Sunday, August 26, 2007

Myofascial Release

Fascia* is the name for the connective-tissue sheeting that wraps up -- well, virtually everything in the body. A subcutaneous layer runs under the skin proper, but it also wraps up every muscle, every bundle of muscle fibers, and every muscle fiber; it wraps up the internal organs as well. Western medicine has tended to view it as so much wrapping-paper, and so traditional Western (Swedish) massage completely ignores it, focusing exclusively on muscles, tendons, and ligaments. But in the late 1920s a German woman, Elizabeth Dicke, developed a therapy called Bindegewebsmassage, "connective tissue massage." And a generation later a number of other therapies followed suit, among them Rolfing and Myofascial Release. ("Myo" being a prefix that means "muscle,"). The idea behind them all is simply that if the wrapping is cramped and adhesive, the body will be distorted and unable to relax.

Gwyn and I traded on Saturday, practicing myofascial release. I was on the table first. It was an extraordinary massage. Gwyn has a real gift for it: she worked very slowly, gently, and deliberately. And most important of all -- I was grateful every time -- she left places slowly. It makes all the difference. I moved easily in and out of sleep, throughout the session -- I don't think I've ever been so comfortable with wandering back and forth across that border. And that night I slept better than I've slept in weeks.

This is the first modality we've done I think that really gives the skin its due, really engages the skin's intelligence. Muscles just aren't that clever. Contract and relax; that's all they know. The skin, on the other hand, is clued into all kinds of things.

I tried hard to emulate Gwyn's work. It's difficult to keep your attention on an area when you're leaving it. It was a real practice, a meditative discipline, to keep my mind on the area I was leaving, and not jump ahead. I succeeded maybe half the time. I found it very useful to unfocus my gaze. I don't remember where I read it -- in the Tao Shiatsu book, maybe -- but I've found it very true that chi tends to follow the gaze, and that intent watching sort of siphons it away from the hands. The loose focus I usually fall into in meditation, a sort of passive wide-angle receptivity, is perfect for this work. Keeps the intention in the hands, where it belongs.

The maxim in our handout -- that the tighter the fascia, the less force is needed to work it -- was also very helpful. The instinct, to push harder if it's not moving, is exactly wrong.

I tried to work with the deep fascia, a couple times, at the shoulders and at the feet -- not sure how well that worked. But it's interesting just to think about muscles that way, to think of working their sheathing rather than their fibers.

There's so much important and overworked fascia in the feet: I tried to think my way through that, but I would love to take a good workshop on myofascial for the feet.

I had no idea I would be interested in myofascial. But I love it.

*"Fascia" from the Latin fascis, means "band," or "bundle," and is the root of the word "fascist" as well -- fascists having been big on unity, and the Italian ones having adopted the bundle of rods with an ax in the middle -- the "fasces" -- as their emblem. It's entertaining to watch the linguistic struggle at East-West college. By the laws of historical linguistics, and by the dictionary, the 'a' in "fascia" is short; it should be pronounced like the word "fashion" with the final 'n' left off. But entertainingly, the customary pronunciation of the word at school is "faw-shuh." Two things seem to be at work; one, an impulse to distinguish the word from "fascist," and two, the American conviction that any foreign looking word should be pronounced with continental vowels. I wonder which pronunciation will win out?

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