The Anatomy of Fascia—& What It Tells Us About How to Work It on the Mat

Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Rachel Land breaks down the anatomy of fascia and four effective ways to keep it fit through yoga practice.
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Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Rachel Land breaks down the anatomy of fascia and four effective ways to keep it fit through yoga practice.

You’ve heard the most sure-fire approach to fitness is to “keep the body guessing,” but what if we said the same was true about flexibility? We know that fascial fitness is created in response to stress. And research, led by Robert Schleip, Ph.D., at the Fascia Research Project in Germany, suggests that fit, resilient fascia results from stressing our tissues in varied ways—stretching, compressing, and twisting them in multiple directions, at varying speeds, and under different loads. Looking more closely at myofascial tissue, we can start to understand why.

See also Fascia: The Flexibility Factor You're Probably Missing on the Mat

Within our muscles are spindles that measure changes in muscle length, and each of these spindles has about 10 sensory receptors in the surrounding fascia. There are four different types of these myofascial mechanoreceptors, which measure mechanical load on our muscles and fascia and each respond to different types of stress. Let’s breakdown and how we can target each of them on the mat.

4 Ways to Work Fascia in Yoga Practice

How much of each type of stress we need depends on our habits, lifestyle, job, and natural body type; some of us are naturally stiffer in our tissue consistency and need more melting, while others are more supple and need more holding. The key piece of information to take away from this is that we all benefit from varying how we challenge our fascia, rather than just sticking with the same postures or sequences over and over again. Variety really is the key to creating and maintaining fit and healthy fascia.

See also The Anatomy of Safe, Effective Stretching

For more information on using Myofascial Release in your practice or with your students, check out Yoga Medicine’s extensive Myofascial Release training in Costa Rica Oct 28–Nov 4th at Blue Spirit Yoga Retreat (one of Yoga Journal’s top-ranked yoga retreats).

About Our Expert

Rachel Land works internationally as a Yoga Medicine teaching assistant, and for the rest of the year teaches vinyasa, yin, and one-on-one yoga sessions in Queenstown, New Zealand. Rachel's interest in anatomy led her to a 500-hour teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank and Yoga Medicine. She is currently working toward her 1,000-hour certification.