Understanding Fascia and Dynamic Fascial Response™
So, what is fascia? It’s interesting that when I research ‘myofascia’ or ‘fascia’ that I often will get an unclear or outdated definition. So many online definitions and photos will demonstrate that it is solely that sinewy stuff that is covering over the muscle like a piece of meat at the butcher. Many definitions still say it is what “separates the muscles and organs”. They forget to tell you…
Fascinating Fascia (Pronounced Fa (A as in apple)-shah).
Fascia is one continuous structure that is web-like and although there is fascia found in between and around the cellular structures (e.g., muscles, organs, bones) it’s been discovered that it also interpenetrates the muscles, organs and bones spanning, without interruption, from head to toe. So far so amazing right?
Even more fascinating is that the fascia has no fixed pattern or movement the way a web does. When a spider web expands by the force of the wind, it’s geometry simply stretches wider then returns back to its’ original form. The most impressive thing about the fascia is its’ morphing ability. This magical web of fibrous material, is hollow and filled with hydration and is ever-changing in movement. One fibrous web segment of your fascia can morph into two segments during movement!
Yes, the fascial fibers have the ability to morph, sliding in and out of themselves as our body moves (see photo below by Dr. Jean Gimbertaeu of one fiber morphing into two).
Through its’ amazing tensegrity, fascia is able to bounce back to it’s original structure after intricate orchestration of each of its complex movements. This happens even in involuntary movements like gastric motility.
This magical web of fibrous material, filled with hydration, has a FRACTAL, icosahedronal architecture (Photo below by Fropuff, Mysid). Ease of movement is achieves as long as the hollow fascial fibers are well hydrated and nourished by the ground substance in the extracellular matrix (the stuff around the cells that absorb water).
Icosahedron vertices form three orthogonal golden rectangles.
By Fropuff, Mysid
If all of this, along with our complex pressure system is healthy, then the fascial fibers have the ability to morph, sliding in and out of themselves (see below photo of one fiber morphing into two) as our body moves. This happens even in involuntary movements like gastric motility. I believe that a broad, fascial approach, along with resistance and release, traction and compression and an active pin and stretch approach to bodywork stimulates the ground substance (and hydration uptake), fascial metabolism and fascial repatterining. This helps unwind taught, injured fascia and thus prolongs cellular life. Try lightly massaging your face wrinkles every day for a year and tell me what you discover. Take before-and-after photos just for fun!
“Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.
Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies, since it surrounds and attaches to all structures. In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects on the body. The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities. “
~ John F Barnes PT
Dynamic Fascial Response™
Dynamic Fascial Response™, a healing method developed by Chula Gemignani, a bodyworker in Nevada City, California, is a blend of structural therapies and foundational philosophy that produce a dialog of activation and response between the practitioner and the fascia. The response in the fascia releases holding patterns in the fascial body and, as a result, both physiological and emotional changes occur. This method resources and repurposes stuck patterns and can heal trauma, relieve pain, improve posture and health and above all promote peace.
This bodywork may involve passive or active client participation and at times may include Somatic NLP, a dialog process used to better resource unwanted behavioral patterns and for emotional healing. Students who are certified in at least 30 hrs of DFR™ courses are free to use the terminology Dynamic Fascial Response™ to describe their work after they have exhibited proficiency through demonstration or video.
Many clients seek massage for various reasons, however, the most common client seeks bodywork to heal acute ailments in specific areas of their body. Whether it be due to emotional trauma, postural patterns or physical injury, DFR™ calls these specific areas “wrapped points”.
Wrapped points are points of tightly wrapped and trapped postural, physical or emotional trauma caused by an event, accident, overuse, hereditary traits, repetitive movement, physical or emotional stress. In these points you would find built up layers of fascia in a fixed, restricted pattern with a lack of blood supply, hydration and oxygen.
Fascia is healthy when hydrated and fractal, not dry and fixed.
Wrapped points result in a holding pattern that involves and incorporates the fascia of the direct area, surrounding area and in many cases, like that of the jaw and pelvic floor or hip and foot, can run a holding pattern throughout large portions of even the entire body.
There are also times when, through your visual assessment and intuition, it is obvious that room is needed elsewhere first before engaging in direct dialog with the wrapped point. First, there needs to be a neutral or released space created in order to accommodate for the change to take place for the wrapped point. This method called “accommodating or, to accommodate” can also be used to start a session.
FIVE Underlying Principles of DFR™
All parts are intrinsically equal.
- All parts are intrinsically equal.
- All parts have positive intentions.
- The positive intention and method are two separate things.
- Make no assumptions
- Have no agenda
Have no agenda, hold the intention close.
All parts have positive intentions. All parts have methods they use to carry out their intentions. The methods and intentions are separate and often very different things. These wrapped points have a positive intention. The DFR™ practitioner will reframe by thanking these points for holding on so tight for the client and in some cases, guide their client to reframe the pain as well. Who’s to say what might have happened at the time the wrapped point chose to constrict or atrophy? They may have fallen apart, be it emotionally or physically. The injury may have gone even deeper. It is unknown. So first we thank the wrapped point for working so hard for the client. Then we show the wrapped point their breath as a new resource to use in order to carry out it’s positive intention instead of holding on so tight in an unhealthy postural pattern.
When the DFR™ practitioner visually assesses their client’s body, their eyes are seeing way beyond the problem area or area of complaint. They are looking at the way everything is attached from head to toe, knowing that all along now, there is this fibrous, collagen-filled web of life running through this spirit-filled client in a body that already has everything it needs to heal. It just needs the right environment to do so.
The DFR™ practitioner understands that this web has the ability to capture trauma like a spider captures and wraps it’s prey and that the fascia chooses locations or trigger points to “wrap” the injury. There is a practical understanding that this wrapping causes constriction, lack of blood supply, lack of hydration and lack of oxygen both at it’s point of origin and also beyond into the larger web which spreads out from the edges of where the wrapped point is fixed.
Upon intake the DFR™ practitioner always asks how their clients’ spirit is doing, if that confuses the client rephrase the question to “How are you doing on an emotional level today (and overall)”. Also ask what they do for a living. It is important to know what they experience emotionally and what their bodies perform on a daily basis in order to understand why the wrapped points might be true for their particular life story. Physical approach and depth depends on the clients threshold for deep work and how they are feeling when they come in. Every day is a new day and unlike other modalities that are agenda based, a DFR™ session is never started where it left off on the last session. The best body work has no agenda only intentions clearly stated by your client.
Have no agenda, only your clients’ intention. Hold that intention close as you work to help them out of a pattern which is no longer serving them.
It is from this philosophy that the DFR™ style of bodywork allows for a paradigm lift from the limited construct of deep tissue to the unlimited field of dynamic fascial response. The success of adopting the DFR™ style begins with a shift of perspective. All that we are and all that we do arises from what we think and believe, our perspective. The DFR™ practitioner abandons the old ways of focusing their attention on the wrapped point(s), because for years they may have approached their clients ailments in this way to no avail.
For instance, I would be working the levator scapulae, neck and occiput area trying to relieve headaches, neck and shoulder tension and my clients’ body kept bouncing back to the injured holding pattern. This was exhausting my body because I was over-efforting, and affecting my clients’ time management and finances because they had to have repeated sessions. Since I began practicing DFR™ I have not had to pay for advertising and all of my clientele is word of mouth. One needs to book a week or two ahead to get a session and sometimes I have to put clients on hold as I cannot take new clients. I’ll add that though “fixing” someone is never my goal, I have had several clients say “you fixed me”. I never heard that compliment when I was practicing deep tissue bodywork.
Use little to no oil on first runs. This helps the fascia iron out.
Use a slow, deep but broad (not pointed or pokey) dragging technique. Keep yourself grounded to the earth. Plant your feet. Press through your feet when you want more pressure so you do not put a load on your shoulders. Use finger pads, palms, knuckles with flat hand and straight wrist to obtain a flawless quality of touch that preserves your strength and stamina.
The point of origin of initial contact is often directly on the wrapped point. Do this as a way of honoring it so you a chance to verbally acknowledge it with your client. “Thank you, thank you for your hard work” And then, guiding your client, together show the wrapped point the breath as a new resource to use (ie: to protect, be seen, be heard…whatever the points’ positive intention may be) instead of the old way of holding on so tight.
As they breathe, slowly unwind the wrapped point with a nice deep slow run and repeat it a few times to reinstate the new resource of breath.
Imagine the ball of this wrapped point dissipating, reincorporating, both changed and activated into the surrounding web that it is a part of.
Repeat this stroke two or three times before adding oil.
If you feel an abundance of fascial restriction which often shows itself as swollen or inflamed tissue as opposed to soft and supple, add oil to your hands (rather than onto clients’ body ) rubbing it in so not too slippery and then proceed.
The Eight Modalities Used in DFR™
- Slow fascial release stroke with little to no oil.
- Pin and stretch techniques with little to no oil to increase range of motion.
- Resistance and release for active muscle release at full ROM.
- Slow and safe compression and traction to encourage circulation and mobility of joints.
- Cross fiber friction to tonify muscles
- Acupressure to encourage gastric motility.
- Oil effleurage to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Energy work to activate the parasympathetic nervous system
Lower Cortisol ~ Be sure to incorporate delicious oil runs.
Cortisol is the stress hormone known to cut off circulation and disable healing. Knowing this, you do not want to create a session of all work for your client.
Once the wrapped points are tended to, add oil for a bliss experience that will anchor in the change by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This will lower cortisol levels and enable a healthy internal environment for better blood and oxygen circulation and collagen formation. Circulation cannot improve in a stressed environment.
Chula Gemignani is an instructor of massage in Nevada City, California. Her classes are a great way to inspire your practice with new techniques by the beautiful Yuba River in the Sierra Foothills.