What is Fascia?

What is the fascia system and why is it important?

Fascia is both tissue and fluid. Let’s take a look at this quote from Louis Green’s Book Structural Integration and Energy Medicine, pg. 25

“Healthy connective tissue supports the structures embedded within it by delivering blood flow, nutrients, neural impulses, and energetic messages and by removing metabolic waste.”

“When connective tissue becomes twisted in rotation, they can shorten, compress and dry out. This dehydration leads to a buildup of metabolic wastes that cause inflammation, pain, and degeneration. The fascia can also adhere to itself or other structures, distorting the shape of the three dimensional fascial web of the body.”

The connective tissue is very responsive and adaptable. The rotation patterns arise out of injury, emotion, stress, and habitual posture patterns (the preferred side).

The second element of fascia is the fluid exchange which is very important to rid the toxins and direct that fluid to the lymph nodes. The only way the fluid exchange happens is during movement or exercise.  

This is a quote by David lesondak, from Fascia, What it is and Why it matters 

“The fluid component of the extracellular matrix (EMC) is where the culmination exchange takes place. It’s called ground substance. Ground substance is a viscous, fluid environment where chemical exchanges take place in the body and the molecular exchange between blood, lymph, and tissue cells happen. It is the immediate environment of every cell in your body. 

“The ground substance surrounds the fascia fibers enabling them to slide. The EMC is full of water. We are more or less 70% water. Every day that 7.5 L of interstitial fluid wash past our cells, outside of the vascular system, mostly ending up in the lymphatics."

"Interstitial fluid flow is responsible for transmission of nutrients to cells and has a role in tissue remodeling inflammation and lymphedema flow can give directional cues driving tumor cells in lymphocytes to lymph nodes."

How do the Pilates exercises influence the fascia system (fluid and tissue)?

Gravity. Pilates Mat is predominantly conducted on the floor in a supine and prone position with the arms and the legs in the air. It has rocking motions, recoil, push / pull patterns which help the stuck tissue to glide. The fluid exchange starts to happen and there are immediate improvements in circulation over glide of the tissue which leads to new movement potential.

Pilates is one of the only exercise systems that uses the body in this way. Secondly, Pilates is training the neural pathways - on repatterning how the body needs to respond to gravity once the fascia begins to glide.

The Pilates reformer and all equipment with springs creates pretensioning on the fascial system and the instability creates connection to the body 3 dimensionally. Meaning it automatically turns on the fascia system.

The fascia lines, bone movement, and preferred patterns.

How do we cue the fascia system? It’s through relationship patterns and micro movements of the bones with an understanding of the fascia lines as well as the developmental patterns with connection to breath.

The fascia lines are the connectivity of the mind to the relationship of gravity and how the body responds. The lines are:

Deep Front Line, Functional Front Line and Superficial Front Line

Functional Back Line, Superficial Back Line

Lateral Line & Spiral Line

Arm Lines - Front Superficial Arm Line, Deep Front Arm Line, Back Superficial Arm Line, Deep Back Arm Line

These fascia lines activate by the body’s relationship to gravity in the Pilates exercises - think prone, supine, side lying and the actions of the movement flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion.

Where are the compensations for most people?

The lateral line and the back lines are usually very underdeveloped unless the student plays a sport like: football, basketball, hockey, etc.

I focus on working those two lines especially for new students.

What I have found is that using the fascia lines and bone movement I have been able to identify compensations. Cueing to these compensations brings new awareness to their proprioception and helps students break plateaus, heal from injuries, and find movement patterns that will keep them in high performance.

Six Steps to Work on Movement Compensation in Pilates Exercises With Your Students

Six Steps to Work on Movement Compensation in Pilates Exercises With Your Students

Teaching Pilates brings awareness to the way people compensate for movement in their bodies. Compensation can show up as tension. Tension in the body is stress. As a Pilates teacher, you can see the tension of tissue in the body in front of you. Sometimes it manifests in rotational patterns, swelling, or one side dominating, held breath, unequal use of the body and disconnect to the core, and etc. When your client continues to work in these patterns - it’s compensation, and will lead to more and more compensations. What do you do as a teacher when you notice compensation in your clients? Using the example of Footwork, I’m sharing my six steps to work on movement compensation in Pilates below.

My study of compensation led me to the book, In The Roots and Philosophy of Dynamic Manual Interface: Manual therapy to Awaken the Inner Healer by Frank Lowen. Lowen discusses what are compensations: “Jean-Pierre Barrel said, “We don’t cure anyone--we assist them with their compensations.” To live is to compensate. 

I adopted his philosophy that “symptoms do not appear until the body’s ability to compensate has been used up. It isn't until we can no longer compensate for our stresses that we start to get sensations of discomfort and pain. When a person experiences symptoms, (e.g. pain, itching, dizziness, weakness, spasm, fatigue, etc.) it is usually because he or she has developed a series of patterns and restrictions to which the body has accommodated but can no longer compensate for.”

What do you do with these compensation patterns? How as teacher do you begin to address them?

Here’s an example of compensation in Footwork and how you can address it. You see a client that has one knee extend before the other on the press out.

1. Awareness - if you see a pattern that is stuck, you should ask questions. Some questions I ask are: I notice your left knee extends first then the right knee. Do you feel that? If they say no, respond with the following. Watch your knees as you press out the Reformer. Can you see the left knee extending first? If they say, yes I can see that, but I can’t feel it go to step two tactile cueing.

2. Tactile Cueing - I tell them, I’m going to place my hands on the tops of your knees, now press out and notice if you feel the left knee extending first. Usually say, yes now I feel that.

3. Repattern - Think about what you can do to gain more motor control, connectivity to the pattern. This is where your intuition as a teacher will start to come into play. Here’s some of my tactics: Change the spring tension to make it lighter or heavier and ask them how it feels. Verbally cue the client to press out with the left leg more. Lead with the left leg. Ask if they feel more balanced movement.

4. Asymmetrical movement - If the left side is continuing to lag, I might try some single leg work on that side only to “wake up” the connective tissue and then go back to the press out on both legs. Oftentimes I have the client use the jumpboard for footwork to give more stability to the foot.

5. Pattern Journal - keep a journal of what you see, most likely the patterns are consistent.  

6. Create a space of positivity and trust - collaborative environment, where the client and you can work together on the patterns, emotions, and body attitudes that come up.   

Tension in the tissue can be changed by the Pilates sessions that you teach. You can start to work with compensations. This shift in movement patterns changes the internal environment of the body quite quickly.

Frank Lowen also states in his book on page 42, “I have never found an injury that was not connected to numerous old patterns in the body. In other words, there is a predisposition from a person’s history toward injuring certain areas, toward forces being directed on fault lines, even in an impact.“ 

I too have observed that injuries of the past are “fault lines” for patterns and avoidance of movement. Have you observed that in your teaching?

Lowen says of the human body, “Each body inherently knows how to correct itself, given the opportunity and support.”

How do you address compensations in the client’s body and support them? 

Why is Proprioception with Weight Effort and Weight Sensing Important? Movement Theory Mini- Lesson 

Pilates is more than teaching the movement. Teaching Pilates is about the how and the proprioception of the body that results in an effortless and dynamic practice. Two of my favorite movement theory and somatic concepts to teach, are weight effort and weight sensing. Weight effort and weight sensing are part of the larger umbrella of the effort category that includes flow, time, and space. These concepts come from a somatic perspective from Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals. I’m sharing with you the reasons these concepts are important when you teach and some cues to share with your clients. 

What is weight effort?

Peggy Hackney says in Making Connections, Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals, “Weight effort is an active attitude toward using the weight of the body.” For example, light and strong.

Hackney continues, “Weight effort generally has to do with your sensations of self and your own intention in moving: whether that intention is to activate and assert weight, sense weight, or surrender to passive weight.”

What is weight sensing? Hackney describes, “The ability to sense the weight of your body underlies your ability to actively yield weight into the earth and push away with strength… It is also possible to have a passive attitude towards your weight. These attitudes have to do with letting gravity be the active force of surrendering.”  

Weight sensing is proprioception and allows us to differentiate the movement quality to create the appropriate amount of initiation, coordination, phrasing and virtuosity for dynamic motion.

I recently worked with a teacher who called it weight distribution. We started our session with balance work -- I asked her to sense her weight. This is part of the fascia patterning exercises I teach. She was so surprised at the dominance of the right side. Her right side was so dominant that she needed support to balance on the left side. 

I taught her to create weight sensing and non-judgement to invite the left side to participate more in the movement. 

Another example of how I use weight sensing in sessions are with this cue:

With feet in the Leg Springs on the Cadillac or Tower, bend and stretch: Can you sense the amount of effort on each leg? Is the effort 50/50 or more like 70/30? Which leg leads to press out? Which leg wants to lag on the return? If you are 70/30 can you balance the weight effort to closer to 50/50?

Other cues on certain exercises I have said, “Can you give me 30 percent more effort in strength on the initiation? Or “Can you find 20 percent less effort and find more ease?”

Why does this matter?  

Most of the time, these types of compensations are subtle and hidden. In my experience these compensations affect the total body. Addressing the weight sensing helps the person connect to the earth. The groundedness of being in the universe. This also increases proprioceptive awareness - deepening connections to balance, coordination, and efficiency.

I love working with teachers. I focus on empowering with movement theory and facilitating self-healing. This is a collaborative process and I appreciate the focus Pilates teachers bring to the work. I worked with Karen in the UK and wanted to share her feedback. This feedback inspired this blog about weight effort and weight sensing. She said, “I felt amazing and my back is feeling better by just focusing on my weight distribution. I never realized how much I stand in my right leg. I love our sessions and have learned so much from you these past 3 sessions.”

Are you interested in working more from a movement theory and fascia point of view? Let’s chat. Send me an email at [email protected].