Human beings are undeniably multifaceted — we are both physical and emotional beings, and our emotional condition directly affects our physical one. When we are happy, we generally feel good and relaxed, while when we are anxious, stressed, or depressed, we tend to feel tense and uneasy. As a coach and movement professional, the physical response to our emotional state has become of particular interest to me.
I frequently observe tightness in my clients’ muscles and soft tissues, and I’m a huge advocate of foam rolling and other self-myofascial release techniques, such as lacrosse balling, orbing, and voodoo or floss banding, for manual muscle inhibition. Most of these mobility tools are massively effective when applied properly. However, in particular cases, addressing the physical element alone would not suffice in releasing tension from my clients’ soft tissues. That’s when it occurred to me — was it their emotional state that was acting as a barrier to their physical progress?
Our muscles and organs are all encased in a layer of fibrous material called fascia. Fascia is what separates yet holds everything together in our bodies. One analogy I heard recently was that if our body were a suitcase, then fascia would be the lining inside that creates separate compartments for your underwear, socks, toiletries, etc. No matter what direction you turn the suitcase, the contents inside remain organized and intact.
Fascia is a 3D structure, similar to what the inside of a sponge would look like if you cut it open, in that is comprised of elastin, collagen and something called ground substance. These three materials give fascia its incredibly pliable, strong, and shock absorbing qualities. In fact, impact forces are transmitted through the body via the fascial network similar to how gel pads in athletic shoes function, and it is partly this quality that allows us to perform certain jumping movements and plyometric exercises.
The fascia is vital to the ability of our muscles to produce and stabilize movement. The more a particular muscle is used, the tougher and tighter the fascia surrounding that muscle becomes, which is why we use self-myofascial release techniques to restore soft tissue pliability. So that’s the physical part.
Our mood also affects the pliability of our fascia. All of our emotions travel through our body via the fascial web. Our mind then interprets this data as love, anger, joy, fear etc. It’s our fascia, however, that physically feels these emotions in our body. Recent research suggests that fascia is in fact a human sensory organ, so if we are anxious, stressed, sad or upset- our posture and movement are greatly affected. For many of my clients, stress and anxiety are a very real and consistent reality and had to be addressed in order for their muscle tightness to improve. I realized that no amount of foam rolling would undo high levels of emotional unrest.
Emotional stress also spikes the release of certain hormones in our body, particularly adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response within animals in nature when approached with an immediate threat. These hormones boost energy levels via increased heart rate and blood pressure while also shutting down all bodily systems nonessential to surviving the immediate threat. Once survival has been secured, hormone levels return back to normal.
Our hormone levels react similarly under stress yet often never normalize because our stress levels (or “threats”) seemingly never dissipate. Work stress turns into stress associated with driving in traffic, which then turns into stress at home, and so on. Chronic stress overexposes our bodies to adrenaline and cortisol which can lead to heart disease, anxiety, depression, digestive and sleep problems, weight gain, and less efficiency in other bodily systems.
So in the spirit of securing solutions and not more problems, here are five simple tools to help address the emotional component of stress and fascial tension:
1. Practice deep, lower belly breathing throughout your day. Strive to see your lower stomach expand with each inhale.
2. Exercise regularly and utilize self myofascial release techniques pre and post workout.
3. Designate at least 10 minutes to focused, intentional meditation.
4. Write in a journal. Write anything you want, it’s your journal.
5. Acknowledge three personal gratitudes daily.
These tools may seem simplistic, but when utilized consistently can have a drastic impact in mood, stress management as well as overall joint and muscular mobility. Simplistic is often realistic when seeking optimum physical and emotional well being.
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