want to cushion your head and upper body above its end. Once in position on top of your roller, bring the soles of your feet together and your knees out to the side. Place your hands on your hip bones and rock them gently side to side while thinking soft and happy thoughts about your glutes. You may feel a clunk or a shift, or you may not feel anything move, but either way this is a VERY effective release for the SI joint once the muscles surrounding it have chilled out.

Step 5: Strengthen

Now comes the business of strengthening those tense, weak inward rotators so that they feel equal to the outers and start doing their jobs. Don’t skimp on this part – you have probably spent more hours ignoring your inner muscles than you care to admit, and this is your chance to make it up to them. Although joints can be replaced these days, you can’t just trade in the ones you’ve got for ones that trust you more, so you and your SIJs might as well start talking about your feelings and working through your issues now.

Pilates is a very effective way to strengthen your deep core muscles and facilitate neuromuscular repatterning. Make sure to use your pelvic smile! Instructions for the exercises below can be found in my Quick Fix video.

Abs: Tic tocs, Ab curl

Multifidus: Back extensions

Glute medius: Clam shell

Adductor magnus: Butterfly

QL & Latissimus dorsi: Swimming, Arm & leg reach

Ilio-psoas: Hip fold (*try it with a straight leg, too)

Step 5.1 Re-release

In the beginning stages of retraining, old habits could pop up during strengthening and cause a spasm in the outer muscles. If this happens, don’t stress, just go back to step 4 and re-release them before you stretch.

Step 6: Stretch/Massage

Stretching and massaging is about balancing the resting length of your muscles. You need to lengthen your outer rotators to balance them with your inner ones so your SIJs can rest easily between the two. Because the SIJ’s range of motion is small and controlled by deep ligaments, muscles and fascia, stretches won’t be able to get at all the structures that need attention. Massage (using props for those hard to reach places) will dig down into them, basically reverse-stretching them in the way you would roll out a pie crust.

Yoga is a great way to stretch while maintaining proper alignment and activation of your postural muscles. You will find instructions for most of these poses in my Hippy Hippy Shake videos (or see YogaJournal for step-by-step basics). And don’t forget to use your pelvic smile!

Downward dog

Chair pose (with twists)

High and low lunge (with twists)

Warrior 2

Side angle

Triangle

Pigeon

Fire log

Cobra

Bound angle

As for massage, a pair of hard rubber bouncy balls are ideal for getting into the deep structures around your SIJs (tennis ball size is good, but I find tennis balls themselves to be too soft and slippery). (Note from Monika- You can get a lacrosse ball for four bucks from Canadian Tire). Place them on either side of your spine and roll up and down against a wall for a nice deep massage. You want to avoid rolling over your spine, instead focus on the muscles and tendons. Make sure you get down into the glutes, and even turn sideways to get the entire glute medius and the IT band.

Activating This Muscle Could Be The Key To A Stronger Mind-Body Connection

By Kait Hurley

“You need to learn how to connect with your glutes.”

That’s what my physical therapist told me after I pulled my hip flexor a few years ago for the third time in the previous two months. Honestly? I was puzzled, to say the least. I had been teaching group fitness for years, and I did glute-strengthening work several times a week. What was I doing wrong?

It turns out, all those times when I was pouring sweat and I thought I was strengthening my butt? My hamstrings, hips, and lower back were actually stepping in to do the work instead. I was feeling the burn—which gave me the illusion of success. It turns out I wasn’t feeling it in the right place.

As I dove deeper into learning about my glutes and the importance of glute strength and how to turn on these hard-to-connect-with muscles, my attention shifted during my workout. I became less focused on how the moves might affect the way I looked, and I was able to tune in a little deeper to how the moves felt in my body. The result? A more connected, meaningful sweat session—not to mention a little more compassion for myself. I created an entire online class devoted to strengthening your glutes right here in the hopes that sharing this knowledge can do the same for you.

Why glute strength isn’t just about looking good.

The glutes are one of the most major muscle groups in our bodies, and we need strong glutes to power us during our workouts and to perform simple day-to-day tasks—like picking something up off the floor, climbing stairs, or even just standing tall and upright.

Here’s the thing, though: Because of all the sitting we do, our hip flexors—those ropy muscles at the front of our hips and thighs—get short and tight. As a result, our glute muscles become limited in their range of movement and they weaken. Another harmful effect of sitting is that the glutes can become malnourished. Just like when you sit in a funky position and your leg falls asleep, the same thing is happening to our glutes on a regular basis.

When they don’t have access to regular blood flow and nourishment and this pattern is prolonged, our glutes can even forget how to turn on properly. They become desensitized, and they lose their ability to generate force—which means, even though we try to contract and fire our glute muscles, we can’t. Instead, the muscles in our legs, hips, and lower back take over to compensate for our loss of strength. And this leads to all kinds of health problems—including pelvic floor issues (think sneeze and pee) plus lower-back, knee, and ankle pain.

A 3-move guide to activating your glutes.

So how can we make sure our glute muscles are working efficiently? How can we light them up and train these muscles to work as a team so our body is functionally strong? I’ve got three effective butt-burning moves you can try right now to wake up your glutes and reinforce healthy muscle patterns in your body.

Move 1: Bridge Lifts

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Set it up: Roll all the way down onto your back and bring your feet hip distance apart. Place your hands on your hip bones. Exhale, push your feet into the floor, and engage your glutes. Inhale, lift your hips a few inches.

Take it deeper: Push your feet down into the ground and then, without moving them, energetically drive your feet forward. Hug your low belly in and knit your ribs (so they’re not popping out). Every time you breathe in, imagine that you’re reaching the tops of your thighs and your knees away from you. As you breathe out, focus your attention on turning on your glutes even more. Option to press your palms down into your hip bones to add a little more resistance. Because the glutes are difficult for many of us to connect with, know it might take you a little while to activate these muscles. That’s OK. Just keep focusing. Persistence is key.

Add some movement: Make sure you can feel your glutes activate before you layer on movement.

Start to move your hips up a little bit and then down a little bit. Do 20 reps of small movement—if I were right there with you, I may not even be able to see you moving. When you’re done, try 20 reps of moving a little bit bigger.

Move 2: All Fours

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Set it up: Come onto your forearms and knees. Extend your left leg back and bend your knee so your heel is firming tightly in toward your glutes. Lift your low belly so your lower back is supported.

Take it deeper: Without moving, energetically reach the top of your left thigh and knee behind you. It doesn’t matter how high your knee and thigh are lifting. What matters is finding the length. The more you can stretch the front of your thigh, the more your glutes can turn on.

Add some movement: Begin with 20 reps of smaller movement. Then increase your range of motion and try moving bigger. If you lose the connection with your glutes when you move bigger, go back to moving small. You’ll know the range of motion that is best for you because you’ll be able to feel your glutes activating the whole time. Be sure to repeat this on the right side so you stay balanced.

Move 3: Squat

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Set it up: Step your feet out wider than your hips. Turn your toes out slightly. Bend your knees and drop your butt down.

Take it deeper: Dig your heels into the ground, and then without moving them, drag them energetically away from each other. Also, press your knees gently out, so they’re in line with your three outer toes. When you do, you’ll start to feel your glutes turning on.

Add some movement: Stand all the way up without pushing your hips forward. Then drop back down. Every time you lower, have the intention of digging your heels into the ground and pressing your knees out. If you’re having trouble feeling the burn in your glutes, go slower. The slower I go—particularly as I lower down into a squat—the more connected I feel.

How Fascia Can Help Us Unravel Deeply Held Tension

By Jessica Humphries

The Gifts of Fascia

Once you’ve experienced the aha moments that accompany practices that release the body’s fascia, there’s no going back. You know it. A subtle shift. A feeling of letting go. Maybe you haven’t been able to describe it in words. It’s an experience that needs to be felt. But you know it. You may have felt it in a hip opener or a backbend. The moment your body goes from resisting to releasing. It’s the thing that keeps us coming back to our yoga mats; it’s all about fascia.

Anatomy expert and author of Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers, when describing fascia tells us that, basically, our cells “are glued together with snot, which is everywhere, and is more or less watery (hydrated) depending on where it is in the body and what condition it’s in.”

The wonderful thing about the journey to understanding fascia is that you don’t need to have an acute understanding of the ins and outs of anatomy in order to see how it operates within your body. I recently attended a fitness class at the gym titled ‘fascial fitness’. Long journeys along foam rollers were intercepted by oscillating movements that left me feeling spacious and free–despite the pop music in the background and lack of savasana at the end of the class.

As the research on fascia evolves, we learn new ways of unravelling deeply held tensions in this connective tissue, which greatly impacts our mobility as we age, as well as affecting our mind. And although we yogis often hear the word fascia associated with yin yoga, Western science is continuing to discover new ways of releasing and rehydrating through different forms of movement.

FasciaFascia is a flexible and sturdy material that covers every muscle, bond, organ and nerve.

Fascia, Simply

Author of Fascia–What it is and why it matters David Lesonak, explains that fascia is like “a silvery-white material, flexible and sturdy in equal measure–a substance that surrounds and penetrates every muscle, coats every bond, covers every organ, and envelops every nerve.” He says:

The most important thing to keep in mind… is that the fascial net is one continuous structure throughout the body…The ‘everywhereness’ of fascia also implies that, indeed, it is all connected, and thus is ‘connective tissue’, which is a term often used interchangeably with ‘fascia.’

The Connective Tissue that Weaves Through Us All

Ariele Foster is the founder of Yoga Anatomy Academy. She’s also a personal trainer, yoga teacher and anatomy teacher for yoga teacher trainings. Foster explains that fascia is “the network of connective tissue that surrounds and includes your muscles”–like scaffolding throughout your whole body. While the fibres of your body are supposed to slide easily over one another during movement, that’s not always exactly how it happens. “Whether due to injury or repetitive actions [such as running, hunching over computers, or even yoga poses] areas of tissue can become thickened and inflamed and tug on fascial network further up the chain,” Foster says. The result of these repetitive movements is that “the fascial sheaths that encase the muscles no longer have as much give and can become wound up like a wrung-out dishrag, contributing to restrictions, strain, and eventually pain.”

Erin Bourne holds a Bachelor of Exercise Science, as well as extensive training in Yoga and Myofascial release. She describes fascia as a dynamic and highly sensitive tissue that’s always listening and responding to what is happening throughout the whole body.

If we stop moving one part, or all, of the body then the fascia starts to dehydrate, solidify and constrict. This spot becomes like a dam for the energy, the information and the signals. We lose awareness in that part of the body and healthy function.

Foam rollers for fascial releaseBalls and foam rollers are great for fascial release.

By including exercises that help to release the fascia, Foster says, “we improve the slide and glide of the tissues whilst hydrating them through the act of compression and release.” And by doing this in one part of the body, it affects the whole. So, for example, if we release (or restrict) the fascia in the feet, it can have an impact all the way up to our neck.

Eastern Thoughts on Fascia

According to eastern philosophies, energy flows through fascia. In The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine, Daniel Keown says, “Fascia is everywhere–controlling everything; forming our body; channeling Qi; keeping everything in order.” Keown explains that the acupuncture channels of the East are the fascial planes of the West, and Western science is beginning to support these philosophies as it discovers parallels between the anatomy trains and the meridians. 

Releasing Fascia

Research on fascial release shows that there are a number of ways that we can start to unravel the deeply held tensions that lead to constriction and pain in our bodies and minds.

Tom Myers has been involved in bodywork for over 43 years. He is the author of the hugely popular Anatomy Trains and also lectures on the topic of fascia. He explains that we need long, slow stretches in order to reach the deeper and denser tissues of the body, such as fascia. He says:

One of the wonderful things about yoga is that because of the sustained stretch held in many yoga poses, you actually do change the connective tissue.

For Myers, once you change the habitual patterns of the fascia, you can start to address the chronic tension lodged in the tissues. The long held poses of yoga, especially yin, give the muscles time to relax and release, which can ultimately lead to both physical and emotional healing. Myers explains that when you first stretch a muscle, its own stretch reflex tries to contract the muscle back to its original length, but maintaining the stretch allows the body to relax into the shape and as the muscles relax, we begin to work into the deeper layers, like fascia.

Move it or lose it!Moving our bodies prevents fascia from dehydrating, solidifying and constricting.

The muscles have to relax first and then the fascia starts to stretch and release. And that can facilitate the kind of re-patterning that leads to lasting release of chronic holdings and, in many cases, a profound change of mind and body.

Myers notes that there is no amount of time that works for every body. For some, physiological changes can happen in a short time, and for others, long-held poses are required for release. It’s also important that we don’t push ourselves to our full capacity, so that we remain fluid; subtly moving within a pose to allow optimal hydration of the fascia.

Foster points to a 2015 review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that looks at 14 scientific papers illustrating the positive impacts of fascia release exercises. The studies suggested that gently rolling different muscles over balls or foam rollers (like in the newly popular ‘Yoga Tune Up’ classes) “pushes on fascia between your bones, muscles, organs, and nerve fibres—freeing up more mobility than is achievable with passive stretching alone.”

Fascia, Feelings, and Letting Go

Alexa Nehter is a long time yoga teacher who has delved deeply into the fascinating world of fascia. She’s studied with Tom Myers and has been blessed with the opportunity to meet with Dr Robert Schleip, one of the most well known fascia experts in the world and director of the Fascia Research Project at the University of Ulm, in Germany. Nehter muses about her love affair with fascia: “Fascia is our biggest sensory organ, our organ of awareness, our internal ocean. For me the current fascia research brings everything together with what I’ve learned through surfing, meditation and yoga.”

Foster tells us that impacting our fascia can affect our nervous system. She says, “Gentle pressure on your fascia may help communicate to your nervous system that there is no longer any need for increased tension in that area.” And so, by influencing these deeply held tensions in one part of the body, we can start to not only unravel and release tension in other parts of the body, but also in the mind.

Yin yoga for fascial releaseLong-held yoga poses help release tension in our muscles, fascia, and mind.

Nehter understands wholeheartedly. She explains how her life changed when she began exploring the world of intuitive fascial movement.

I began to undo the knots and complications in my life that had been getting bigger and increasingly restrictive.

By exploring fascial release, and the movements and practices associated with it, Nehter explains, “you’ll notice the places where your body is holding on at a deeper level than your muscles or connective tissue.” She says:

You learn to feel the fast and slow vibrations of yourneurological patterning, and, when you allow yourself to let go and open even deeper, you notice these openings giving way to your life force… Interoceptive movement teaches us higher sensitivity and, the more sensitive we are, the deeper the patterns we are able to unwind. The more we do that, the more freedom, love and passion for life we can experience.

There are a number of ways in which we can release, hydrate and revitalise fascia, leading to profound changes in the body and mind, and while the research continues to unveil these methods, our own body’s intuition can also certainly point us in the right direction.

When we’re practicing yin, we can feel the moment when resistance subsides–a gentle unlocking in the body’s holding reminds us to soften. When we’re rolling around on balls in a Tune Up class, we sense our body surrendering. And when we glide our quads along foam rollers, we feel the tension slowly increasing, until it releases and we can finally breathe and let go. That’s the magic of fascia, and it’s only the beginning.

Why Do So Many Runners Have Knee Pain?

BY NICOLE RADZISZEWSKI

My Knees Hurt!

Knee pain is one of the most common runner complaints. However, the knee itself—a simple hinge joint designed to bend in one direction—is rarely the root of the issue.

Often dubbed the “middle child,” the knee has the misfortune of being stuck between two problematic siblings: the feet and hips. But the poor knee’s worries don’t stop there. Even an old shoulder or back injury can add to the knee’s stress, particularly when running is involved, says Rebecca Johnson, a physical therapist in the Chicago area.

For this reason, it’s really important to look at how your entire body is moving. “If you have an overuse injury, you didn’t ‘hurt’ your knee—your knee is just a symptom that something is wrong,” she says. “Now we need to figure out how to unload the knee.”

Determining how to reduce the knee’s workload is a bit of a detective game. Typically, increased forces are due to an inefficient gait pattern, says Johnson.

Potential Causes Of Knee Pain:

  • Too much vertical movement/bouncy gait
  • Too much lateral movement
  • Left/right asymmetries, such as when hip extension is limited on one side
  • Alignment issues, such as knee valgus (when the knees cave inward) or overpronation at the foot (when the foot rolls inward and the arch flattens)
  • Inefficient or loss of reciprocal arm/leg swing

You can observe a runner’s gait and notice any of these issues. The challenge lies in determining the “why.” For instance, a bouncy gait indicates a lack of efficient hip extension—which likely results in overuse of the quads, and underuse of glutes and hamstrings, Johnson says.

She seeks the answers to several questions during an assessment: Are a runner’s glutes and hamstrings weak, or is a joint limiting their function? Could dysfunction at her core be to blame for tight hip flexors and quads? Is an old ankle injury inhibiting her toe-off and thus preventing her from getting good hip extension? Is there a range-of-motion issue—related to restrictions in the nervous, skeletal, myofascial or visceral (organ) systems? Or does the runner just need some cues to help her change her gait? Johnson says all of these potential scenarios need to be considered when knee pain is a nagging complaint.

Johnson adds that rest is rarely an adequate solution for nagging knees. “If your car alignment is off, you don’t just park in the driveway, hoping that with a little rest it will run better the next day—you take it to your mechanic. The same goes for your own body. Treatment by a skilled physical therapist will keep you up and running, not stalled on the couch.”

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