fasciaYoga has always been a mental practice for me. Over the years, as my mind became clearer & calmer, my practice switched to a more physical one. I realised that the final stage to my attainment of inner peace, was the removal of any remaining pain or ill health within me. With healthy and happy thoughts, I switched to goals of a healthier & happier body. Feeling the potential decline of natural health now that I’m 40, and feeling like I’m not yet done with my 30’s, I need to work just that little bit harder to stay as “thirty” as I can. For this week’s entry, I’ve called upon a class attendee of mine, Jenny Bates, to teach us a little bit more about fascia, and how it contributes to the overall health of our bodies.

Fascia, the plastic wrap of your body

“Picture one of those anatomy charts that you see at physio or massage clinics. Now cover each one of the muscles on the chart with a fine sticky spiderlike mesh and attach it to every organ, bone, nerve, artery and vein in the body.  That mesh is called fascia and until very recently it was merely pushed aside to get to everything underneath.  Scientists now realise that it is involved in every movement your body makes and is part of every injury you have had or will ever get.

Fascia was once only thought to be like a plastic wrap that kept muscles and organs separated from each other. New research now shows just how much of a major role it plays in all aspects of your body, communicating with each and every part of you down to the cellular level. It conducts electricity and acts as a communication network for mechanical, chemical and emotional information exchange between your trillions of cells. It also helps to regulate how they function. Fascia is your largest sensory organ, covering more space than your skin and contains nerve receptors by which we gain proprioception, the sense of position and movement. Without it we would not be able to sense our bodies in space, feel pain or tell the temperature.

A tough densely woven connective tissue, fascia is one continuous sheet, you can’t move one part of it without moving the rest. Its tautness, or lack of it, holds our shape and we cannot run, sit or stand without it. In its healthy state it’s smooth and supple and slides easily allowing you to move and stretch in any direction. Lack of flexibility, injuries, poor posture and ongoing stress all can create unhealthy changes in your fascial system. Repetitive movements pull the fascia into ingrained patterns. Adhesions can then form, reducing the ability of structures to glide over one another. Some of those adhesions are what we see as cellulite!  When you tear or strain a tissue, the body lays down more collagen fibres to stabilise the area which can result in less flexibility of tissue and reduced range of motion.  Even chronic stress effects the fascia causing fibres to thicken in an attempt to protect the underlying muscles.” Jenny Bates

Heal your body first or your mind

I began with my mind and heart in my yoga practice, but if you have a tight, immobile and sore body due to tight fascia, how can you feel inspired to take care of anything else? What speaks to you the loudest is what needs to be addressed. To those of you who are tight and immobile and want healthier fascia, here are some more tips from Jenny,

Food and supplements

Fascia falls into the broader category of connective tissue which has two major protein compounds, collagen and elastin. Collagen is the cement that holds everything together while elastin is the stretch and spring back part of ligaments and skin. Both can be easily damaged by inflammation. Having or avoiding certain foods and including supplements can help to nourish and strengthen the fascia and reduce inflammation.

Eat a low inflammatory diet

Include whole foods – vegetables, whole grains, fruits, essential fatty acids, cold water fish, nuts seeds.  Reduce the amount of high inflammatory foods in your diet. These include refined foods, sugar, alcohol, trans fatty acids, saturated fats in red meat, gluten and dairy.

Eat lots of antioxidants

Antioxidants link the collagen fibres together and strengthen the matrix of the connective tissue. Food sources are acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, cherries, cinnamon, red grapes, eggplant, red cabbage, red onions and spirulina,

Cathechins prevent the breakdown of collagen. Food sources are acai berries, fresh peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, cherries, green tea and raw cacao 

Fish oils are high in anti-inflammatory properties which reduce joint pain intensity, joint swelling, and morning stiffness. Food sources are oily fish maceral, salmon, trout and sardines.

Vitamin C protects and enhances cartilage formation and is used to make collagen. A threefold decrease in the risk of osteoarthritis was found in the groups with higher than average vitamin C intake.  Food sources are capsicum, papaya, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, kiwifruit, oranges and fermented vegetables.

Vitamin E. Due to its antioxidant and membrane stabilising actions, vitamin e can inhibit the breakdown of cartilage and stimulates the formulations of new cartilage components.  Food sources are almonds, raw seeds, spinach, sweet potato, avocado, wheatgerm, sunflower seeds and butternut squash.

Zinc is required for protein synthesis and the production of connective tissue such as cartilage and bone. You will find it in foods such as oysters, lamb, grass fed beef, scallops, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and prawns.

Copper is needed for the maturation of collagen.  You will find it in foods such as sesame seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, cacao, avocado.

Jenny works at Mother-well where she does a range of massages including myofascial release and micro fascial unwinding www.mother-well.co.nz

Heal your body and your mind will thank you

It doesn’t matter whether you start with the mind or the body, once one is healed, the other will follow. Listen to the language of your body, it calls for your attention with discomfort, injury and sickness. Heal it with your love and attention.