Science Meets the Body

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As a research scientist and a movement professional, I have spent years walking the line between two frustrating worlds; my medical hospital coworkers and alternative/complementary medicine colleagues, both of whom found it acceptable to marginalize the others’ approaches to body work. I believe in both the proven science and in the musculoskeletal “theory” as vehicles for helping people manage their pain. Today, we all share excitement over the discoveries so far with cautious hope for answer within the future research.  However, I still see many naysayers on social media who disregard the effectiveness of myofascial work.   Primarily, it appears that the cynical questions are related to both a lack of optimism in the future of the research and an unfortunate faction of fitness instructors who are overselling myofascial work.

This is an old problem in the fitness industry, when some folks don’t do their reading or misrepresent what they can offer.   But let’s not lose focus on the good work. The truth is we have not figured out all the “hows and whys” of manipulation of myofascial tissue, but we know it helps many feel better.  Some evidence indicates blood flow and temporary joint range of motion changes —but we cannot name precisely what happens to the tissue itself to make it different.   There is however, pertinent evidence in the newly discovered array of neuro-receptors abundant in the fascia.

The Roll Model Balls improve positional awareness, calm the nervous system and decrease pain perception.

The Roll Model Balls improve positional awareness, calm the nervous system and decrease pain perception.

In Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model® classes, this is the scientific evidence on which the myofascial work is based.   By using great awareness, calm breath and focus while practicing deep palpation with therapy balls, we harness their power to calm the nervous system and allow the body to relax.  The touch and pressure of the balls also helps us to find our “blindspots” and by eliciting neuro-messaging of proprioception, we can improve our positional awareness, which helps decrease pain perception.   More noticeable improvements can be felt when practiced over time. To answer the epic questions above about what is specifically happening to each muscle fiber as a result of rolling, we will need better studies to investigate live persons using imaging and other technology.   But, let’s not get so wrapped in the science and forget that most people simply want to feel better and don’t really care about the “mechanism of action” underneath their skin.

With that in mind, even Western physicians have long worked without all the “proof” and have used both art and science in helping people.  They have long understood the importance of both “laboratory evidence” (e.g. blood panel results) as well “clinical presentation” (the vibrant person standing in front of them) and use both perspectives to guide treatment recommendations.  Well-informed movement teachers are capable of combining the most recent science with intelligent concepts from biomechanics and kinesiology for practical, prudent movement methods that get results– without misleading or overselling the science.  Even though I’m a former research scientist, I am not waiting for tomorrow’s completion of randomized controlled trials to “prove” details about tissue changes.  I can help students feel and demonstrate improvements today, even though I cannot explain all of it.

For more information on fascia and science, see Jill’s easy to understand condensed Chapter Four of The Roll Model A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body, or checkout Yoga Tune Up® Education at the Teacher Training Tab.  If you are looking for a good movement teacher who is trained properly integrated anatomy, the latest research and intelligent movement methods, see the Tab for Meet All Teachers. You have the capacity to be a self-healing organism and have all the tools with which to do it, so get rolling!

 

Enjoyed this article? Read Dorkasana, Revisited: The Seat of the Anatomy Teacher

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Diane Marra

Diane Marra is an Exercise Physiologist and Biomechanics specialist with more than 20 years’ experience teaching in universities, hospitals, corporate and community settings. Diane holds a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from California State University and numerous fitness certifications. Her scientific research, conducted for the US Army Medical Department and California State University, has been presented at international conferences and published in clinical journals. Today, Diane is creating new programs as the corporate Wellness Manager for a global manufacturing company and still teaches part-time for SUNY Buffalo State College. Since personally overcoming multiple injuries and chronic pain, Diane has a passion for helping ‘regular folks’ who sit too much, manage pain conditions, seek post-injury recovery, and/or simply want to be stronger. Current credentials include: National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA™-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine/ ExeRxcise is Medicine® ​Level 1, Yoga Tune Up® and TRX™ Diane is currently developing a new course for her SUNY Graduate students about Workplace Ergonomics and Selfcare, offers private training sessions and occasional workshops in the Buffalo-Niagara area while continuing to do free-lance research/ writing for Medical and Fitness publications.

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DOLORES ROMERA

Qué maravilla y cuánto hay aún por descubrir. La fascia es alucinante realmente, supongo que como occidentales tenemos la necesidad de que la ciencia corrobore, explique y certifique. Menos mal que los antiguos maestros , yoguis de la antigüedad no necesitaron la comprobación científica para explorar, experimentar , llegando a la cima del autoconocimiento del cuerpo, incluso de las vías anatómicas y del cuerpo sutil.
Creo que como contemporáneos de estos descubrimientos, somos realmente afortunados.
Gracias por tu excelente artículo!.

Rob

Nicely written article. I love the fact that you are still willing to help people feel better even though its unkown exactly how it is happening. Keep it up !!

Donna Burch

Ah miss Diane ; )
I have to say your writing and what I know about you, I would not call you a ‘former’ research scientist!
You are just as much a research scientist today as when I first met you. You Go Girl! Thank you for your passion about research, exercise, helping every day folks, and especially for introducing my to Yoga Tune Up! I am officially Fascianated!

Kate Colette

I’ve seen many wonderful body workers over the years to help with pain and misalignment, but a lot of the adjustments don’t “stick”. I love the YTU work as it helps me be more mindful of my alignment and give myself a daily myofascial tune up.

Ethan Hammond

It has been so cool to see all this new knowledge about fascia and its effects on movement and health coming out over the years. Thanks for the write-up!

Jennifer Whalen

I love this article. My boyfriend works at a hospital and I work in the holistic healing world so we are always talking about ways both worlds can work together and influence each other positively. If both divisions of health are supportive and interested in the other many beautiful discoveries and ways of being can emerge, vs. limiting your self through being one sided and defensive of your practice.

Nancy Neuenhagen

I love the theme of this article. It is interesting to know that research is emerging to give some insight to why these techniques are effective. I believe that we need to trust the art and the science. These techniques applied responsible and mindfully can and have helped many people achieve improved mobility and performance.

Corey

The medical community falls short when it comes to treating the whole person. That might be the understatement of the century. Reminds me of research I have seen on food talking about X calories, a calorie is a calorie, etc. We are not bomb calorimeters, beakers and test tubes we are complex animals that deserve better. It is time to look at the entire person and encourage people to be better in tune with the beautiful machine they are using.

Ben Pace

I love what you said here. “By using great awareness, calm breath and focus while practicing deep palpation with therapy balls, we harness their power to calm the nervous system and allow the body to relax. We don’t need to know how it works, our bodies already do. We just need to be in a state that will give it the freedom to do so. Although…… fascial science is pretty cool!!!

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya

I’m curious as to whether any one has explored the relationship between fascia and our internal organs. Can we enhance our proprioception of our liver and our pancreas? I would imagine yoga tune up rolling on the abdomen can bring people’s awareness to the intestines. The key is the feedback, right? It would be really incredible if we could learn to harness the concept of feedback to create even greater master of our body’s inner working.

Gretchen Corbin

Thank you for emphasizing that the study of fascia and myofascia work has many unanswered questions. I love doing myofascia work on myself and with my students. But I am not always confident in my own knowledge of what exactly the work is doing for the body and whether it truly is beneficial over time. Thank you for the reminder that not everyone cares about the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ and that they simply want to help themselves feel better. I am now giving myself permission to help my students feel improvements without being able to explain it!

Katie Alba

Thank goodness for forward thinkers. So grateful yoga tune up and the roll model exist. Yay science!

Leslie

It is amusing to consider that the scientific, medical community has for ages mostly excised and discared fascia in order to get to the interesting, important “good stuff.” What IS importnat is that the Yoga Tune Up balls can indeed effect a beneficial change, so let us keep on rolling until science has all the answers.

Amanda

Wow! That’s so interesting! Science can’t tell us why this reaction happens, but it undoubtedly has positive effects on the fascia leaving the body in a state of healing. This is the same as any massage therapy, right? For years people have been reaping the benefits of massage, but science and the medical field have been very slow to fully condone it as a medical practice.

Julie Green

Thank you Diane for providing this valuable information, and for the work you are doing with groups and individuals. The article was clear and cogent.

Melissa

I couldn’t agree more. The proof is in the pudding. The pudding is relief after rolling and the relief I witness from my students. Thank you!

Wormly Organics Online Health Store

It’s wonderful that there are people like you who utilize both science and practical application to come up with different ways to improve therapeutic exercises. Using balls on fascia is an interesting concept, and I see a great potential on this practice.

Stacey Rosenberg

Thank you for bringing up this important topic. First of all, I love all the research that is coming out about the neuro-receptors in the fascia. It’s frustrating that science is slow to catch up because it depends on research that takes long to conduct. The proof is in the way it feels to the person after they roll. Rolling sure has lasting effects and helps a person reduce tension, increase awareness and range of motion, and creates overall wellness. Roll on!