Understanding Fascia and Dynamic Fascial Response™
Fascinating Fascia (Pronounced Fa (A as in apple)-shah).
So, what is fascia? When you research ‘myofascia’ or ‘fascia’ do you get an outdated definition describing it as that sinewy stuff that is covering over the muscle like a piece of meat at the butcher? Many articles will mislead that fascia is what “separates the muscles and organs”.
They forget to tell you that…Fascia is one continuous structure. It’s 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, 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 segment of your fascia’s ‘web’ can morph into two segments during movement! Yes, the fascial fibers have the ability to morph. They slide in and out of themselves as our body moves!
The movements of fascia are purely chaotic yet completely organized. “The fascial continuum is like a flock of birds flying together without a predetermined logic and maintaining their individuality at the same time” 1Bruno Bordoni,Fabiola Marelli,Bruno Morabito,Beatrice Sacconi / The indeterminable resilience of the fascial system / Journal of Integrative Medicine 2017
Through its’ amazing tensegrity, fascia is able to bounce back to its original structure after intricate orchestration of each of its complex movements. This is what gives high performing athletes the ability to both stretch and engage their muscles and it happens even in involuntary movements like gastric motility.
Photo clip from Jean Gimberteau’s impressive film ‘Strolling Under the Skin’.
A must see for any bodyworker!
This magical web of fibrous material, filled with hydration, has a fractal, icosahedronal architecture (Photo below). Ease of movement is achieved 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 a complex pressure system is healthy, then the fascial fibers have mobility, creating the tensegrity our bodies need to perform and move freely. I believe that a broad, fascial approach (explained below), 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 repatterning. This helps unwind taught, injured fascia and thus prolongs cellular life.
Many people are developing bodywork styles around fascial discoveries that involve charts and lines. In contrast my work follows no charts but works within a broad intuitive map. I continue to resist any idea that I know what is going on and yet I trust what I feel. Following the constantly updated articles posted in medical journals on the fascial system has confirmed that I am spot on in this broad approach and perhaps why the results I get are consistent with pain resolve and increased ROM. “The most recent information on fascial tissue indicates that there are not fascial layers, but polyhedral microvacuoles of connective tissue, which connect the body systems and, by hosting specialized cells, permit several functions, such as motor, nervous, vascular and visceral. These microvacuoles (a repetition of polyhedral units of connective fibrils) under internal or external tension change shape and can manage the movement variations, regulating different body functions and ensuring the maintenance of efficiency of the body systems. Their plasticity is based on perfect functional chaos: it is not possible to determine the motion vectors of the different fibrils, which differ in behavior and orientation; this strategy confers to the fascial continuum the maximum level of adaptability in response to the changing internal and external conditions of the cell”. 2Bruno Bordoni,Fabiola Marelli,Bruno Morabito,Beatrice Sacconi / The indeterminable resilience of the fascial system / Journal of Integrative Medicine 2017
Dynamic Fascial Response™
This approach to bodywork that I developed over the last 20 years, 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 from 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 be received passively or involve active client participation. At times a DFR session may include Somatic NLP, a dialog process used to better resource unwanted behavioral patterns and for healing emotional trauma.
Certification in Dynamic Fascial Response
Students who are certified in at least 35 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.
DFR™ Code of Conduct DFR™ reserves the right to remove any practitioner from their website for misconduct. Misconduct includes but is not limited to sexual, ethical and occupational.
There will be no touch other than that which is non sexual and fully consensual. There will be no “isms” No racism, size-ism, identity-ism, age-ism, etc. tolerated in the DFR™ community which prides itself on inclusion. The DFR™ practitioner will never diagnose a client or work outside of their scope of practice.
FIVE Underlying Principles of DFR™
- 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 as we unwind the fascia we invite the wrapped point to use the breath as a new resource 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 the fascia has the ability to capture trauma like a spider captures and wraps it’s prey and that the fascia somehow “wraps” 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 may be fixed.
Upon intake the DFR™ practitioner always asks “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 of touch depends on the client’s 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. Thought DFR does not present a series to the client, practitioners who do arrange a series for their clients are encouraged to weave DFR™ into their work.
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.
DFR™ 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 on 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 feedback when I was solely practicing deep tissue bodywork. It’s important to note that DFR is not absent of deep tissue bodywork. We just don’t allow it to dominate a session. Dynamic Fascial Response™ bodywork is what leads the session.
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.
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.
A DFR™ Session – A Simplified Description
Use little to no oil on first runs. This helps the fascia iron out.
The point of origin of initial contact is often not directly on the wrapped point as there usually is the need to “accommodate” first.
When you do make contact with the wrapped point, 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 any fascial pattern/restriction with a nice deep slow run and repeat it a few times to reinstate the new resource of breath. 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.
Practitioner imagines any wrapped points 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, tight 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 10 Modalities Used in DFR™
- Slow fascial release stroke with little to no oil.
- Pin and stretch (MET, Muscle Energy Techniques) with little to no oil to increase range of motion.
- Resistance and release for active muscle release at full ROM (Range of Motion)
- Slow and safe compression and traction to encourage circulation and mobility of joints.
- Cross fiber friction to tonify muscles
- Deep tissue to release shortened muscle
- Acupressure to encourage gastric motility.
- Oil effleurage to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Lymphatic drainage to help the heath of overall tissue
- 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. I weave oil runs into different section of the body as I am working. I usually (not always) follow bodywork with effleurage for each section.
Dynamic Fascial Response™ is perfect for any client, including pregnant clients!
DFR™ is deep but not painful
Generally speaking, a bodyworker can always turn to DFR™ when your client wants something deep but not painful. When pain is experienced through any other approach, you might be using to treat your client DFR™ could be the answer. DFR™ treats all of the surrounding areas of the injury and the injury will respond to this noninvasive but still very powerful treatment without the deep tissue, trigger point approach of other types of massage that could be painful or uncomfortable.
DFR incorporates (but is not limited to) slow, no-oil runs.
Slow, fascial, no-oil bodywork can open restricted and compromised areas in a non invasive and safe way whereas deep tissue therapy could damage the scoliosis client simply because the skeleton is so changed. One side of the thoracic cage has often developed closer to the surface and the therapist often mistakes underlying fascia and bone for scar tissue and/or muscle spasm. Too much pressure is put on the skeleton, fascia and nerves and as a result, there is a lot of pain and possibly even further damage to the client. DFR™ still offers a deep release via a more gentle and mindful approach.
DFR™ uses cross-fiber friction techniques
Cross-fiber, when properly applied can tonify muscles that are over stretched. Using short strokes against the fiber of the muscle works wonders! It has been proven that friction massage increases fibroblastic proliferation, which synthesizes and maintains collagen, fibronectin, proteoglycans and other proteins of the connective tissue matrix.
DFR™ bodywork enables space through a method we call accommodating. This allows the spine to find a more balanced position in the body for better functionality. In the case of scoliosis, we first treat the concave side (the shortened muscles) to first help lengthen them to accommodate for the muscles of the convex side (the lengthened, stretched out and weakened muscles) to have new space to land themselves. In the case of neck tension; Before tending to the neck itself, we first perform anterior unwinding to release the fascia in the front body that is pulling the head forward.
DFR™ incorporates DYNAMIC bodywork in a massage session
DFR recruits a full body experience for movement. It has been proven that prolonged immobilization can adversely affect normal tissue and that mobilization will stimulate collagen synthesis, increase strength, and help align the repair of fascial cells and collagen fibers. Traction and Compression, Resistance and Release, Pin and Stretch and Cross Fiber all can help rebuild and re-recruit muscles and increase ROM (Range of Motion) Note: Pin and stretch is never taken farther then the resistance point with scoliosis, and in more severe cases the convex side (the lengthened, stretched out and weakened muscles) is not treated with pin and stretch at all.
Chula Gemignani is the author of A Dynamic Guide To Pregnancy Massage. She is a certified massage therapist and somatic guide,. She teaches courses and certifications in Dynamic Fascial Response in Nevada City. Her classes are a great way to inspire your practice with new techniques and perspective. Join her classes in the Sierra Foothills or invite her to your city.