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Effects of Stretching & Myofascial Release on Internal Health

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

The human body is a complex tension-integral system where push and pull have a win-win relationship. More simply, the body is bones connected by soft tissue within a net of continuous tension creating stability without direct contact. When the tension network shifts, it affects the entire system and has impacts on efficiency of movement, and propensity to injury. In the movement science world, this concept is known as biotensegrity.

From deep to superficial, this tension system is comprised of bone, cartilage, joint capsules, ligaments - all creating passive stability - and then, tendon and muscle, as the active stabilizers.

Our actions and our life experiences in our very human bodies are sensed and adjusted via our FASCIA - the human body’s richest sensory organ.

Fascia is intelligent, efficient, body-wide, living, aqueous tissue that listens and responds, and supports and adapts. Fascia is made for economy of movement and is resilient to our endeavors over time. Serving a variety of functions, fascia appears as a continuous stream of fibrous tissue giving muscles shape, connecting muscles to other muscles and bone and generally holding everything in place on your skeleton.

The increasing number of research studies on fascia through the years has elevated this body-wide fabric matrix to becoming the number one sensory organ in the human body, taking the title of the body’s top sensory tissue away from skin, now our number two most dominate sensory organ.

As a yoga teacher turned human anatomy and physiology nerd, my teachings emphasize yoga’s comprehensive benefits to internal health. Continued studying of movement and recovery implications on our fascia inform the array of therapeutic tools I teach students - such as self-myofascial release. Self Myofascial Release (SMR) commonly associated with foam rolling, provides soft tissue therapy for releasing tension in fascia that restricts movement in our bodies.

Through techniques like compression, shearing and flushing we are able to stimulate receptors on our body that help muscle and tissue relax and lengthen. Longer muscles and less tension lead to all kinds of good things like easing compressive forces on joints, wider range of motion and increased mobility. It is these very techniques through which I teach mindfulness, presence and interopception - our ability to sense our own internal condition.

Mechanically speaking, when we apply a stimulus to the body via a stretch or compression, we test our tissues ability to lengthen and return, stir fascia’s viscous ground substance to become more pliable and resilient, stimulate our fibroblasts to regulate their synthesis of collagen and other extracellular matrix proteins in response to mechanical tension. Ground substance is made up fluids and fill spaces between fascia’s fibers and cells. One of these proteins is Hyaluronic Acid. With age, we produce less fibroblasts - the main cells of fascia - and consequently less hyaluronic acid as the viscous fluid stiffens and reduces our sense of mobility. However, viscous fluid becomes less viscous when agitated, sheered or stressed, giving us the autonomy to regulate connective tissue hydration and fascial health and mobility with specific, targeted techniques. There is even new evidence of fascia’s influence beyond our musculoskeletal system to include our nervous, lymphatic and cardiovascular systems.

For example, a 2020 meta-analysis by Kato et all, studied The effects of stretching exercises on arterial stiffness in middle-aged and older adults and found positive effects on the vascular system. Vascular endothelial function increased and arterial stiffness, heart rate, diastolic blood pressure were all reduced by a regular stretching routine. Foam rolling - a form of self-applied myofascial release - also reduced arterial stiffness as well as increasing nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide, produced by endothelial cells, helps to modulate vasodilation, regulate local cell growth and plays a big role in endothelial function.

This study, and an increasing amount of new research like it, provide scientific evidence on the benefits of taking a little an often approach when it comes to yoga and yoga therapeutics like SMF.

Students who take my classes report back that their most-often self-applied yoga therapeutic tool outside of classes is indeed self-myofascial release. From feet and palms, the abdomen, lumbar stabilizers, glutes, the outer and inner hips, back and front of the legs, up along the spinal muscles into the skull, around the shoulder cage, under the armpits to the backs of the arms - self myofascial release is a highly effective way to form a better connection with your body and directly influence your inner condition. For athletes, self myofasical release is evidenced as relief for delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) and not only can be a critical recovery tool but research also shows that SMF is an efficient way to warm up the body prior to activity without the athlete experiencing any negative performance deficits.

Interested in learning more? My yoga classes provide an experience well beyond moving through yoga poses. Students who enjoy my classes the most practice for a feeling, an inner-experience in where outside influences are removed. They are open to learning ,questioning and exploring for the sake of becoming present with themselves for self-satisfaction alone. They value techniques that may not necessarily look like what they see in pictures because they've gained confidence to self-apply practices in real-time. It's not how yoga looks, but how it feels. They've learned to apply yoga in a practical way that makes their unique life and internal discomfort just a bit easier to manage. In myofascial recovery work, they have found something relatable and results-producing they can do ROUTINELY in just a few moments at any point during the day, to get reconnected, recentered and relaxed! And when combined with yoga poses, SMR makes the yoga happen more fully in the present moment, where it's more stirring, and residual in real-time.

Register here for my Signature 5 Class Series: Yoga with Joy, or my new Sunday 4 Class Series: Restorative Yoga & Massage and be on the road to fulfilling your new year's intentions for raising the bar on your informed self-care and dedicated time to build resilient internal wellness.

References Katja Bartsch, Sports Scientist & lead Yoga Medicine Researcher. Yoga Medicine Research Lecture Notes. Tiffany Cruikshank, Yoga Medicine Founder, Lead Teacher; Yoga Medicine Research Lecture Notes.

Kato M., Nihei Green F, Hotta K, Tsukamoto T, Kurita A, Takaagi H. The Efficacy of Stretching Exercsises on Arterial Stiffness in Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Randominzed aand Non-Randomized Controlled Trials. Int j Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Aug 5; 17(16):5643. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17165643. PMCID: PMC7460052.

Okamoto T, Masuhara M, Ikuta K. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5. PMID: 23575360.

Tousoulis D, Kampoli AM, Tentolouris C, Papageorgiou N, Stefanadis C. The role of nitric oxide on endothelial function. Curr Vasc Pharmacol. 2012 Jan;10(1):4-18. doi: 10.2174/157016112798829760. PMID: 22112350.

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