Fascia: The Secret Organ
A visit to structural integrative specialist Lauren Roxburgh begins with a photo session in front of a gridded wall at her Santa Monica studio. She instructs you to stand in your natural posture—in a sports bra and tights—feet aligned against two marks on the floor. 90 or so minutes later, she sets you up in front of the same grid, and then shows you the infomercial-esque results. If she didn’t have you hop off the bed mid-session to hobble around for a few minutes—feeling how strange it is when one of your legs is longer than the other—you wouldn’t believe what you’re seeing. Which is that Lauren has in fact made you taller—and as a result of the heightened alignment, leaner. Your head hits the grid inches higher.
Lauren is an alignment and body mechanics specialist who focuses on the fascia—i.e., the connective tissue in our bodies that doctors are now considering to be the organ of structure or posture. At its best, the fascia is a thin membrane that covers all of our muscles. At its worst, it bonds together to create knots, pain, tension, and thickness, impeding our body’s ability to exercise its full range of motion, and then enforcing the body’s tendencies to restrict itself and shorten. Through a combination of her hands and a foam roller, Lauren can re-align the body, eliminating thicknesses, bloating, toxins, and imbalances. Her work is profound, in large part because fascia is malleable, and it’s inclined to do what it’s told, which is why she counts many pro athletes—and orthopedic surgeons—amongst her clientele. While a session on her table is inarguably invaluable, Lauren believes that you can get about 80% of the results by doing it yourself with one simple tool. Here, she demonstrates exactly what you need to do to bring your hips into alignment, and eliminate thickness, pain, and tension through the upper thighs, butt, and hips. Her book (Ballantine) is due out in January, 2016.
Q: So what is it exactly that you do?
A: At the most basic level, I do body work—but it’s much deeper than that, as the way we move our bodies says a lot about our lives. On the surface, I address physical issues, and all the stresses that injuries, stress, tension, and daily life place upon us. But at a deeper level, I’m helping people make the connection between their emotions, their movement, and the way that they feel.
What do I mean by that? I help people see that when they hold stress from overwork, physical and emotional behavior patterns, repetitive strain, and even trauma, it is transmitted to the body. You can see it, whether it’s a compressed diaphragm, hunched and sloping shoulders, or thickness through the upper thighs. When I help clients release those stresses, I can empower them to heal the deeper issues that manifest themselves as physical symptoms.
I’ve studied many modalities, from nutrition to yoga to structural integration and meditation, but perhaps the one thing that makes me different is my focus on fascia. Our bodies store the trauma of our lives in our fascia, which can lead to muscular and structural rigidity. When we release the tension in our fascia and align ourselves with gravity we take a new stance, and not just in our bodies.
Q: So what exactly is fascia?
A: Fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that encases your body under your skin like a wetsuit and actually wraps itself around every muscle, joint, and organ. If you’ve ever cut into a piece of raw chicken or steak and seen that thin, white, filmy layer, then you’ve seen fascia.
While fascia is incredibly malleable and thin, it’s also largely responsible for the shape of our bodies. How is this? Well, fascia can store toxins (my orthopedic surgeon friends tell me that when they cut through thickened fascia during surgery, it actually spurts pus—nasty, right?). Most importantly, it can thicken and harden when it is not used correctly: When you have a stiff shoulder, for example, often it is not damage to the muscle that it causing it, but a hardening or thickening of the fascia around the shoulder muscles and joint.
The amazing thing is that fascia is only now being medically recognized for its importance in maintaining a healthy, fit, toned, calm, and aligned body. In fact, it wasn’t until 2007 that the first international Fascia Research Congress was held at Harvard Medical School, bringing a new awareness to the importance of the fascial webbing system.
These days, “myofascial release” has become a bit of a buzzword in the fitness and wellness communities: Medical science is finally catching on that fascia is a major player in every movement you make and every trauma you’ve experienced, making it largely responsible for ‘shaping’ the body.
Q: Shaping in what way? How do our bodies get out of alignment?
A: In its healthy state our muscles and joints are lubricated, smooth, supple, thin, and resilient with healthy circulation. They allow you to move and reach your full length in any direction with ease and grace.
Then life, gravity, and sh*t happens! We’re all dealing with a lot: The demands on our time are incessant; we’re juggling family and work; we’re trying to balance fitness, networking, and time to unwind. Modern life, particularly for women who are not always inclined to put themselves first, is a constant juggling act. And through this juggling act it is all too easy to accumulate bad patterns: To store stress and emotions, and to become rigid, tight, stiff, short of breath, and compressed. We actually shrink.
On top of this, if you’re carrying injuries from the past—both physical and mental—they can also cause our bodies to get out of alignment, accelerating all sorts of things we don’t want to happen. But despite the conventional wisdom, being in pain, gaining weight, losing muscle tone, shrinking, and having physical issues does not have to be a natural part of the aging process!
Poor posture, poor flexibility, and repetitive movements pull the fascia into ingrained patterns. Adhesions form within the stuck and blocked fascial tissue like snags in a sweater, and make our bodies feel heavy, thick, uncomfortable, and run down. The good news is that your fascia is incredibly malleable and has almost ridiculous self-healing abilities.
Q: Why is it so hard to stand up straight?
A: Because poor posture begets poor posture: Your fascia bonds and thickens to support the way you tend to hold your body. Overcoming this tendency involves forcing the fascia to release.
Perhaps the biggest thing we all struggle with is to understand what is really going on in our bodies as we live our lives. I find that when I can help my clients achieve a true body awareness—that is to really understand what is going on—then it is not so hard to achieve a real and lasting alignment in the body.
So many of us don’t make the mental leap between the stress we might feel at work and the way our body looks and feels. But when we begin to understand this stress, and how we are dealing or not dealing with it and the way it manifests in our physical bodies, significant results happen: I find that clients are able to isolate and eliminate the stress, lose weight (excess baggage), walk upright with grace, and feel aligned in both their bodies and their spirits. More importantly they are able to release the pain, heaviness, tension, and physical limitations they’ve been living under.
Click through to see Lauren demonstrate some foam rolling techniques: http://www.goop.com/journal/do/308/fascia-the-secret-organ