Fascia and Range of Motion
When some people find out I am a yoga teacher they are quick to tell me how inflexible they are. They used to be able to touch their toes and now they can’t, or they have never been able to touch their toes, or they have a cousin once removed who once touched their toes… I have heard so many stories about toe touching that I find myself looking down at someones feet when the yoga-teacher introduction comes, knowing that if I see them in clogs or some other kind of footwear that does not require bending down, I might need to be ready to make a quick get-away.
Touching your toes may be one of the most common ways non-yoga people measure their range of motion because it is something most of us, except clog-wearers, have to do on a regular basis. Yoga people will know their range of motion is changing if they can’t make it as far into the poses as they used to, or if the stretch sensation feels off. I like to describe it as “feeling rusty”.
Stretching the way we learned in gym class (bounce bounce bounce) will not have you back in lace-ups! I see bouncing to touch your toes as a series of mini traumas inflicted on the hamstring muscles. That movement is not going to get the hamstrings longer, in fact this mini trauma and other ways of incorrect stretching might actually make them shorter. So will some yoga poses, if they are done too aggressively and without the proper dose of patience.
Fascia, which surrounds all of our muscles and separates them from neighboring muscle, is protective in nature. It responds when there is a threat to the organism by tightening. When you bounce, your body is going to respond to the possibility that you might tear the muscle tissue. It will send out danger-hormones to do that. The same thing happens if you stress yourself in a pose (going deeper and/or faster into a stretch than you should). The fascia will tighten up to protect the muscle from the possible tear. Fascia is so interconnected that this tightening doesn’t only affect the muscle in question-it will restrict your breathing, your heartbeat, your brain from thinking rationally, as well as your other muscles.
Fascia can also restrict our range of motion by adhering to fascia that is enclosing the muscle next to it. Ideally the fascia will slide along the fascial surface next to it, but if it is dehydrated, injured or defensive as above, it will be more sticky than slick. Fascia can start to build up in an area in our body, practically molding it in a certain position, like forward rounded shoulders. This thickening makes it very hard to move the body out of that position without constant effort.
A combination of strengthening the antagonist muscle (in the case of the hamstrings, it is the quadriceps and hip flexors) so as to change the shape the body has molded into (ie, slumped seated position accompanying tight hams) and stretching with a ton of patience, will get your fascia long, thinner and back to its slippery state. (Did I mention drink a lot of water?) I have seen people achieve greater range of motion in the hamstrings and inner thigh muscles more quickly and with longer lasting results through tremoring (TRE) than through stretching. That is because TRE and other techniques, such as myo-fascial release, AFR (Assisted Fascia Release), Melting, Yamuna Body rolling, etc are working on the fascial system, not just the muscles. Happy fascia equals relaxed happy muscles which equals happy joints. And happier foot wear.
By the way, I am a big fan of clogs and slip-ons. I myself don’t wear lace-up shoes if I can help it. I like a fast exit from footwear and I am always kicking off my shoes at the earliest possible moment. So don’t worry, I recognize my assumptions about clog-wearers is a generalization, as I myself am a clog-wearing toe-touching yogi who is always searching for the perfect winter clog.
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