What is fascia?

Fascia Stretching

Fascia is this amazing connective tissue that attaches to every muscle, bone, organ, and tissue in your body. The fascia has a huge impact on our structure as it is involved in resistance, power, flexibility, elasticity and posture.

On a basic level, fascia is made up of two parts: collagen (structural) and elastin (stretchy).

When you have restrictions and limitations, due to poor posture, age and injuries, the collagen component of the fascia solidifies, ‘gluing’ our tissues together, hence that tight feeling in your muscles.

If you stretch this area briefly you will only lengthen at the end ranges of the muscles as you are working only on the elastin. If you work with the concept of fascial stretching you are not only working on the elastin component but you can also lengthen the collagenous component of the tissue making the stretches far more effective, deeper, and longer lasting. This is exactly what we want to acheive when teaching a stretch class!

Layers of Fascia

Your fascia can be broken down into four main layers: superficial, deep, visceral, and parietal.

Superficial fascia is a layer that is right under your skin and can vary in thickness according to where it is. It’s thicker in the main part of your body like your stomach, chest, and it gets thinner in places further away from the centre of your body, like your hands and feet.

Deep fascia surrounds your entire musculoskeletal system, covering bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. It can be broken into two subtypes:

Aponuerotic fascia:

A thick pearly white tissue that separates easily form your body.

Epimysial fasia:

A thinner fascia which is more tightly connected to your muscles.

Viseral fasia:

A fascia layer that goes around certain organs that settle into your body’s open spaces, including the lungs, heart, and stomach.

Pariental fasia:

A fascia layer that covers the surface of the sacrum, coccyx, and pelvis.

To summarise, we have fascia running through our entire body… through organs, tissues and muscles and it contains more nerve endings than any other tissue making it incredibly sensitive to change, both physically and emotionally.

 

When we stretch, we can sometimes focus on a muscle in a very local way rather than a global way but why just focus on that muscle alone?

Fascial stretching is a way of stretching using poses and movements to target the fascia. Fascia loves to be pulled and stretched in multi- directional movement so we can have some serious fun with our stretch routines by using a long chain, three-dimensional fascia stretches!

We can get right into the belly of the muscle, by creating tension whilst in a stretch and by moving gently in a variety of directions whilst focusing on breath and reaction. We can also stretch whilst focusing on the direction that the fascia runs in … those bands of fascia that connects multiple muscles and joints.

Myofascial lines/meridians

Tom Myers author of Anatomy Trains is the man to know when it comes to fascia!
Through decades of experience as a bodyworker and an extensive study of anatomy, Myers noticed these dense bands and has since defined 12 myofascial lines/meridians that he believes are responsible for everyday activities through communicating through these pathways. Some run the length of your body, head to toe; others spiral the torso, shoot over the top of your head, and run down the middle of your back.

Tom believes … ‘like guywires on a well-rigged boat, a balanced, harmonious tension among these myofascial meridians helps support fluid, effortless movement. Too much chronic tension or slack in key meridians can, however, lead to poor posture and pain — and not always in the places you expect. Trace the fascial lines through the muscles and across the skeleton, and it’s possible to see, for instance, how shoulder pain might be caused by dysfunction in your opposite ankle, or how “tight hamstrings” might be caused by tension in the soles of the feet.’

I recently came across the amazing Karin Gurter, who has developed a movement system that uses Tom Myers Anatomy Trains concept for training the fascia through movement. I recently completed the Anatomy Trains in Motion course and this is just the beginning of my fascia journey!

I absolulety love the whole concept of fascia training and am continuing to study many other ways of releasing the fascia, for example, through rocking, recoil, and tension.

Why Recoil and Tension?

Recoil

Fascia has variable elasticity that allows it to withstand forces and pressure, so it can return to its shape and size. This elastic recoil is a great thing as it keeps the fascia active, communicative, and healthy. Think of the expression .. “he’s got a real spring to his step” … this is associated as a good thing, happy, energetic, and healthy!

So let’s add more moves to our routines that encourages fascia recoil, if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it!

Slow and controlled rocking movements and anything that creates the push and gentle bounce feeling should also be added to your stretch routines.

Tension

When I say tension, I’m referring to a pandiculation exercise, which is, contracting and stretching at the same time.

An early morning big ‘yawn and stretch’ is known as a pandiculation, which is just the most amazing way to get those muscles lengthened and toned. Have you ever noticed when you yawn and stretch how you almost resist the stretch? Try it now and see what I mean … slowly stretching but with contraction.

By stretching in this manner, you are getting right into the belly of the muscle, right into the fascia!

Now that I have a more in-depth knowledge of fascia, I have started to incorporate associated movement and poses into my routines that I feel my stretch classes will benefit from, with the belief that if I work to stretch the fascia through movement, pandiculation and along the fascial lines, I will increase their potential to be more flexible.

I have included a few of the fasica lines in this workshop as I’m confident it will have a positive impact on your teaching skills as a purestretch Instructor. 

I hope you enjoy.

The Superficial Back Line

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Achilles Tendon
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Spine extensors
  • Sacral fascia
  • Suboccipital muscles (a group of four muscles situated underneath the occipital bone)
  • Scalp fascia (worth mentioning as it covers the skull and merges and entwines into the neck)

Superficial Back Line

The SBL is responsible for holding us upright. Weakness in the SBL can lead to an increased curve in the thoracic spine. Many of us have a weak back line, because of a lifestyle that encourages us to sit in chairs for longer than we should.

How to lengthen and strengthen the SBL
Postures like forward folds, downward dog, dolphin pose… anything that you feel will target the muscles listed above. Developing strength in the line is equally important, so why not add poses like a superman pose or warrior 3 etc, to your routines.
You can play with many stretch poses to enhance a fascia stretch. Here are a few examples:

Pose 1

The Superficial Front Line

This comprises of 2 lines.

The lower line

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Short and long toe extensors
  • Tibilialis Anterior ( a muscle of the anterior compartmetn of the lower leg)
  • Quadriceps

The Upper line

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Sternal fascia
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Scalp Fascia (worth mentioning as it covers the skull and merges and entwines into the neck)

Superficial Front Line

The SFL is responsible for holding us upright and for creating flexion of the torso and hips, and dorsal flexion of the foot. Weakness in this line can be responsible for a forward tilted and rotated pelvis.

How to lengthen and strengthen the SFL

Exercises like the camel pose, superman, deep open lunges, anything that you feel is lengthening this line and you’ll notice how the SBL and SFL work in counterparts. one side is strengthening creating isometric tone as the other is lengthening.

 

You can play with many stretch poses to enhance a fascia stretch. Here are a few examples:

pose 1

THE LATERAL LINE

The lateral line frames both sides of the body.
It’s one of my favourite lines as I can really feel this line when I play with my poses and how effective the stretches can be when I include the entire length of the line.

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Fibularis Longus and Brevis (The fibularis brevis is a muscle in the lateral compartment of the leg. It is located deep to the fibularis longus)
  • Iliotibial Tract
  • Tensor Fasciae Latae
  • Gluteus Medius and Maximus
  • External/Internal Obliques
  • External/Internal Intercostals
  • Splenius Capitis (is a thick, flat muscle at the posterior part of the neck)
  • Sternocleidomastoid

The lateral line is responsible for stabilising the trunk and legs in a coordinated manner to avoid collapse during a movement or activity. It’s also a large part of communication amongst the other superficial line including the SFL, SBL Spiral Line and the Arm Lines.

How to lengthen and strengthen the LL

A simple side stetch does the job but again you can be so creative and recognise when you are in an ideal to either strengthen or lengthen this line. 

You can play with many stretch poses to enhance a fascia stretch. Here are a few examples:

The Spiral Line

The Spiral Line is a key role in balance and stability and assist in maintaining balance across all planes of motion.

The spiral lines group together some muscles and fascial structures that are already listed in other lines. Let’s start from the top and work our way down to list what muscles the line passes .. as this represents the ‘top to bottom ‘spiral movement.

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Splenius Capitis/Cervicis (one of the deep (or intrinsic) muscles of the cervical and thoracic spine)
  • Rhomboid Minor/Major
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Spine Extensors and Rotators
  • External/Internal Obliques
  • Thoracolumbar Fascia
  • Tensor Fasciae Latae
  • Biceps Femoris
  • Tibialis Anterior (is a muscle of the anterior compartment of the lower leg)
  • Fibularis Longus (is a muscle in the lateral part of the leg)

To stretch the spiral line, think about all the movements and poses that you can get into to stretch the muscles listed and gently move in and out of them, using flow, breath and grounding.

You can play with many stretch poses to enhance a fascia stretch. Here are a few examples:

The Deep Front Line

This is a large, wide fascial entity which runs through the deeper layers of the body. Nicknamed the “anchor line” as it has the role of working like an anchor on which the superficial lines can do their work more easily. There are also quite a few times when this line has been referred to the core as most movement, emotion, breath comes from the Deep Front line. It’s said that this is where we can find a lot of our deepest pains and traumas stored on a physical level.

The Deep Front is responsible for stabilising and supporting the body, hence it’s reference to the core including its connection to the pelvic floor, breath and …. emotion!

It passes through muscles including the:

  • Flexor Hallucis Longus (a posterior leg muscle involved in moving the great toe and foot)
  • Flexor Digitorum Longus (a thin muscle that belongs to the deep posterior muscles of the leg)
  • Tibialis Posterior (the most central of all the leg muscles, and is located in the deep posterior part of the leg)
  • Popliteus
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Adductors 
  • Pectineus
  • Psoas Minor/Major
  • Iliacus
  • Quadratus Lumborum
  • Thoracolumbar Fascia (worth mentioning as it’s a large, roughly diamond-shaped area of connective tissue constituted by the thoracic and lumbar parts of the deep fascia enclosing the intrinsic back muscles)
  • Tranverse Abdominis
  • Diaphragm
  • Scalenes
  • Muscles of the jaw
  • Temoralis

As mentioned earlier the DFL is an anchor to the other lines, so it is constantly working with stretch and tension. A great way to release it, is at the end of the class in relaxation. You can put a block under your sacrum to increase the stretch or lengthen your arm over head or simply chill.

 

The Arm Lines

The arm lines are dynamic stabilisers and movers. All the arm lines play together in movement with the fingers, wrists, and arms. I’m always amazed at how the arm lines can add so much more depth to many of our stretches!

These lines run from the axial skeleton through four different planes in the shoulder, along all sides of the arm and to the hand out to the thumb, little finger, palm and back of the hand.

  • Superficial front arm line
  • Deep front arm line
  • Superficial back arm line
  • Deep back arm line

 

Superficial front arm line

The muscles the track runs through:

  • Pectorals Major
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Teres Major
  • Thoracolumbar Fascia
  • Forearm Flexors

Deep front arm line

The track runs through:

  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Subclavius
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Coracobrachialis (a muscle located in the front of the upper arm)
  • Supinator
  • Pronator Teres (a forearm muscle found in the forearm)
  • Thenar muscles (a group of short muscles responsible for the movements of the thumb)

 

Superficial back arm line

The track runs through:

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Forearm Extensors

Deep back arm line

  • Rectus Capitis Lateralis
  • Levator Scapulae 
  • Rhomboids
  • Rotator cuff
  • Triceps Brachii
  • Hypothenar Muscles (a group of three muscles of the palm that control the motion of the little finger)

 

To stretch the arm lines, you create length in whichever line you want to work with, combined with a slight resistance of some kind using of force. This could be a wall, a resistance band, or a weight. Hold and breath, really feel how the stretch travels to each muscle.

SUMMARY

So far, these are all of the lines that I am currently working with, no doubt as time goes on, I will be adding more information to this content but in the meantime, I hope you found this helpful … feedback would be very much appreciated.

I feel this content can add variety and progression to your classes.  Don’t be afraid to work with your stretches and experiment. Each stretch will be a slow controlled movement that works with the breath, the movements should be light and playful so that your class will feel in safe hands.

You’ll be amazed at how different a class feels when you introduce the concept of fascia stretching.