Exploring Fascial Plasticity

Dancers are always concerned with maintaining or increasing the flexibility in their muscles. To really understand how muscles become more flexible we need to understand how to change the fascia that connect to the muscles.

Most dancers know that fascia, which is the dense connective tissue that surrounds the 200+ bones and the 600+ muscles of the body. It keeps structures (like muscles) separated from each other yet interconnected in a 3D like web.

Using an orange analogy, the outer rind is like the superficial fascia, and the sections of orange are similar to the fascia that surrounds our muscles, bones, nerves, etc. Fascia ties and connects everything together!

This is why if you have tightness in your neck, it may be influencing the flexibility of the hamstrings. There is a fascial line that connects the muscles along the back of the body called the superficial back line. I mention this because it bears repeating that if you are not getting the results that you want from your stretching efforts – look at other areas of the body that may be holding tension and creating a pull or tightness along the fascial line.

This young man is a perfect example of this. He was taking yoga classes and a student in the opera department. We found the tension at his neck significantly influenced his hamstrings. He was doing lots of hamstring focused stretching in yoga class but until he focused on releasing his neck tension he was unable to get release and relief along that back line. Doesn’t he look WAY more comfortable in his body in the picture on the right? That change took 3 months. As a side benefit – his vocal technique improved too!

Now back to talking about fascia and plasticity. Plasticity means the ease with which something is molded or shaped. Fascia will reshape itself when there is a slow, steady and sustained pull on it. Too fast of a stretch and fascia/muscle tears. Plasticity is different from elasticity. Elasticity is the ability of tissue to stretch and then go back to its original shape. Plasticity means the tissue over time (think potentially weeks/months) slowly reshaping itself into a new length. That is what dancers want from their stretching.

Bottom line… slow, steady, sustained stretching is the way to go. Doing some of that passive stretching that dancers love to do at the end of class can be very useful (at the end of class – not the start!) If you add on some muscular engagement from the opposite of the joint – you will get even more benefit! For example doing the typical standing quad stretch is good – but when you also lightly engage the glutes while using the abdominals to keep the pelvis in neutral – it becomes even more effective of a stretch! Hold that stretch for 30 seconds, take a quick break and then go back for another 30 seconds and see how your quads feel!

If you want to actively explore fascial properties and new ways to train your fascia to be both elastic and responsive think about joining me in the South of France this summer! I will be doing a deep dive into fascial training, alignment assessments, and exploring body/brain strategies for optimal performance. Registration is now open!

Stretching Tip!

Today we are going to talk about fascia and flexibility and what one simple action you can take to increase your flexibility.   Fascia-150x150

First… what is fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that wraps and surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve and organ in the body.  It gives separation between these structures and creates a 3-dimensional, interconnected web of tissue through the body.  

Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-3.56.49-PM-150x150Imagine an orange or grapefruit that you’ve taken the outmost skin off of.  If you could magically make the juice disappear from inside white fibrous webbing that’s left is the fascia.  It’s almost impossible to separate the fascia and muscle, for example.  That is why a lot of practitioners talk about the myofascia.  Myo for muscle and fascia for … well fascia.  Some of you may have experience a myofascial massage that focuses on releasing fascial pulls.  

What most people don’t know is that fascia is composed primarily of water – approximately 70%. The other 30% is compoased of collagen and elastin and proteoglycans, which are proteins and carbohydrates.  

Read more

Weak Muscles?

Thank you for providing such a wealth of information as it pertains to dance and the human body.  I have a daughter, soon to be 12, that has been dancing since around the age of 4. She is quick to learn and quite coordinated.   Ballet class is a challenge for her.  She is not nearly where she needs to be in the areas of strength and endurance.  She is very slender and although has a “dancer’s body” with well defined muscles, her muscles are weak.  Is there anything that can be done outside of dance class to assist with muscle strength and endurance – last year she danced 4 hours per week, this year she will be dancing 6 hours per week. Outside of dance, she doesn’t do anything athletic.

Screen-Shot-2013-08-26-at-7.39.08-AM-150x150
Are there exercises that can be done at home to increase her muscle strength and endurance? Any dietary recommendations that can help with building muscle? She has fallen behind her classmates (in ballet only) and her teachers are very surprised that, despite her years of training, she has not developed the strength and endurance typical of girls her age. 

Thanks for your help!
Kathleen

Great question, Kathleen!

I love it that you are thinking about all the markers of health instead of just the physical ways to go about increasing muscle strength. I have a daughter with Hashimoto disease (a very common form of thyroid problems) that was discovered when she was 12 – and only because I knew something was off in her health. Now, I’m not suggesting that your daughter has a thyroid or another metabolic syndrome, rather I’m encouraging all of us to look at the intricate balance of nutrition and physiological health to our physical strength and health.

Read more

The Skinny… on Fats…

It is a scary thought when “the Center for Disease Control predicts that our children’s generation could be the first in history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.”  Yikes!  But on the other hand with my own studies into health and nutrition I’m not surprised.  We have to change our relationship with food!

I am so delighted to be able to offer this wonderful article by Lisa Greene, a wonderful woman and mother who is passionate about feeding our children to enhance health.  Check out her free blog and wonderful book!

 

Just to add a comment to when she is talking about coconut oil for cooking – I’ve been using it for over a year as my moisturizer that I put on my face.  It’s inexpensive… works really well… natural… I figure all of those beautiful Polynesian, Filipino and Indian women who have such beautiful skin and eat/use coconuts daily are onto something:)

Enjoy Lisa’s article!

The Skinny…. on Fats…..

We hear a lot about ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats, but who can make sense of it all?

First, the ‘bad’ fats. These include trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are the deadly trans fatty acids that have become popular in the media these last few years. Trans fats are man made fats created by adding hydrogen to an oil to increase it’s shelf life. Unfortunately, this process makes the oil very unhealthy to eat. According to the American Heart Association, consuming trans fats lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol while raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increases your risk for heart disease. They also say that there is no amount of trans fat that is healthy to have in your diet.

Typically, processed and fast foods contain trans fats, or hydrogenated oil. Staying away from these types foods can improve your health dramatically, both inside and out. Not only are these foods bad for your cholesterol and cardiovascular system, they contain many chemicals that contribute to obesity as well. To stay away from trans fats, always read the package ingredients. The FDA requires food manufacturers to label the number of grams of trans fat, but allows them to round down. So even if your food item says zero trans fats, look at the label  for the words ‘partially hydrogenated’. If you see these words, don’t buy it.

Next on the ‘bad’ list is saturated fat. We have always heard that we should consume a diet that is low in saturated fats. However, all saturated fats are not created equal. It depends on the source. A diet high in saturated fat from conventionally raised meats and dairy products will absolutely contribute to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

However, there is one saturated fat that has amazing health benefits – coconut oil. Coconut oil has been proven to boost the immune system, promotes heart health and weight loss, has antiviral and antifungal effects on the body, and keeps the skin healthy and young looking. In studies done in humans and animals, those with diets high in coconut oil, even with their high fat concentration, were thinner and more heart healthy than those with diets without coconut oil.

Fats are imperative to our brains, heart, lungs, nerves, and digestion. They are essential to our eyes, add luster to our skin and hair, encourage hormonal and emotional balance, and lubricate our joints. Choosing the right types of fat for your diet is imperative to creating a healthy, lean body.

Next we have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Our bodies absolutely need these fats to function properly. Think about what would happen if you never changed the oil in your car. Eventually it would stop running. Just as your car needs that lubrication, so do our bodies and brains!

Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, but can turn solid when refrigerated. Olive, sunflower, and sesame oil are examples of monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados, peanut butter, and nuts. Don’t stay away from these because of their high fat content, they are so good for you.

Polyunsaturated fats stay liquid when refrigerated. These fats can further be broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Examples of omega-6 include vegetable, safflower, soybean, and corn oil, and some nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats are found in flax seeds and fish. Our bodies do not produce these essential fatty acids, so we must get them from our diets. We need a ratio of 1 to1 omega-6 and 3, but our modern processed diets typically contain 10 or 20 to 1. When this imbalance happens, many health problems can occur. Too much omega-6 without enough omega-3 to balance it can create inflammation in the body, causing problems with the immune system, cardiovascular system, and the brain. Many processed foods have omega-6, so it is easy to get out of balance by eating a typical western diet.

Unfortunately, our western diet has practically eliminated omega-3s. A diet low in omega-3s can cause children to be more impulsive, less able to pay attention, and higher risk for depression. Teenagers may be more prone to anger and violence. In adults, memory problems, higher risk for stroke, and dementia can occur. Creating a better balance by consuming more omega-3s could improve many health issues such as coronary artery disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and may ease the pain of Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The best way to add more omega-3s to your diet is with a high quality fish oil supplement. You can get them at your local health food store in liquid and capsule form. They are not cheap, but they are well worth it for the health benefits you will receive.  (Deborah’s note:  I’m partial to lemon-flavored Carlson’s cod liver oil.. put it in vanilla yogurt.. yummy!)

Not only choosing the right fats, but also choosing the correct balance of fats is so important to our health. By steering clear of trans fats and limiting animal fats, cooking with coconut oil, eliminating processed foods, and supplementing with an omega-3 fish oil, you can create the health and vitality you were meant to enjoy.

Lisa Greene