MYOFASCIAL MASSAGE Releasing our connective tissue can offer real, long-term benefits.
Myofascial release is the latest wellness trend and for good reason: releasing our connective tissue can offer real, long-lasting bene ts and an understanding of what our bodies need, says Jo Carnegie
Myofascial release. It’s said to be a massage like no other. I’d heard the term being bandied around in reverent tones for a while. “They’re meant to be amazing, aren’t they?” said one friend. “Apparently the release is incredible,” said another. Someone else reported that their husband had come across myofascial massage and it had “practically cured” his frozen shoulder and sti neck. As someone who sits in front of a computer for a living, I was all too familiar with sore shoulders and neck niggles. I was in.
Fascia is fast becoming the new buzzword in the wellness world. The fth annual International Fascia Congress takes place in Berlin this winter and everyone from professional sportspeople to stressed city workers to pregnant mothers are reaping the bene ts.
But before we go any further, what exactly is fascia? “The fascia acts as the body’s shock absorber, encasing all of the muscles like a webbing,” explains Sophia Ortiz, who runs the Bristol Massage Space Company (www.bristolmassagespace.uk). “The fascial system supports and connects every muscle, ligament, tendon, organ and tissue in the body.” If you need a more of a visual reference, think of the fascia like the white pith when you peel an orange, holding all the segments in place.
So, why would our fascia need releasing?
For one thing, it’s continually growing, binding together to provide that support to the body. While this is an important part of our normal function, too much of this may lead to fascia building up in certain areas of the body, preventing movement or range of motion – it’s the same reason why you feel sti after sleeping, or need to stretch when you’ve been
sitting in a chair at your desk all day. While normal activity or stretching can prevent this build-up from happening, extended periods of inactivity, or injury, can require more attention. “Fascia with trauma or injury sticks together,” explains Sophia. “When left untreated, this can lead to hardening, pain and reduced freedom of movement.”
This is where myofascial massage comes in. “I describe Myofascial Release (MFR) as a gentle, non-invasive form of resetting and steamrollering the body – but in a really nice and relaxing way!” Sophia says. “It’s a technique that has been around for about 50 years, but it’s become a lot more popular recently. It’s an exciting technique to add to a practitioner’s tool kit and is especially bene cial for working with injury, due to its gentle nature.” Whether you’re injured or just looking to work into some of those tension areas, everyone from professional sportspeople to stressed city workers and even pregnant mothers can reap the bene ts.
After learning all this, it’s fair to say that
I was intrigued, and I booked my own MFR treatment with Sophia. Over the years I’ve had more massages than hot dinners, but I’ve never really found a massage that has hit the spot, or had lasting bene cial e ects. I’ve always been a fan of the mantra ‘the harder the better’, but with Sophia, it was a completely di erent experience from the start.
Rather than getting to work on my muscles, she laid her hands on me until I started to feel myself relax. It felt a bit like someone coaxing a tense animal to calm down (which is probably how my poor body normally feels when I go for a massage). As I lay there with Sophia’s warm hands on me, I could feel the tension starting to dissipate. And this was before any of the actual ‘massaging’ had taken place.
Next up, Sophia employed more traditional massage movements but it still felt di erent. It sounds odd, but it felt like she was being guided by something other than what I’d told her. As she began gently kneading my knots (painful, yet blissful), I was willing her to my sti shoulders. Instead, her hands went up to hold, and then massage, the length of my neck. When she got to my jaw line, I realised just how much tension was actually stored there, rather than in my traditional problem areas. And so the process went on: hold, release, massage, move on.
Afterwards I felt a tremendous sense of lightness and space around my upper body that went beyond the physical. The e ect lasted well into the next few days and beyond. I was moving better and generally just feeling better. I’d gone in there saying what I’d wanted and my body had ended up telling me what it needed. In releasing my connective tissue, I’d found connection with my body.
It all felt a bit like witchcraft, but Sophia wasn’t surprised. “With myofascial work, you’re engaging with a di erent part of the body than you’re used to,” she explains. “It’s about sitting at that new barrier and allowing it to soften. You let the body take you in di erent directions rather than working on isolated muscles. It’s like a continuous ‘liquid matrix’. It works further afield than where the practitioner’s hands physically are.”
I can see what she means; just one experience of it has shown me the amazing wisdom of the body – if I just slow down and listen to it, rather than telling it (and the person massaging me) what needs doing. “The body is one moving part and the fascia literally connects our head right down to our toes,
communicating closely with our central nervous system,” says Sophia. Sometimes we might get distracted by the more superficial ‘spot checks’ when we go for a massage, but the real work to be done is on a more instinctive level.
Myofascial work is also thought to be linked to our autonomic nervous system, activating the functions in our body that help us to ‘rest and digest’, creating calm and relaxation. The feelings that I experienced after my massage reminded me of this same peaceful vibe that I get after I’ve done a yin yoga class, and it just so happens that the two are very similar in bene ts for mind and body.
In yin yoga, poses are held for longer periods of time than in other yoga styles anything from 45 seconds to ve minutes or more. “Yin yoga and MFR share the principle of giving the body time and space to unwind and allowing the tissues to return to where they should be,” says Sophia.
Yoga teacher Jessica Wol (www.wildwolfsyoga.com) agrees. “Yin yoga brings awareness through the tissues of the body releasing tension layer by layer,” she says. “We rest in between poses, which is so bene cial in allowing the fascial body to take heed of new lessons and architectures. It’s a great way to have a conversation with the body.”
Our scienti c understanding of fascia and myofascial release is still relatively new; more and more research is being done to nd its long-term bene ts and how we can best incorporate it into a rounded wellbeing programme. But from the experience of a hardened (quite literally) massage fan, I found myself more rested and less stressed than after any massage I’ve had. Whether from massage or yin yoga, I’m going to incorporate some myofascial magic in my life – even if I do still like a masochistic pummelling from time to time.
Clockwise from top left: sitting in one position while working can cause fascia build-up; myofascial massage uses a hold/release/massage technique; Sophia offers myofascial release at Bristol Massage Space; fascia is a bit like tangerine pith.
Clockwise from top right: yoga teacher Jess teaches yin,a different method of myofascial release; a spiky massageball can help to release fascia at home; even somesimple stretching after sitting still can help youPK I=EJP=EJ ATE>EHEPU