The Fascinating world of Fascia

As science uncovers the ways in which the body holds onto tension, we begin to understand the physical and emotional releases we often experience in yoga and medicinal movement. 

By Jessica Humphries

I was born with a hole in my heart. At two years old I had surgery to resolve it and I haven’t experienced a single problem since. It’s all but a distant memory. However, since becoming a yoga teacher I’ve become acutely aware of the tightness in my shoulders – especially compared to my students. This tendency to curl into myself has left me constricted, and strong backbends often bring up feelings of extreme fear and vulnerability. Over the years, as I’ve enquired into this restriction, I’ve been flooded with memories of this childhood experience. Certain movements, when explored, often come with a primal surge of emotion – a strong feeling that I want my mother, and a deep sympathy and sadness for my two-year-old self. 

You’ve likely had a similar experience  – perhaps something that you can’t quite explain. But you know that there’s something going on. Something that connects your body to your mind, creating strong sensations and emotions when you move through certain shapes. 

There are many theories about what is going on here, and one particular area that is being delved into more deeply within both eastern and western communities is fascia – the connective tissue that permeates your entire body. In fact, many researchers of fascia see this connective tissue as the part of the body that bridges the gap between eastern and western philosophies, finding evidence to explain the connection between the body and the mind. 

Introducing fascia

Fascia has become a buzzword within yoga circles and beyond. Classes focusing on fascial stretching and releasing are taking off in Europe and slowly making their way to other parts of the world. And it’s easy to see why. I recently attended a ‘fascial fitness’ class at my local gym. Flowing, oscillating movements and slow journeys along foam rollers left me feeling softer, with the sense of more freedom in my muscles – the perfect antidote to the more dynamic movements offered in gym environments, and often now in yoga classes too. 

It doesn’t take an anatomy or physiology expert to understand that something healing is going on beneath the surface when practicing these movements designed to release the body’s fascia – a mucus-like substance that penetrates your entire body. This matrix holds your cells together and is often referred to as ‘connective tissue’ (although not all connective tissue is fascia). Fascia is made up of fibrous connective tissue that contains tightly packed bundles of collagen fibres, oriented in a wavy pattern arranged in layers. 

Fascia is like the clingwrap beneath the skin that wraps around all of your organs and muscles – fusing, separating, binding, and allowing glide between these muscles, organs and other soft structures of the body. It’s what holds us together, quite literally. Fascia is the biological fabric that connects, separates and forms the body. Like a big, internal spider web that penetrates all of you – from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes, fascia impacts on more of your physical and emotional life than you might realise. 

Once you’ve experienced the physical and emotional release that accompanies fascial work, you’ll be hooked. There’s a subtle shift in the body and mind; a feeling of letting go. It’s hard to describe in words but you’ll feel it deeply on an experiential level. Even if you haven’t been to a fascia-focused class, you’ve likely felt it before. The long, slow holds of yin yoga invite the fascia to unwind. Or maybe you’ve experienced it while receiving bodywork. There’s a moment when your body softly shifts from resist to release. And as we begin to understand the ways in which fascia works, we can mindfully and consciously engage in activities that support the health of this connective tissue, leading to not only a healthier and happier body, but also a healthier and happier mind. 

A new understanding

Until recently, we knew very little about fascia. Overlooked in mainstream medicine due to lack of suitable technology, its impact on our body and mind has been underestimated. Fascia was considered less important than the muscles, bones and organs, but recently fascia’s role in the body’s mobility and its contribution to generating pain has created interest within the western medical community. 

The fascial network is now recognised by many experts as a rich sensory organ system, densely populated with nerve receptors that respond to stimuli in the form of pain, proprioception (the sense of knowing the position of your body in space – allowing us to move and navigate environments) and pressure.  

Author of Fascia- What it is and why it matters David Lesonak, explains that “the most important thing to keep in mind…is that the fascial net is one continuous structure throughout the body…The ‘everywhereness’ of fascia also implies that, indeed, it is all connected.” Western science now understands that fascia connects everything in the body. What this means is that trauma in one area of the body can have a domino effect on the rest of the body, which can help us to understand the role of fascia in pain and its treatment. 

Eastern medicine, on the other hand, has been curious about fascia for eons. In Daniel Keown’s The spark in the machine: How the science of acupuncture explains the mysteries of western medicine he explains that the acupuncture channels of the east are the fascial tubules of the west. According to Keown, fascia is what channels Qi, keeping everything in order, both physically and emotionally. 

Why it matters

Fascia is fundamental when it comes to mobility and function because, as it thickens and becomes tight (due to sustained movement (or lack of movement) in a particular direction – like sitting, or certain exercises practiced over time), it impacts on our range of movement. 

Inflammation causes fascia to tighten and lose its flexibility, and, because fascia weaves throughout the entire body, inflammation in one area can contribute to pain in an entirely different part of the body. Because the fascia is so connected throughout the entire body, it also contributes to the respiratory system and breathing mechanics. 

Dr Robert Schleip is arguably the world’s greatest fascia expert and is the director of the Fascia Research Project at the University of Ulm in Germany. He explains that lack of movement quickly causes the fibres of the fascial tissues to lose elasticity. Think of a sponge. When it is dry, it is easily broken, but when it is hydrated it easily moves around. It’s like the difference between wearing yoga pants made from flimsy material that breaks when you move and your favourite Lululemons. Healthy fascia is hydrated fascia. 

Schleip uses the example of an immobilised knee. After a few weeks, he says, you can no longer stretch the joint because there is a chaotic growth of collagen fibres, or fascia, in all directions. We can understand how this translates to the bodies of office workers, or those of us who spend a lot of time sitting in chairs. The fascia around the neck, shoulders and hips becomes tight and dehydrated, causing constriction, inflammation and impacting on mobility throughout the entire body over time. 

Erin Bourne is something of a fascia expert. Currently writing a book on the topic, she is a qualified Exercise Scientist and yoga & pilates teacher who has also trained in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilisation and Myofascial Release. She explains, “Fascia has more sensors than the eyes, tongue and muscles, and is able to communicate more about the body than almost all other tissues and organs.” There are many types of mechanoreceptors (a sensory receptor that responds to mechanical pressure or distortion) in the fascia that detect muscle contraction, muscle length and vibration – this is how the brain knows what is happening in the body, where it is and how to control it. The fascia stores and communicates information across the entire body.” And so, working the fascia through physical movements can develop its strength and responsiveness – giving us a much better sense of ourselves. 

Given my own experiences it feels clear to me that our physical bodies can hold onto certain emotions, which can then be released through movement, accompanied by a kind of catharsis. This begs the question for many like myself: can our bodies actually physically store emotions or memories? 

Can fascia hold and release emotions?

It is a common belief, especially amongst body workers, that fascia can store memories. Many body workers and their clients have experienced the sense that old pain and trauma is stored in the body. When worked on manually, this old ‘stuff’ can be brought up and eventually released. A physical sensation may be accompanied by a memory, and, when worked on, the potency of the memory may be eased along with restoration of the body’s tissue function. The issues are in the tissues! 

According to Paolo Tozzi, an Italian osteopath who wrote for the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, memories in the body may also be encoded into the structure of the fascia itself. Most people believe that memories are, of course, in the brain. However, because fascia is so rich with nerve endings, Paolo explains that a neuro-fascial interaction may be responsible for the setting of a local tissue “memory”. Thus, touch or manual therapy may “unload” the tissue, causing a change in neural input to the brain, which may trigger the memory. 

Tom Myers has been involved in bodywork for over 43 years. He is the author of the hugely popular Anatomy Trains and also lectures on the topic of fascia. He responded to Tozzi’s editorial, remembering the many instances during his own career where “touch has seemingly elicited memories of traumatic events (and occasionally simply pleasant ones…). These memories are not always of consciously remembered events, and the exposure and resolution of these ‘issues in the tissues’…can often involve dramatic emotional and physiological responses, followed by lasting relief from pain or somato-emotional ‘weight’, and occasionally a total change of course in life.” 

However, Myers believes that ‘memory’ is not the best way to describe what is happening within the body, suggesting that we re-frame the question from ‘Can fascia store memories?’ to ‘Does fascia contribute to awareness/consciousness?’ Our experience of memory is always neurological, whereas emotional memory, such as that invoked in deep bodywork, is a fluid event – a change in the body’s fluid chemistry (i.e. an increase in the fascia’s fluidity due to changes in pressure and temperature brought on by movement or bodywork). 

How to release fascia

It should be noted that there is some debate over whether fascia can be released through physical movements and therapies (it is difficult to find clinically relevant science to support the idea that fascial manipulation can actually alter fascia). However, many who are researching the topic believe that it is of fundamental importance for a number of reasons, and these people believe without a doubt that the fascia can be stretched, softened and released through certain practices. 

We don’t know for sure that by releasing the fascia that the emotions that have caused me to curl in all these years will be released. We don’t even know for sure that the fascia can be released. But we can know from our own experiences that profound healing can come from moving the body in different ways – and these ways are often understood to work on the body’s fascia. 

For Myers, changing the fascia changes everything. By changing the fascia, we can change the way that people breathe, and when this happens, “their chemistry changes and their outlook changes…shape is hugely important, and that’s where yoga and bodywork really shine.” 

Myers stresses the many ways that show great promise in releasing the fascia such as yoga, bodywork, osteopathy, chiropractic and Alexander/Feldenkreis. He explains that long, slow stretches allow us to reach the deeper tissues of the body and change the fascia – like those common to a yin yoga practice. He says, “The muscles have to relax first and then the fascia starts to stretch and release. And that can facilitate the kind of repatterning that leads to lasting release of chronic holdings and, in many cases, a profound change of mind and body.”

Your own body can guide you towards a deeper understanding of fascia. When you’re practicing yin yoga, you can feel the moment when resistance subsides – a gentle unlocking in the body’s holding reminds you to soften. When you’re receiving a massage you can sense your body beginning to surrender in time. And when you glide your quads along foam rollers, you can feel the tension slowly increasing, until it releases and you can finally breathe and let go. 

For Myers, finding this release always begins in the mind. “The way of the yogi is the path of disciplining the mind, and it’s good to remember that the fascia is part of the body’s mind, or an expression of the mind, if you will. The patterns of held tension we need to unravel are first in the mind, then neural, who export them to the muscles, which in turn shapes the fascia. Rollers and tools are great for hydrating and revivifying, but the greatest tool for unraveling neuromyofascial tension is you, a mat, and a practice that has you fascia-nated.” 

Words by Jessica Humphries for Wellbeing Magazine. 

gut health

Gut Health for Beginners: How to Have a Healthy Belly

Gut health is gaining popularity as we begin to cotton on to its vital role in overall health, well being and even weight loss. We’re discovering the potent power of probiotics and how enjoying foods rich in healthy bacteria can help us to thrive not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

The latest research illustrates the connection between the gut and the brain, with studies showing that there is, indeed, a link between gut bacteria and behaviour/mood. The delicate and complex eco system inside your gut must be kept in balance in order to thrive. Armed with this knowledge, it’s more important than ever to take care of your gut health. Here’s how.

Embrace the power of probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms, or good bacteria, that live inside your gut. They are essential in maintaining good gut health by preventing the invasion of bad bacteria. Foods rich in probiotics include fermented goods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso and tempeh. They’re also delicious!

Don’t forget the prebiotics

Prebiotics are foods that act as a kind of fertiliser that feeds the good bacteria and encourages a healthy gut environment. Common foods that can give you a good dose of prebiotics include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas. For a real prebiotic boost, source some chicory root from your health food store.

Whole = wholesome

Include plenty of whole foods in your diet like whole fruits and vegetables. Try to also get these foods as close to their natural form as possible, for example swapping the fruit juice for the whole fruit. Not only will they help with your prebiotics, but they are full of gut friendly fibre.

Become friends with fibre

There is research showing how fibre can support weight loss. Fibre is essential for both a healthy weight and a healthy gut, and most Australians aren’t getting nearly enough. A proper fibre diet feeds and makes your healthy bacteria thrive. Stock up on whole (unprocessed) fibres like fruits and vegetables, legumes like beans, peas and lentils, and whole grains like oats, whole-wheat products, quinoa and brown rice.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Jenny Craig.


It takes a tribe to raise a child, so why are we so isolated?

There’s a well-known African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ This sentiment is widespread throughout a number of African cultures. In Lunyoro a similar saying goes, ‘A child does not grow up only in a single home’, and in Kihaya, ‘A child belongs not to one parent or home.’ These cultures recognise that child rearing is no easy feat, and having many parental figures allows one to thrive.

Let’s be honest, no matter where you are in the world, parenting is a tough gig. I would know – I’m a very hands-on Aunty. But, our family isn’t typical in our society. Not because we’re super woke or because we made an informed, progressive decision to raise the children as a village/tribe, but because any other way would have been impossible.

Three and a half years ago, I was living with my pregnant, newly single sister. And after the birth of the new love of our lives I wasn’t going anywhere. For over a year, we engaged in something that awkwardly resembled co-parenting – two young women fumbling their way through motherhood. Most days we had the help of the extended family too – Mum, Step-dad and Dad all did their bit to make sure we all ate, stayed alive, and sometimes even thrived. My nephew became as attached to me as he was to my sister, and as time went on, I modified my life more to accommodate his presence in my world.

Now my nephew is three, and while the landscape has changed a little (we no longer live together, and my sister has a partner and a new baby), the philosophy remains the same: it takes a tribe to raise a child, and so every day we all band together and do what needs to be done both practically and emotionally. And, although it’s still really hard (and not always in the same ways as a more common family set-up), I honestly don’t know how anyone does it alone.

Parenting in a disconnected world

What perplexes me most though is how we have found ourselves so isolated. Parenting is isolating enough. Confronting the highs and lows, and managing your own emotions in relation to the rollercoaster of parenthood can leave you feeling misunderstood and alone, even with endless support around you.

The additional isolation is a relatively new phenomenon. Long geographical stretches between family members, conflict, the overwhelming responsibilities and demands of modern life and our nine-to-five-grinds have all contributed to the common disconnect between extended families and communities. Not so long ago there were no fences between neighbours, and kids were raised as much by the extended-family as the parents. Today we so often go it alone – without family or close friends nearby (or available to help).

How other cultures do it

Many cultures around the world approach child rearing in a more community-focussed fashion. These cultures’ values are expressed from the very beginning of the parenting journey. In Bali, babies can’t touch the ground until they are three months old – they are held constantly to prevent contact with the unclean ground that is believed to taint their purity. In Kenya, mothers carry their babies everywhere, and in traditional Chinese culture, the nurturing of the mother post-partum is seen as essential to the future health of both mother and child. Ingrained in Chinese culture, strict ‘rules’ are imposed for a month following childbirth, including an abundance of family assistance, nourishing meals and more.

As children grow, in many traditional African communities the whole extended family is seen as being responsible for the child, not just the parents. In fact, the child is seen as not just belonging to the family, but to the whole society. Everyone is an aunt, uncle or grandparent of some kind.

The benefit of a tribe mentality when it comes to parenting? Healthier children.

Infants in these traditional societies have been observed to spend less time crying than western children, and grow up to be more self-confident, emotionally secure and creative. They spend less time in front of screens and more time connecting with one another.

Finding your tribe

We can’t just transport ourselves to another time or culture, and there’s no point in chastising ourselves for our lack of family resources (we have enough parental guilt to deal with, right?). The truth is, parenting will pose challenges no matter what, and it’s not so easy to integrate the values of another culture into western society. Imagine the disagreements you have with your partner over parenting decisions being shared amongst an entire family, being a mother who feels she needs everyone to be on board with each decision she makes, or a father who is outnumbered by the maternal family. It’s not all beer and skittles, let me tell you. But, there are some gems of wisdom that we can access from this tribe philosophy.

You may not have a village to raise your child, but you can always seek your own tribe. They may be wandering around the park with their own wildlings, at the local library’s story time, at the farmer’s market or even next-door. Wherever they are, they’re probably on the lookout for you too.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Famlio. 

yoga writer

Find Yourself on an Enchanted Escape

Looking for a unique retreat that truly delves deep? Discover these serene spaces that will move you into magical mindfulness

By Jessica Humphries

Choosing where to take your next retreat is no easy feat – especially for those of us who want more than just an introduction to yoga and a few sweaty asana classes. With so many businesses capitalising on the yoga and mindfulness boom, it’s hard to differentiate the authentic from the money-makers. So we’ve done the hard work for you and scoped out some seriously serene spaces around the world that promise to take you beyond the asana and into introspection. 

Prema Shanti – Daintree Rainforest, Australia

Set amidst world-heritage rainforest, Prema Shanti offers yoga, meditation and the opportunity to explore the area with the guidance of long-time local hosts. The focus is on slowing down and looking within, and the space expresses this perfectly – with humble, zen-inspired rooms and plenty of communal areas to connect and enjoy the verdant views. Your hosts are true yogis who walk their talk, warmly inviting you into their community and helping you to find what it is you’re seeking. Visitors are invited to join in on the early morning meditation session and evening yoga, and soak up the richness of Mother Nature’s offerings in between.  www.premashanti.com.au 

Billabong Retreat  – Maraylya, Australia 

Located just an hour northwest of Sydney lives a nature-abundant retreat centre that allows guests to leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind and immerse themselves in this lush, quintessentially Australian landscape. There are many programs to choose from, with yoga and meditation as the main focus. The airy yoga shala boasts breathtaking tree-top views, inviting instant stillness and serenity. The many accommodation options take advantage of the beautiful natural surrounds, the food is healthy and colourful, and the on-site spa offers a smorgasbord of delicious treatments that integrate native Australian plants. www.billabongretreat.com.au 

Yoga Barn – Ubud, Bali

If you’re an experienced yogi looking for a DIY-style retreat in one of the world’s most vibrant yoga hubs, then look no further than Bali’s famous Yoga Barn. A yoga mecca within a yoga mecca, Yoga Barn is often overflowing with hipster yogis laughing and socialising. But it’s not all designer tights and man buns – there’s also a sensational smorgasbord of yogic activities – from ecstatic dance to breathwork, meditation and everything in between. Despite its popularity, any yoga lover can easily slot into the community and enjoy all it has to offer – including spa treatments and delicious vegan treats at the on-site café. You can stay in style at the deluxe on-site guesthouse, or choose from a plethora of nearby, more humble accommodation options. www.theyogabarn.com 

Kripalu Centre for Yoga & Health – Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

If you’ve read Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the quest for the true self then you’ve probably already been tempted to check this place out. Cope is a senior teacher and one of the founders of Kripalu – one of the biggest yoga education centres in the world. Surrounded by the forested hills of the Berkshire Mountains, your stay includes as many sessions from the schedule as you can squeeze into the day, which comprises of workshops on asana, meditation, detox, chakras and more. The accommodation is simple, peaceful and comfortable, ranging from dorm-style to slightly more stylish, private rooms. www.kripalu.org 

Parmarth Niketan Ashram – Rishikesh, India

Rishikesh is often dubbed as the yoga capital of the world, and is home to an overwhelming number of yoga retreats and centres. Parmarth Niketan is by far the biggest – with 1000 rooms nestled in beautiful garden surrounds, perfect for yoga and meditation. It’s an ideal place to soak up the true traditions of yoga through a vast variety of programs and activities in inspiringly authentic surrounds (you can even experience the deeply spiritual sunset aarti at the river Ganges). The ashram recommends staying for at least three weeks in order to completely soak up everything the magnificent space and its teachers have to offer. www.parmarth.org 

Rhythmia Life Advancement Centre – Playa Avellana, Costa Rica

A truly tempting, luxurious yogic treat, Rythmia is situated in one of the world’s famous Blue Zones – known for the longevity of its inhabitants. Encased in an enchanted environment, visitors are surrounded by stunning shorelines, magical mountains, picturesque waterfalls and all the sights and sounds of the rainforest. And that’s just the beginning. The retreat is perhaps most famous for its herbal medicine journeys and programs that focus on transformation and personal development – topped off with twice daily flowing yoga sessions designed by Shiva Rea. www.rythmia.com 

Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre – Nilambe, Sri Lanka

A stay at the Nilambe Centre promises to leave both new and experienced meditators with a practice that they can use to bring a deeper sense of mindfulness and peace to their everyday lives. Not for the faint-hearted, guests may be challenged by the 5am wake-ups and the abundance of compulsory meditation on the schedule, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to delve deeply into the practice in a reasonably gentle way. It differs from a traditional Vipassana meditation retreat in that visitors can choose a shorter stay and the program is not quite as rigorous. However, it’s still a silent meditation retreat based on traditional Buddhist philosophies. While it’s a far cry from your typical yoga holiday, the surroundings are exquisitely peaceful and the profound work will surely turn your world upside down – in a good way. All retreats are by donation only. www.nilambe.net 

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal. 

cbd oil

Sensational CBD: Why yogis are jumping on board the bandwagon 

Recently, while flicking through Instagram, I saw Yoga Girl’s story – a picture of a vaporiser and a caption expressing her enthusiasm for CBD. If there was anything that solidified the yoga community’s growing interest in cannabis as a healing aid, this was it. At the same time, she released a podcast episode titled ‘What if we all just did whatever the f*ck we want?’ where she discusses CBD oil and how ingesting it through a vaporising pen has had incredible benefits for her asthma. 

Beyond that, there are yogis near and far who are boasting the benefits of cannabis for mental and physical health. @trippytreez @karma_stoned and @yogaandweed are just some of Insta-yoga celebs promoting cannabis as the perfect yoga companion. These yogis share images of toking whilst striking a pose and promote yoga classes that combine the two. The benefits? Heightened sensory awareness, improved ease of movement and a deeper sense of connection – for a start. 

In Australia the legalities around marijuana consumption mean that most of these practices are off-limits for us. But one way that alternative health enthusiasts are accessing the potential of this super-plant is through CBD oil. 

Cannabis, Marijuana, Hemp & CBD: What’s the difference?

Hemp products (like hemp seeds, oil and materials) are extracted from hemp, and CBD oil is extracted from marijuana. The THC (psychoactive compound of the plant) is removed from both hemp seed oil and CBD oil. But because hemp seed oil contains little to no CBD, the benefits of CBD cannot be accessed via hemp oil. However, CBD oil (obviously) contains CBD, and its users can therefore reap the benefits of this particular compound. 

Put simply, CBD oil and hemp seed oil will not get you stoned! And, while hemp seed oil has some wonderful benefits, CBD oil is next level. 

Despite CBD oil’s low levels of THC, and hence no psychoactive effects, it is still illegal to take internally in Australia. So, when CBD oil is sold here, it is sold as a topical product, not to be ingested. 

Celebrating CBD: The benefits 

It’s only recently that researchers have been investing energy into exploring CBD oil. One current study, headed by a Harvard professor, is looking at the potential for CBD oil to relieve women of menstrual pain and discomfort. 

Research from 2014 indicated that CBD has a positive interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain, which may be useful in treating depression. Current studies are looking at CBD oil’s impact on everything from acne to sleep apnoea, and research is even going into how CBD can support cancer patients. Of course it’s early days yet, but there’s at least been a big swing of the pendulum from viewing marijuana and all of its components as terrifying drugs to something potentially health-benefiting.  

Why the yogis are loving CBD

While the research is still growing, there’s so much anecdotal evidence to support the benefits of CBD oil. Yoga Girl credits CBD to not needing to use her asthma inhaler anymore. Jolie Parcher, a New York based yoga teacher and studio owner explains that CBD “helps to quiet that ‘drunken monkey mind’” as well as provide relief for aches and pains and allow students to move more freely due to its anti-inflammatory properties. There’s even a yoga teacher in southern California who calls herself ‘The CBD Yoga Teacher’ who has experienced extraordinary relief through the use of the oil and so integrates it into her classes. She says, “CBD has by far out performed any and every anxiety/PTSD medication I have ever tried.”

Research-backed benefits of CBD oil

While we shouldn’t accept CBD as a cure-all, studies have and continue to support its healing properties. Research has indicated that CBD can help with the relief of:

  • – Inflammation and pain
  • – Depression and anxiety
  • – Nausea and vomiting
  • – Epilepsy and seizures
  • – Diabetes

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.