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What Is Fascia? Our Fascial Specialist Shares the Important Things to Know

What do you know about fascia? Fascia is a hot topic in today’s world.

Whether you’re part of the yoga or fitness community, some form of a body worker/manual therapist, or just an avid student of the body, fascia is the buzzword. And for good reason.

It wasn’t too long ago that we were discarding fascial tissue in anatomical dissection labs. What was once considered non-important “filler tissue” is now at the forefront of almost everyone in the movement industries reading list.

So, what’s so special about this tissue that’s creating such a change in the way we teach our students, move our bodies, and take care of ourselves? And what is fascia exactly? Let’s start with the basics.

Fascia is essential to stabilizing and moving the human body.

For a while, many people in the yoga world were referring to fascia as the body’s “saran wrap.” And while that’s a nice visual, think of fascia more as a web-like connection throughout your entire body. It’s connective tissue composed of collagen and proteins that surrounds your bones, muscles, organs, nerves, lymph, and blood vessels.

Biomechanically speaking, fascia enables you to move smoothly and efficiently. Fascia even guides our entire biological development.

While Rolfing was the first bodywork practice specifically designed to target the fascia, myofascial release (or MFR) is now the mainstay in fascial work.

How to Use Self Myofascial Release for 5 Key Areas of Your Body (Photo Tutorial)


What Is Fascia? Let’s Dissect the Definition of Fascia

Fascia, pronounced “fash-uh,” is the network of connective tissue in your body. It’s integral to the health of our bodies, and can be the culprit in many of our pain and mobility issues.

Because fascia is so encompassing and expansive, there was much debate about how to define this tissue which comes in many forms. Not only that, but as more research comes out about fascia, the way it works, and its role in the body, the fascia definition is subject to change.

But as of now, the agreed upon fascia definition is: All collagenous, fibrous tissues that are elements of a body-wide tensional force transmission network.

So let’s break down the parts of this definition to understand what it really means:

Collagen: Speaking of buzzwords, collagen is posted everywhere these days.

It is the most abundant protein in the body. And when taken in supplement form, it aids in recovery, provides support for our gut and joints, and even works cosmetically for our hair and skin.

Collagen could be considered the “main ingredient” of fascia, and what provides for the elasticity of our body. Fascia progresses to facilitate the flow of your circulatory system throughout your life, and it’s responsible for the health of your largest organ: your skin. Believe it or not, the collagen fibers of fascia are as strong as steel and take approximately three years to completely transform.

Body-Wide: Fascia is one continuous fabric within the body. Similar to a full body compression suit, fascia wraps from head to toe, from skin to bone, and through every cell in your body.

Everything within your body, including organs, are suspended and organized within this fascial network. Most of us learn anatomy in little bits and pieces. However, this denies the continuity that is your fascial architecture.

While learning all those different bits and pieces of anatomy is important and does have its place, understanding fascial anatomy and how the system works together as a whole is more important for functional meaning.

When we only focus on the details we lose the big picture. And it’s the big picture that gives meaning to our movement.

Tensional Force Transmission Network: We love to give tension a bad wrap. However, it’s not tension that hurts you. It’s uneven tension that causes harm.

When the tension in your body is not evenly dispersed, you become a system of compensation. And this is when physical discomfort begins.

A tug in your fascial fabric communicates across the entire network. It’s like the pull of a thread in a sweater or pair of stockings. In a way, our bodies are like string puppets, held up and held together by fascia. Our fascial strings alter our performance and change our physical appearance in space.

So it is the changing of tension that helps communicate changes to your brain about what is going on in your internal and external environment. This is how fascia communicates information, or better yet, auto-regulates our biology through the changing of tension.

Our bodies are like string puppets, held up and held together by fascia.

What is it about the right tissue release, or moving your body during your menstrual cycle, working out, or a massage that changes your biology and helps you feel better? Maybe improves your digestion? Gets rid of your headache? Or improves your mood?

It’s the changing of tension that impacts you on a cellular level. And when our cells are in their perfect tension environment, they thrive. This also affects the expression of your DNA (yay for epigenetics!).

So the tension associated with fascia helps transmit force and information across the entire network as evenly and safely as the network allows. Whether it’s efficient or not depends on the pre-existing health of your fascia.

How Can You Maintain Healthy Fascia?

The goal in maintaining fascial health isn’t about having more flexibility. More so, it’s about integration and evenness. Essentially, the goal is to maintain your fascial integrity when your body feels like all its parts are working together harmoniously.

For some, this is a quality of being more flexible. And for others, this means being stronger and more stable. With that comes all the feelings associated with ease, power, comfort, confidence, and stability.

So as you can see, it goes a lot deeper than movement or mobility.

When it comes to the health of our fascia and the role it plays in your body, we’re also talking about organ health, athletic performance, and even emotional health. This is thanks to the fact that we have receptors all throughout our fascia that provide an emotional context for physiological sensations.

Take the Soft Approach With Your Fascia

We love to think of fascia as something that always needs work or always needs to be released or – worse – “blasted.”

Your fascia is like the soft skeleton of your nervous system, and should be treated with the same respect as your nervous system.

So while there are many different tools or techniques that aim on working with your fascia, consider taking a soft approach. Fascia can take a long time to heal due to its lack of blood flow, so be gentle and take the less resistant approach.

Learn How to Target Your Fascia In This Online Program

Want to learn more about how you can target fascia in your yoga practice or fitness routine? Take the Merge program on YA Classes.

Yoga Program
With Crystal Palermo


The Takeaway on Fascia: The Great Connector and Organizer of Your Body

The important thing for you to know is that fascia is the great connector and organizer of your body. Which also means that you want to take care of this system if you want to maintain the performance and adaptability of your body.

The other important thing for you to understand is that stretching is only ONE aspect of maintaining fascial integrity. There is such a thing as too much flexibility.

I have seen many people in my office who have stretched and mobilized their way out of being a high performing human for the sake of being more bendy. This often leads to pain and having to spend lots of time on stabilization work.

It is the balance of flexibility and stability that create a resilient and adaptive body.

If it weren’t for your fascial tension/integrity, you would be a puddle on the floor with nothing holding you in place. In short, tension is important.

The other side of the coin that complements your flexibility is training your fascia to remodel itself and maintain its integrity. This is a bit more complicated.

It is the balance of flexibility and stability that create a resilient and adaptive body. Remember: In nature, it’s not the smartest that survive and evolve. It’s those that can adapt to change the easiest.

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Eric Toher

Eric Toher is a fascial stretch specialist, former teacher for the Stretch to Win Institute, corrective exercise specialist and co-creator of Merge: The Practice; a movement therapy based in connective tissue. As a manual therapist, Eric has worked with clients from professional athletes to the severely handicapped.

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