The Yoga-Fascia Connection

Until recently, anatomists and clinicians thought that the only function of fascia was to encase and protect body parts. Now they know that fascia is critical to our ability to move.

Learn more about this vital connective tissue and how new knowledge can inform your yoga practice.

Fascia's Role in the Body

The framework of fascia supports and connects your entire body; it's what holds you together. Fascia is a network of densely packed collagen fibers woven around and through your whole body, head to toe, separating and connecting everything. It provides a protective sheath, but it also maintains a balance of tension and elasticity that lets your muscles and organs glide smoothly and without restriction. Previously, scientists emphasized the importance of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments in our ability to maintain our structure and to move. They now know that it is fascia that regulates our biomechanical system; it is fascia that lets us walk, jump and run.

Fascia's Importance to Overall Health

Fascia organizes itself into dense or loose tissues, and it can and does change depending on the force acting on those tissues. Even improper form or symmetry, such as poor posture, causes your fascia to compensate. Over time, this can lead to fascial adhesions and distortions.

When fascia is restricted, muscle contraction is also restricted, and this can lead to pain and injury. Because fascia penetrates and supports every part of your body, when you injure one part, you often feel pain or immobility in another; for example, if you twist your ankle, walking tenderly on it may cause pain in your hip or back.

At the very least, fascial adhesion limits your flexibility and range of motion.

To repair your fascial network, you need to rehydrate it and encourage it to become unstuck.

Fascia Release in Yoga Practice

We all know that yoga asanas can have a profound healing effect. With their focus on structure, balance and flexibility, yoga already hydrates and frees the superficial layers of fascia. It is the ideal place to incorporate fascia release techniques to reach the deeper layers, where adhesions and scar tissues often occur.

When working with my private clients, we focus on fascia release techniques performed before I get them flowing.

Small, slow, rolling movements, often incorporating special props such as balls and foam rollers, massage targeted areas. This movement softens and relaxes the fascia. It doesn't require harsh movements to release; in fact, the harder you work, the more likely you are to tighten rather than release fascia.

Releasing deep fascia increases the benefits of your poses by improving range of motion. It also has the healing effect of unsticking fascia from muscles so they flex and tone better.

Over time, you increase fluidity and space in your fascial structure, giving you more strength and flexibility. You also improve nerve signals to your brain, thus aiding body awareness and coordination.

Now you know why some injuries, such as frozen shoulder or plantar fasciitis, are so persistent. The way we live our lives -- long hours of sitting, performing repetitive motions -- causes fascia to adhere in an attempt to compensate for imbalances.

What you want is springy, fluid fascia. Add fascial release techniques to your yoga practice, and you can feel lighter, use less energy and move with better efficiency. You might even unfreeze that shoulder that's been bothering you for years.

Mary Sabo