If you peel an orange, you’ll see white stuff underneath the orange peel, holding the orange together. And if you could peer beneath your own skin, you’d see similar densely packed collagen fibers that wrap around each of your internal organs, connecting them to your muscles and bones. We call this FASCIA.
“Your fascia has the ability to contract and relax independently of the muscles it surrounds. Because of this, it can respond to stress without you knowing it! Needless to say, when your fascia is tight or inflamed it can cause a great deal of pain.”
The Issues Are In The Tissues
It turns out, fascia also stores your EMOTIONAL memories, especially SHAME.
Dr. Christiane Northrup explains that,
“Sadness, pain and past trauma (potentially even from past lives if you believe in that) can get locked deep in your fascia. If you have ever found yourself crying on the massage or acupuncture table, it’s because the therapy has assisted you in releasing emotions, including anxiety, fear and anger, that can take up residence in your fascia.”
The importance of this cannot be overly stated because it means, YOU HOLD ONTO THE PAST NOT ONLY FIGURATIVELY, BUT LITERALLY. Muscle memory is a real thing – When you recall or worse yet, ruminate on, old memories that harbor bad feelings, your muscles tense up exactly as if you were there all over again!
Over time, this can cause issues like drooped shoulders, phone neck syndrome, overall bad posture. It also contributes to premature or severe aging.
Somatic Game of Tug-Of-War
It’s like playing a game of tug of war for years and years; you tense up and your body becomes used to engaging your muscles to hold this giant rope tugging against your painful memories and trapped emotions. You can’t let go because you feel like if you do, you’ll lose everything or become overwhelmed by the emotion.
This is an illusion but one that can take time and practice to relax from.
For example, earlier this week I was having a conversation with my fiancé about what felt to me like “serious topics”… things like work related issues, general family life stuff, and the state of the world as it is (especially with COVID increasing everyone’s fear and stress levels). Usually this wouldn’t rattle me, but for whatever reason on that particular day, I wasn’t quite feeling like my normally confident Leo self.
My ego was telling me I couldn’t communicate properly but if that was at all true, it was coming from the feelings of shame and tension welling up inside me, which in turn, led to some awkward moments of passive aggression towards my partner and a desire to shut down completely.
My muscles grew tense and rigid as discomfort washed over me; much like what you might feel if you are bracing to defend yourself or watch something unpleasant happen.
Although nothing significant was taking place in the present moment, subconscious memories from other uncomfortable events (e.g., my awkward and confusing teenage years) were resurfacing beneath my awareness and acting upon my muscles in real time.
Exploring The Clench
It took me a little while to root out the source of my distress, but once I could see it for what it was – tension due to old shit – Tamara and I were then able to revisit our conversation in a much more calm and productive manner instead of the rigid and uncomfortable version I’d previously been provoking that could have very easily led to hurt feelings and miscommunication.
By pausing and allowing myself to relax and realize that my muscles don’t have to fight at this current moment and there’s no adverse stimulus preventing me from being in a peaceful state, I could convey to my partner it was my own ridiculousness causing the miscommunication, apologize and move forward in a healthy way.
If YOU find yourself keyed up or tense during your day, even if you don’t know why in the moment, try taking a few deep belly breaths, relax your shoulders, roll your head.
It’s vital that you disengage from that fight or flight feeling in your heart and muscles and be present in whatever situation you’re currently dealing with (notice I didn’t say you have to like or enjoy the present moment; only that you have to be with it to untangle the emotional and physical knots).
Other Tips for Relaxing Fascia
- STRETCHING. Stretch first thing in the morning. Your fascia tends to become sedentary in your sleep and can tighten up, so it’s good to stretch all of it out as soon as you wake up. You’ll feel more limber and active by waking those muscles up. Yoga can be especially great for this.
- SMALL BALLS. Grab a tennis ball or racquetball; something with some give to it, and use it to rub trouble spots around the body, for instance in between your shoulder blade and spine, the bottom of your foot, etc.
- FOAM ROLLERS. To hit more areas faster, a good foam roller can be used to roll out entire muscles in a quick fashion. You can do the whole body with a foam roller in about 10 minutes. It’s a great way to loosen fascia and actively massage your own muscles.
- MASSAGE. Myofascial techniques used by a skilled professional can release both physical and emotional tension, especially if done on a regular basis. (If you’re in the Pensacola area, I’d love to work with you.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ben Driskell, LMT is a massage therapist practicing in the greater Pensacola, FL area. Besides being a “muscle whisperer,” he greatly enjoys writing about issues related to healthy masculinity, mindful living and sacred intimacy. He hopes to aid men in embracing a lifestyle that is authentic to them and not what society says they should be.