Fascia & YOU…The Missing Link for Optimal Health & Performance
By Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS
I was watching the evening news last week and caught a special report on a “revolutionary” new finding in the health, wellness, and healing world.
The report stated they discovered a direct link that emotional pain (not just physical pain) is stored in the FASCIA of the body. The report went on to state that left untreated, this emotional pain stored in the fascia can lead to additional pain, disorder, injury, and even dis-ease.
I about croaked, “Doesn’t the world already know about this? A revolutionary new finding?”
This is the same message that Ida Rolf told us in the 1960’s.
It’s what Moshe Feldenkrais started teaching in the 1960’s.
It’s what Dr. John Sarno wrote in his book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection in 1991 (Great book by the way).
It’s what my bodywork mentor, Dub Leigh, taught me in 1997.
This connection is not news. But it is fascinating and incredibly powerful information we all need to understand about our mind and body. Some have known about it for 50 years. It’s time for you to join our “club.”
My hope today is to enlighten you about fascia. About pain. About healing. And about being your best.
Folks, FASCIA is a real, live system that is the most overlooked system in the body. Just like the digestive system, respiratory system, muscular system, nervous system, or skeletal system, the FASCIAL SYSTEM deserves equal respect.
What is FASCIA?
Fascia is the 3-D cobweb like substance that exists in layers of wrappings and webs throughout the body. It is a very dense connective tissue that envelops every muscle, nerve, artery, bone, and vein of the body as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord. It is formed of strings, belts, sheaths, and cylinders. Fascia’s intricate web supports your organs and joints and acts as a shock absorber.
The fascial system is actually a single “organ of structure” that exists from head to toe without interruption and gives the body its shape. It is similar to the material that would be left if all the juice of an orange were removed.
Fascia’s Three Layers:
1. The first layer contains fat, nerve endings, and blood vessels.
2. The second layer is a potential space, which can become enlarged with swelling, suggesting the fascia can be disrupted by injury.
3. The third layer is deep and wraps around the organs of the body. The fibers of fascia run in various directions accommodating changes in muscle bulk and stretching. Fascia shrinks when it is inflamed, and is slow to heal because of poor blood supply. It is also a focus of pain because of its rich nerve supply.
Physical, mental, or emotional traumas can be stored in the fascia. The body copes with painful experiences by building armor; it gets thicker, stiffer, and shorter. Throughout life, traumas and their compensations have a cumulative effect on the body, permanently changing the body’s gravitational balance. In a disorganized and abberated (that’s a Dub term) body, the fascia becomes rigid and stuck and distorts the entire body. The only way to unravel the fascia is through unwinding the restrictions of the body and freeing the natural structure.
Fascia is the most overlooked system in the human machine when it comes to rehabilitation, prehabilitation, and the recovery phase of athletics or injury. Fascia is a missing element to unleashing one’s potential. Although there are several forms of work that specifically address fascia, most people are unaware of the different types of fascial work that can be done to facilitate healing, optimize performance, and provide the answers to the many questions associated with chronic pain.
Dub Leigh & Fascia
One of my first experiences with the connection between fascia and emotions was when Dub Leigh was training me in his Zen Bodytherapy in 1997.
I was coming off a serious back injury from playing pro football in Europe. Three herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and degenerative back disease left me motionless on a football field in Aix-en-Provence, France. I got hooked on Vicodin as I tried to recover.
I knew my playing days were over, but I vowed to do everything I could to heal my pain and injury without surgery. Despite slap foot, numbing down my leg, and a ton of pain, I wanted to see if there were other options.
So from February 1997 to Feb 1998, I pursued every energy healer, guru, and exercise specialist in Europe and the United States who might help me get out of pain AND teach me. Man, did I learn.
I went to physiotherapists. Osteopaths. Chiropractors. Massage therapists. Acupuncturists. Reiki masters. You name it… I probably tried it. I was on a hunt to heal my pain.
But no one IMPACTED me in the bodywork field more than Dub Leigh. Dub trained under Ida Rolf (Rolfing) for 15 years. He trained under Moshe Feldenkrais (Feldenkrais Method movement therapy) for 10 years. He trained under Tonouye Rotaishi (energy healer) for 7 years. He essentially lived at Esalen (CA) in the 1960s where all the massage/bodywork gurus were “Masterminding.”
Dub Leigh was an interesting man. He was about 70 years old when I first met him. Gruff old man, but you could tell he had a heart of gold. Immediately upon meeting this guy, I knew he could help me. And I knew I would learn from him.
I already had an undergraduate degree in Kinesiolgy, a PE teacher’s credential, and a massage therapy certification. Despite all of my own credentials, I realized I was about to get a whole new education, way more than I could ever bargain or hope for.
Dub explained that Zen Bodytherapy was going to be done in 10 specific exacting sessions, each session building upon the next. He shared that our bodies are one big fascial sheath from feet to fingertips, from left to right, and front to back, and that this work was going to address the entire fascial system.
He shared the “why” when your back hurts, or your knee hurts, or you neck hurts, how it stems from fascial disorders/tightness/restrictions in multiple areas of your body. And he explained how this often starts all the way down in the feet.
Dub taught me how the human body has an amazing, innate way of using compensatory actions to cover for muscle imbalances or weaknesses…thus ultimately leading to pain if left untreated.
He explained to me how each session in Zen Bodytherapy would work a very specific part of the body, really trying to address the fascia in those areas. And by the time the 10 sessions were up, the entire body should be unraveled and lengthened like never before. He went on to share how his work integrated Feldenkrais movement therapy into the hands-on Rolfing techniques. And he explained how his work infused energy work, which was the cornerstone to healing.
Enrolling in Zen Bodytherapy
I was desperate. I was in pain. I was taking Vicodin. I was taking Voltarin. And I needed to heal.
So I enrolled in Dub’s Zen Bodytherapy program that he and his lovely wife Audrey Nakamura were conducting in Los Angeles. And while I really didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, something told me it was going to help me (it ultimately helped me on many levels).
On Day #1, Dub made me sit completely still in meditation for 60 minutes straight without moving. And when I say “still,” I mean NOT moving. I almost quit. But I stayed.
As a matter of fact, Dub made me sit STILL for 60 minutes everyday for the 10 weeks I was with him. And I did.
I can honestly say I hated sitting Zazen in the beginning. And then hate turned to dislike. And then dislike turned to like. And before long, I saw the benefits it was doing for my hips and back, and I started LOVING it.
I later learned that meditation/quiet time/prayer time was an integral part to becoming a healer. So I did it. And still do.
I received a doctoral level of knowledge going through this 10-week intensive program. But there were a couple things that really stood out to me:
1. In session #1 of 10 sessions, the work was done primarily on the intercostal muscles between the ribs. Dub wanted to make sure people learned how to breathe properly and he spent 60-90 minutes working all the small muscles around the ribs. Breath-work is foundational so that the body can deliver maximal oxygen throughout the body.
2. In session #2, ONLY the feet and shoulders were worked. And this is where I started to really learn about fascia. There were a half dozen techniques we learned just on the bottom of the feet (the ½ inch thick band of plantar aponeurosis) and “oiling the malleoli” (ankle joint). Dub was convinced that correcting the feet and getting “ankle mobility” would correct a lot of other conditions (knees, hips, lower back issues, and neck issues).
3. In session #3, Dub introduced me to side-lying work. And that’s when he started to work on releasing my trapezius muscle. When he was working on my traps, I felt something really “weird” coming on. As he was pinning my trap with his fingertips (Rolfing), and I was lengthening my arm down away from my head (Feldenkrais), I felt an intense waive of anxiety come over me.
Within seconds, I started feeling pain, anguish, fear, and anxiety. All the emotions I felt when I got hit playing football, and the swirling of emotions I was left with after the injury. I saw the linebackers coming in to hit me. I felt the pain of lying there on a field. I felt the disappointment of knowing I didn’t fulfill my dream of playing in the NFL. I felt the fear and anxiety of going into the unknown. I felt the disappointment of a dream not fulfilled.
And as I lay there, I began to weep. Like a baby. His treatment that day did not “hurt.” I was having my first experience with emotional release.
For the next several weeks and next several sessions, I received techniques I had never seen, heard about, or learned in massage school… or any school for that matter. I was on a journey. One that I had never read about in any textbook or learned about in any school or workshop I had ever attended. I embraced the process.
4. During session #4 of the work, when Dub and Audrey worked on my psoas (hip flexor), Dub began coughing profusely. I asked him if he was sick. He said, “No dummy… you’re as toxic as hell, I can taste it, and we need to get this crap out of you.”
I said, “Toxic…how can I be toxic?”
He said, “It’s all that crap you’ve been putting in your system. Vicodin. Voltarin. Cortisone. Ibuprofen.”
And while I thought HE was full of crap at the time, I later found out that when you are doing bodywork and you are in tune with people’s bodies, you can “taste” toxicity. Dub was amazingly in-tune and was a true healer.
So, for the next two weeks after he started to work on my psoas and hip rotatators, I had the most profound “detox” you could possibly imagine. I had diarrhea. I threw up violently. My mouth tasted like metal when I was throwing up. It was like I had a nasty flu, but I was not sick.
Dub later told me that it was my body’s way of purging all the metals and toxicity from all the medications. My body was cleansing itself. Purifying itself. Left untreated, more damage would have been done.
I was completely blown away.
Dub changed my life and he taught me, “Every physical, mental or emotional pain has a consequence. And that consequence, left untreated, ultimately results in dis-ease.”
This is why I share all of this with you. The mind body connection between fascia and emotional pain has not been “discovered” in 2014. For decades, people have benefited from brilliant healers and teachers. Dub was one of them. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 91, and it has been my goal to continue teaching what he taught me.
My friend, it goes way beyond the physical. It goes way beyond just diagnosing physical injury or disease.
How do you treat fascia today?
Fortunately, nowadays, there are so many types of programs/people out there who can address fascia and help keep you healthy on many levels. Most programs didn’t exist 15 years ago. They do today. Seek them out. There are probably a few in your own community, state, or country, regardless of where you live around the world.
Let me share with you a “SHORT” list of the different organizations that can help you address this incredible system called FASCIA (unfortunately I can’t list/name all the people who do fascial work. But this will help you get started looking down the right path if indeed you want to learn more or need some work yourself).
Here is my short-list:
- I’ll start with Audrey Nakamura (Dub’s wife). She doesn’t run a “big” business. She runs a small dojo over in Hawaii and changes the world “one person at a time.” If you need work, she’s the type of person you need to seek out because she doesn’t market. She is just one of the most gifted healers on the planet and she is carrying on Dub’s legacy to make people healthy and well. www.zentherapy.org
- Zen Bodytherapy. There are not a ton of practitioners out there doing this work. I’m one of them but I’m not doing as much hands-on work these days. I have my select clients I work with and rely on my bodywork team to carry on what I have taught them. If you’re in the San Diego area, we can help you at Fitness Quest 10. Otherwise, check out this website to see if there is a practitioner in your area. www.zentherapy.org
(They still do limited workshops for people who want to learn this work and it’s worth every cent of the investment).
- The Rolf Institute. Ida Rolf was an amazing soul and the IMPACT legacy she has left is incredible. To find a certified Rolfing practitioner, click here: www.rolf.org
- Feldenkrais. Moshe Feldenkrais also left behind an incredible legacy and the training that goes into becoming a certified Feldenkrais practitioner is impressive. It takes over four years to get certified in Feldenkrais and the education is both meticulous and extraordinary. I still hear Dub’s voice in my head, “As Moshe used to say, ‘The more subtle… the more powerful.’” www.Feldenkrais.com
And there is a whole “new” generation of folks IMPACTING the healing world in incredible ways that directly address fascia:
- Trigger Point Performance Therapy. Cassidy Phillips has been a pioneer and leader in the fascial world for the 10+ years I’ve known him. He created Trigger Point Performance Therapy to help people unlock their bodies, get out of pain, and live inspired. Cassidy and his team have trained thousands of practitioners in over 50 countries. They have products such as the “Grid,” TP Foot Ballers, TP Quad Ballers, Massage Balls, Cold Rollers, and a host of other great products to help fascial release. If you would like to find a certified practitioner or look into any of their programs or products, check out Trigger Point here: www.TPTherapy.com
- The Melt Method. Sue Hitzmann created the MELT Method after years of work in Somatic studies and manual therapies. She has a best-selling book, The Melt Method, and trains instructors worldwide. I know Sue personally and she and her team have done a great job educating and training practitioners in her The MELT Method: A Breakthrough Self-Treatment System to Eliminate Chronic Pain, Erase the Signs of Aging, and Feel Fantastic in Just 10 Minutes a Day!. www.MeltMethod.com
- Muscle-Activation Technique (M.A.T.). While M.A.T. is not a hands-on bodywork technique either, it is a powerful form of neuro-muscular re-education. And obviously, the nervous system, the muscular system and the fascial system all work together. It does require you to go to a trained practitioner to receive the work and you can learn in-home movements and exercises to help keep you functioning optimally. Founder Greg Roskopf and his team have trained thousands of people worldwide in his method. www.muscleactivation.com
- Egoscue Method. I first read Pete Egoscue’s book, Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain, in the late 1990s. It was probably the first book I ever read on “corrective exercise” and is a great resource for anyone who is in pain and wanting to include some simple yet profound “exercises” into your routine. Pete and his team have thousands of practitioners worldwide as well. For more information: www.egoscue.com
- Massage Therapy/Bodywork. There are dozens of other types of bodywork and hands-on modalities that address fascia. Active Release Technique. Soft-Tissue Release. Fascial Stretch Therapy. Myofascial Release. And there are others. Find people in your area who perform one of these modalities and they can certainly help you eradicate pain and help improve performance. Both sport and life performance. A simple Google search on any of these types of work would provide you with credentialed practitioners.
- Optimal Performance Bodywork. I created my own workshops and DVDs in 2002 based on my own eclectic experiences and techniques studied. And from 2002-2005, I only taught O.P.B. workshops. I didn’t teach fitness workshops/sessions until 2005. My focus and goal was to exclusively get the word out there on fascia.
And while I no longer teach my Optimal Performance Bodywork courses/workshops, I always include my lessons and experiences learned on fascia in all my other workshops/programs. I have four videos available on DVD if you want to learn more. As a matter of fact, these are some of the earliest programs I created and I still receive some of the best feedback on them. The DVDs are more geared to fitness professionals and massage therapists/bodyworkers looking to learn “hands-on” techniques than they are for the general consumer looking for an in-home study program. For more information, check out:
As you can see, there are many different options today if you are in pain and traditional medicine or physical therapy is not correcting your dysfunction, injury, condition, or pain. Thank God for traditional medicine. And thank God for these other healing modalities as well.
Perhaps you are in pain and need help. Or perhaps you just want to be proactive and prevent pain or injury. Or improve your performance. All of these are great methods and ways for you to be well, feel great, and perform your best.
I remember thinking in 1997 that there existed a whole other world of healing that I had no clue about. And it all dealt with fascia.
Nowadays, there are so many more options available to help people out of pain and to improve their overall health and performance. You just have to be proactive in seeking out the person or methodology that can best help you.
The quest for perfect health is on going. And I hope this article has opened your mind to the myriad of people, methods, and principles that can help you live your best life. I think it’s time for me to go sit Zazen for an hour.
Much love… and much fascial release.
Disclaimer: if you are sick, injured, or in pain, always seek a physician or medical attention/professional first. The purpose of this article is not to dispense medical advice. It’s to simply share my journey and experiences to help people be well, be healthy, and be vibrant.
And if we all focus on the person in pain, injury, or in need, and not on which system, program, or person is right/correct/best, the world would be a better place.
I welcome your comments below.
Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, is an internationally-recognized performance trainer, bodyworker, speaker, author, and owner of award-winning gym, Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. His outstanding team of 38 professionals deliver extraordinary service in personal training, sports performance training, massage/bodywork, Pilates, yoga, physical therapy and chiropractic. Todd is the Lead Training Advisor for Under Armour, regular contributor to Men’s Health, and author of The IMPACT! Body Plan.
Todd is also the President/CEO of Todd Durkin Enterprises where he conducts motivational keynotes/presentations, educational & leadership workshops, he operates a Mastermind Group for dedicated fitness entrepreneurs, and he presents internationally on health, fitness, and success in life.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ToddDurkin, his FB LIKE page at ToddDurkinFQ10, or sign up for his monthly motivational newsletter at www.ToddDurkin.com. You can get more information on his facility at www.FitnessQuest10.com or www.ToddDurkin.com.
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