I lay belly-down over a foam roller, doing my best to be wet, slaggy pasta draped over a dowel.
This is, I hasten to assure you, not a comfortable position.
Think of it. You’re lying prone on a mat. Your hands are crossed under your head. The goal is to simply be – to feel gravity pulling you down. This is not a high-sweat exercise…
…but alas, under the softest, most vulnerable part of your belly is a six-inch round, three-foot-long hard cylinder. The soft and fluffy word “foam” in the foam roller’s name is A DAMNED LIE.
This was myofascial stretch class at Body Dynamics. The goal is to un-thicken the fascia – this mysterious, doctor-scoffed connective tissue that only massage experts seem to understand.
What – you say you’ve never heard of fascia, much less seen it? Not so. The last time you cooked a chicken breast, you had your mitts all over the fascia – that super-thin white layer that wraps the meat. Thin… but very tough.
And fascia can get thick. Fascia DOES get thick. It should be liquid and pliable – compliant and kind. But if something is wrong (you injured a muscle; you didn’t work a muscle; you ate too much sugar AHEM), the fascia solidifies.
And fascia is EVERYWHERE in your body. It’s in your brain. It’s around every nerve, and around every nerve bundle. It’s around your muscles and IN your muscles. And like a hive mind, it’s all connected to each other. You loosen up the fascia over here – it might very well ease the tension WAY over there.
Really, it’s astonishing that medical doctors just don’t seem to be very interested in fascia. The neurologist I saw when I was diagnosed (I believe incorrectly) with Guillam-Barre disease – this smart, educated woman ROLLED HER EYES when I told her I thought I had something going wrong in the fascia. “Hm. Yes. I see,” she said and turned back to her computer, disinterested.
Doctors don’t specialize in fascia. There’s no fasciologist. They just don’t seem to care about it. It’s the strangest thing.
So – back to the foam roller. Another place where fascia is – and another place where pliant, liquid fascia can become tough and hard – is in the abdomen. And you CAN encourage the fascia to re-liquify…
…by applying relentless pressure for three to five minutes.
So if you want to release the fascia in your shoulder, you lie on a tennis ball exactly where that is most exquisitely uncomfortable, and then you continue to lie there, trying not to watch the clock and sinking into the pain. And after three to five minutes, the fascia will give up. It will go liquid again. You’ll be able to move into that point more easily.
And abdominal fascia is no different. Hence lying painfully over the foam roller while gentle Tracey, the kind and implacable masseuse instructress, walks us through the quiet, helpless agony of the belly.
Yesterday was my first time at myofascial stretch class; I wasn’t able to last the full time on my belly – and in fact, I had to move the roller closer to my hip bones and away from all that vulnerable, squishy, strongly-objecting intestinal tangle. And it took forever to relax the abdominal muscles Barbara has spent three years building up, which were doing their damnedest to protect my viscera…
…but eventually I was stretched out flaccid and gasping over the foam roller.
Nothing. I had to raise up on my elbows pretty quickly. Everyone needs goals – mine will be building up the tolerance to endure the foam roller grinding into my abdominal cavity.
(Surely, I thought – surely this can’t be a good idea? Should I REALLY be crushing my internal organs like this?? But that’s defeatist talk. I have become an acolyte at the church and school of fascia; I can do this. Maybe next week. PROBABLY next week.)
As she guides us through these utterly easy and brutally forceful stretches, Tracey advises us to “find the restrictions – find where you’re not moving well.” She calls these tough places restrictions because the fascia is restricting movement.
And as I lay there grimacing, I decided I just LOVED that word. It implies that it’s not ME who’s been too lazy to remain fit and limber – it’s that pesky fascia that must be brought back into line. It’s been RESTRICTING me, damn it!
Why, if it wasn’t for the fascia holding me back, I’d probably be playing beach volleyball in a tight Lycra shirt and boy-short underwear. Yeah. Those fascial restrictions have a LOT to answer for!
So now I’m thinking about my health challenges (like – OH MY GOD WHO COULD POSSIBLY LIKE TO RUN THIS IS THE UTTEREST HELL I COULD SUMMON AN UBER IN TWO MINUTES SHALL I? WHY NOT??) in terms of what is restricting me – not as much in terms of what I’m failing at.
It’s a simple change… but powerful. Like a myofascial stretch.
O if only I didn’t have fascial restrictions – this would be me. Don’t you see??