Myofascial release is a core part of our health and wellness based lifestyle. As
obsessive overexercisers avid outdoor athletes, the muscular abuse we put our bodies through in surfing, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing, requires a great deal of recovery.
From a daily sports specific yoga practice to post workout protein, ZMA supplements, greens juices, and more, there’s no recovery method we swear by more than myofascial release.
Myofascial release (MFR) is a key component in athletic performance and general overall wellbeing.
As many of you may know, feeling good physically plays a huge role in how you feel mentally and the routine practice of myofascial release can improve mental clarity and relieve stress and anxiety.
With our deep love of myofascial release, we figured we really ought to have an article about it on our site. It’s a crucial piece of the puzzle for overall stoke in life and could be majorly beneficial for all adventurers who go hard in their activities.
While we have a very good understanding of how myofascial release benefits us personally as athletes, we wanted you to hear it from an expert.
We asked our favorite yoga teacher and spirtual badass, Anika Spencer, who specializes in a very athletic, mobility based yoga practice, to contribute an article on the what and the why of myofascial release.
Anika has taken part in in-depth studies of myofascial release and has hosted many workshops on the topic where you basically roll around on tennis balls for 2 hours (all science based of course).
As I turn the rest of this blog over to Anika, we hope this guest post gives you a little more clarity in what myofascial release really is and why it will benefit you.
Intro to Myofascial Release
It’s movement madness out there! In a culture of intoxicating opportunity and a free exchange of information, we, mere mortals, suddenly find ourselves able to train like tigers and champions.
Perhaps you’re periodically or obsessively scaling buildings and rock faces, whilst your sixty-seven year old mother has taken up pilates through her latest iphone app.
So many resources are available. Thus many of us are able to tackle the challenge of fitness and health in new and exciting ways.
Thrilling as this may be, you also might spy your boot camp partner limping their way back to their Prius. Meanwhile you can’t quite figure out what’s bringing on your tension headaches.
Ironically, you most likely started training to maintain your health. Perhaps you had a desire to feel good in your skin. If you’re like myself, movement and training are also a crap-ton of fun. Yet there’s tension, aching or concentrated, or movement restrictions as a byproduct of this lifestyle.
Daily stretching helps but doesn’t always shift it. What is a champion tiger to do?
What is Myofascial Release?
Maybe you’ve heard the magic and mysterious words recently: fascia, myofascial release, tune up techniques. These rising methodologies tackle the issues of chronic tension and range of motion inhibition.
This fitness craze, which I refer to as myofascial release (MFR, for short) looks to be a large staple in the future of sports medicine. When applied masterfully, it can supply a significant amount of pain reduction, among other perks.
What is Fascia?
Let’s start with the basics. What is fascia?
First of all, It’s everywhere! It’s the scaffolding of your body.
Fascia is the connective tissue that runs beneath the layers of skin and adipose (fat tissue) and creates a body sheath around the entirety of your musculature.
Fascia also encases and connects each muscle group, each muscle, and every cell. It holds and carries the organs.
It’s also the place in the body where movement happens or at times, where movement is restricted.
Why Practice Mysofascial Release?
For the majority of our history, we’ve ignored this tissue, considering it convenient but irrelevant. Now, we’re fascinated, eager to concoct torturous pointy devices or bulbous foam tools to prod at it.
Myofascial release is the technique of stimulating, moving, and hydrating the connective tissue through palpation and pressure, often with tools such as balls, blocks or rollers.
Related: 5 Best Myofascial Release Tools (Coming Soon)
Why you might ask? Why all this prodding, poking, rolling, and compressing?
Hydration! Hydration is the number one and most agreed upon benefit of myofascial release.
The sweeping strokes of rolling or the moderate pressure of compression help to hydrate the body’s connective tissue.
Hydration is a crucial component of fascial health. It helps slow down the degenerative process by supporting the maintenance of the fascia’s wavy infrastructure.
It also stimulates the connective tissue’s thixotropic quality. This means the tissue can become more viscous through stimulation or though movement.
This viscosity prepares the tissues to glide over one another more easily as movement demand and intensity increase.
My teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine describes the less hydrated tissues as moving past one another like sandpaper.
Speaking of sandpaper, the grittiness or resistance of the tissues is often created by the highly adaptive and beneficial inflammation process.
Inflammation is constantly attempting to repair the body after rigorous play or the diabolical pursuit of strength or endurance.
The inflammation process stimulates the laying down of collagen, especially in the areas exposed to repetitive motion. (For instance, the I.T. band gliding across your outer quadricep as we walk or run).
It’s also prominent in primary movement muscles that tear and repair as we build muscle strength. (Such as the pectoralis from the one hundred push-ups you performed last week, or the lats and upper traps after some dynamic rock climbing.)
The more repetitiously or intensely the tissue is utilized the more likely the repairing collagen layer will lay down chaotically and thus restrict the connective tissues ability to glide smoothly.
Hypothetically, myofascial release compresses and stimulates the area increasing the tissues lubrication, but also stimulating the collagen to come in and lay down a less chaotic and more elastic layer of tissue.
This can be immensely enjoyable in the short term, creating a nearly instantaneous sensation of relief or fluidity once the compression is over, much like a great massage.
It is also believed to create long term effects, if the technique is repeated with frequency and consistency.
Our amazing bodies, fascial layers included, respond and adapt to whatever they’re exposed to most frequently. If you repeatedly send the body the message to lay down smooth, elastic tissue, then it will eventually get the memo and adapt accordingly. Your body is magic like that! It’s constantly rebuilding itself in response to demand.
Mindfulness + Myofascial Release
Finally, (and this might be my favorite part as a yoga teacher) your fascia is a communication system! It is constantly sending sensory feedback to your control center.
- Take a moment and sense your left forearm. Are you tuned in? On a scale of one to ten how aware are you of this area of the body?
- Now touch it! Squeeze it. Hold your left forearm firmly with your right hand pinning down the skin and tissues.
- Then, rotate your palm to face up and down a handful of times, feeling the tissues glide beneath. Stop and sense your left forearm again. Is it different? Are you more aware? Rate this awareness with a number.
Palpation can help you neurologically connect the dots. It can aid you in the powerful mindfulness practice of body awareness.
Body awareness serves us well in athletic performance and in nervous system recovery. Body awareness can even create an incredible baseline for emotional recovery.
For more on the relationship between trauma recovery and body awareness, check out Bessel von der Kolk’s, The Body Keeps Score.
Conclusion on Myofascial Release
In the end, it’s all still an exploration. The science of fascia is relatively new and frequently adapting.
It might be the most powerful approach to recognize that we do not truly know. Everything is changing all the time.
What you can do is ask yourself: What in this grand experiment works best for you? How does the modern, collective understanding support the beautiful, contemporary, moment to moment unfolding of your individual life in this body?
Cheers to the magical adaptivity of our bodies and how we care for it! Here’s to the mysterious unknown and soon to be discovered!
Happy training and recovering, you champion tigers!
Anika currently identifies as a yoga instructor, intuitive guide, road trip relapser, and writer based out of San Diego. She’s certified in Hatha and Vinyasa yoga and currently trains with Yoga Medicine in pursuit of her 500-hour teaching credential and therapeutic specialist certification. When not actively engaged in the role of student or teacher, she can found following friends up rocks, singing, and car dancing, or spending good chunks of time sitting in the dirt. Anika is a philosophy addict and a student of face-plants. Her classes are coloured by her penchant for play and an enchantment with nature. As a guide, she believes we thrive when we turn and face in the direction of this gorgeous and terrifying process we call living. Check out her website, follow her on Instagram, or purchase her myofascial release course here.
Want to hear more from Anika? Check out her book Talking to Truth: An Intuition Workbook
- 5 Best Myofascial Release Tools
- Book: Bessel The Body Keeps Score by von der Kolk
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