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Unhelpful Tips for Working With Fascia – 7 Simple Steps to Feeling Defective

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Have you ever asked me, or wanted to ask me:

“How much pressure should I use?”
“Your method seems more aggressive than the Melt method or Yoga Tune Up – is aggressive better?”
“How often should I do this technique?”
“When will I experience results?”
“I got sore the next day. Is that bad?”

I confess to using a bit of clickbait in the title and thumbnail. Am I really about to give you unhelpful tips for working with fascia?

I guess that depends on if you end up agreeing with me or find this whole video infuriating. Because the truth – as I see it – is there is NO definitive truth when it comes to bodywork. Or just about anything else in our perfectly mysterious universe.

The inspiration for this post came from seeing a Jill Miller Facebook ad for Tune Up Fitness, her way of working with fascia, in which she made the claim that GENTLE is the ONLY way to properly work with fascia, because working aggressively means the body will fight back. I’m not trying to pick a fight with Jill Miller, she obviously has a large following and appears far more financially successful than I am. Good for her. 

AND – this statement she really bothers me!

It bothers me mostly because she’s not alone in making claims like this. Practically everyone in this field (or honesty, ANY field) makes claims of certainty. 

THIS is the RIGHT way, and THAT way is WRONG.

This is the same issue I talked about with healing trauma in a recent video, because almost all trauma therapists agree that slow – called TITRATION – is safer and thus better, and that trauma healing takes a LONG time. Some will tell you with certainty that it’s a lifetime practice so forget about trying to heal quickly and move on with your life.

In the trauma world it’s practically heretical to say something like “I healed the trauma in my nervous system by allowing myself to have a 6 week panic attack.” Yet that statement is true for me.

The reason people are prone to speaking this way is because most of us want certainty.

We want to know what’s true.

We want precise instructions for the problems we face – the 5 steps to back pain relief, the 7 steps to trauma healing, the 10 truths about fascia you can count on when working with your body.

The internet is littered with these neat and tidy prescriptions of hope…but I don’t really think they’ve helped that many people. They just work really well to get clicks, likes and followers all hoping to fix their problems in 7 simple steps, and when those 7 steps fail I would be willing to bet that most of the people who tried them and failed assume that THEY were defective.

There must be something wrong with THEM personally, not the 7 steps, or the marketing tactic of selling generalizations to unique people who actually need solutions tailored to them.

Maybe you’ve noticed that this channel contains contradictory information. Maybe you’ve noticed I hate speaking in absolutes. Maybe you’ve noticed that most questions asked in the comments section assume there is “an answer” – and that I often reply with more questions, or by pointing out 5 possible answers. Maybe this has annoyed you if you’ve been on the receiving end of asking me questions, or maybe you haven’t noticed any of this!

I want to challenge you to adopt a mindset that can hold 1,000 contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time. Because…if you can do this, you can solve any problem or pain in life and you’ll always see possibilities when most people see impossibility; because most people are looking through a limited lens of seeking absolutes in a world that actually contains very few absolutes.

One of my most popular videos – and by popular I mean YouTube loves to show this video to people because it’s polarizing, and people love hating on me in the comments section, so the algorithms reward me by showing this video to people. That video is one in which I make the claim (IN THE YOUTUBE TITLE) that massage doesn’t release fascia.

I had no idea that the video would go semi viral. My intentions were never to polarize, throw massage therapists under the bus or incite comments just to push me up in the algorithms. I still stand by that video and blog post. But I’ve also contradicted myself since then and I’m about to do it again in this video. There’s a lot of debate and contention in the bodywork fields about which is better – aggressive or gentle approaches to working with fascia. By and large, the most popular “experts” agree that gentle is better.

Myofascial release or MFR, which is the John Barnes method of massage therapy targeting fascia, stresses a long, slow, gentle drag of fascial tissues in order to coax the stubborn fascia into separating from itself.

Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up seems to believe that gentle is the ONLY way to go. I don’t want to speak for her since she’s not here, that’s just what I read from her in that Facebook ad.

Most people in the trauma healing worlds emphasize inducing the parasympathetic response in the nervous system as the BEST strategy for healing, and if we trigger the sympathetic nervous system during therapy or bodywork, we’ve “gone too far” and caused a trauma response (which they presumably believe is “bad” or dangerous and thus to be avoided).

Then there are the CrossFit people and the personal trainers who promote the knobby super hard rollers and tend to think the more aggressive the approach and tools, the better.

I’ve made the claim that massage doesn’t release fascia. But I also go to one skilled massage therapist who HAS helped me release fascia. So which is TRUE?

Is it possible that ALL OF THESE theories are correct? AND incorrect?

Here’s a scientific “fact” for us to ponder – fascia has a proof resilience of 2,000lbs.

That means fascia has been proven to be able to withstand 2,000lbs of force coming into it – such as a massage therapist’s hands, a foam roller or my feet if I’m stepping on you – without deforming.

This scientific fact has been used to “debunk” fascia release, because – they say – it would take at least 2,000lbs of force to CHANGE, aka deform, fascia.

Yet, I’ve been stepping on thousands of clients since 2008, releasing their fascia with anywhere from 20 to 150lbs of my bodyweight, and I’ve witnessed and felt their fascia mold itself under my foot and get hydrated, supple and soft again after being brittle, dehydrated and stuck in adhesions. If fascia release isn’t possible because it would take 2,000lbs of force to change anything, and even after a good holiday season I’m 155lbs…how do we explain the changes in their fascia?

And why do we think of parasympathetic as good, and sympathetic as bad? BOTH are good, and BOTH can be “bad” or unhealthy in certain situations.

For me, healing at the nervous system level actually required me to experience – FULLY – an intense sympathetic response similar to the original traumatic event, and then learn – as a now autonomous adult capable of orienting differently than when I was a child – that I AM OK. By getting to know my sympathetic nervous system response and associate something POSITIVE to it – moving unprocessed trauma out of my nervous system – I healed quickly. If I had continued to pursue parasympathetic states, as every therapist I’ve ever worked with has always stressed, I know I would have remained an anxious, traumatized person unable to handle a lot of stimulation without getting overwhelmed easily.

So what about bodywork – do we want to be in a parasympathetic or sympathetic state?

Ahhhh – that question is the WRONG question. In my opinion.

That question assumes there is AN ANSWER. And there is never AN ANSWER that will be appropriate for everyone.

The problem with AN ANSWER is that it’s generalized, and while generalizations always work for some people, by the very laws of the universe, they simply cannot work for everyone. We would have cured cancer and every other human ailment by now if that’s how things worked in our world.

The first question we really should be asking is – what’s our goal TODAY? Not yesterday, not tomorrow – today.

Do you want to interrupt a NSP and rewire your brain and body?
Do you want to release fascia? If so, WHY?
Is it to assist your lymph in order to detox?
Is it to find the root cause of pain?
Is it to FEEL what’s inside your body, in order to get to know your body better?
Is the goal to get out of pain now that you’ve identified the root cause?

And for each of these questions about our GOAL, there would have to be a process of investigation in order to determine the BEST path for YOU…today.

Because HOW and WHERE you release fascia depends on your WHY, and there are a variety of approaches you might consider and try before knowing what works for YOU.

WHO you are and what’s living in your body will determine whether the approach needs to aggressive or gentle, whether you’re intentionally triggering a nervous system pattern (aka, sympathetic response) in order to change how you orient to stressors, or prioritizing a parasympathetic state in order to get in touch with your more nuanced sense of self inside.

Each goal requires DIFFERENT actions, and each person will have a unique goal.

When we use blanket statements like “gentle is better” or “your tissues don’t want to be forced” we’re projecting onto the body and we’re NOT seeing the human body as it is, in its multifaceted reality.

We’re seeing OURSELVES.

Someone might think being gentle is the ONLY way to go because aggressive methods trigger a nervous system pattern in them that they don’t want to face, or an emotion they don’t want to feel, or maybe they’ve been indoctrinated to believe that aggressive is bad so they just keep repeating that mantra.

But I can tell you from experience that what one person calls aggressive, another person calls hurt so good BLISS.

Maybe someone else thinks aggressive is better because THEY are stuck in a nervous system pattern of believing that life is pain and no pain no pain, or maybe they don’t FEEL much in their bodies so it takes a lot for them to feel anything at all.

Our orientation to what is happening during therapy, a panic attack, a massage or during Kinetix (my method of stepping on people) is more important and telling than the method or the delivery.

Our reaction might tell us something about the method or the person in the room with us…in which case this is good information. But to assume that the method is either good or bad, that the practitioner is either skilled or unskilled, that every person and every body needs gentle or aggressive approaches…is again, missing the point.

Gentle might interrupt one person’s NSP, while aggressive might interrupt someone else’s. Gentle might keep one person STUCK in loops, aggressive might do the same.

When it comes to fascia release, I do believe that fascia MUST be involved neurologically in order to create rapid change – aka, actually RELEASE.

This typically means self-initiated movement, in which your nervous system and body have to communicate through proprioception, interoception, muscle activation, fascial and skin stimulation, neuroception and more.

And what worked for me to heal the bulk of unprocessed trauma in my nervous system, by allowing myself to have an uninterrupted panic attack for 6 weeks, VERY WELL MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU.

As I said, we need to know the goal first. And then, we have to engage in a process of inquiry, where follow up questions are asked and answered…and finally, we need to be PRESENT to who we are TODAY…and never assume that what was true yesterday is true today, or will be true again tomorrow.

Alright, I kind of hope I’ve confused you but in a good way. I hope you are beginning to understand that there is no one size fits all approach to ANYTHING in life, be it a diet, workout program or way of engaging with fascia release.

What matters is that you get to know yourself and your body so well that you understand what works for YOU.

And if you are a practitioner, then I hope you’re orienting to every client as unique in their physiology, subconscious psychology, nervous system and fascia, not just TODAY, but again next week when they come back, and the week after that. We do our best work as practitioners when we understand that our client’s fascia, their nervous system, their needs and what our role is within those parameters changes in EVERY session, so we really need to approach them as if every session were their first.

Thank you for watching, and I will see you next time! 

* Disclaimer: The contents of this blog and accompanying YouTube channel are for informational purposes only and do not render medical or psychological advice, opinion, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided through this website is expressly the opinions of each author and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. This is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a medical or psychological problem, you should consult your appropriate health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Links on this website are provided only as an informational resource, and it should not be implied that we recommend, endorse or approve of any of the content at the linked sites, nor are we responsible for their availability, accuracy or content.

  • Sally says:

    Thanks Elisha for this broad, wise perspective. It offers encouragement and validation for looking carefully at our individual goals in the moment and then exploring approaches and interventions and tracking what effects they have on those goals. Formulas and generalizations don’t take into account our unique physiology, psychology, needs and desires.

    • Hi Sally – thanks for chiming in! It makes sense that this makes sense to you 😆💛🙌🏽

  • Fiona says:

    Hi Elisha…. excellent article. I fully agree. As a bowen therapist and pilates instructor I see this dilemma daily. And at the end of the day, every body is different, responds to different depths of treatment as well as different types of treatment. I also do massage and reflexology. Some clients respond better to Bowen, others have relief with massage, and yet others love reflexology and have more release with that therapy. And sometimes a combination of all 3 does the trick. The body will respond as it needs to. We need to learn and promote the fact that a “one size fits all” approach is not the answer in the body work field. Look at diets, clothing styles etc etc…..not one person or body is the same. Keep up the great articles.

    • Hi Fiona – THANK YOU for getting this (especially as a practitioner) and helping to promote this concept of treating each person (and ourselves) as individuals. I’m grateful you’re out there listening to each client and their body and adjusting as necessary! And grateful for your voice in the broader conversation, regardless of modality.

  • Kathy says:

    I agree that different people need different treatments, pressure, etc as outlined in this video.

    I’ve tried so many different treatments including massage, triggerpoint therapy, stretching, etc. to release my calves and deal with the peroneal pain over a period of 10+ years.

    Elisha treatments have worked the best for me. I use as much pressure as I can stand applying her scale of ‘really sucks, sucks, sucks less’, etc.

    Thank you Elisha.

    • Hi Kathy – awesome! It makes me happy to be able to provide the tools and how-to knowledge for those that resonate with my particular method and/or advice. I also love that you took my philosophy of “sucks a lot, a lot less, feels kinda good” approach and are seeing those results for yourself. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Carol says:

    Pls tell me if your manipulations can help chronic pain syndrome in my foot. I’m waiting now for a neurostimulator, but it would be wonderful to not to have it installed in my spine. A DO and a chiropractor manipulated my foot (very painful) and the pain went way for 2 days then came back.

    • Hi Carol – most of the time when I see clients who have pain in their foot, their foot tissues are NOT the problem…it’s usually something upstream. Like your calf fascia, hamstrings or even a hip misalignment that is causing compensations leading to the pain you feel. If you’re interested in doing some investigating of your own, I recommend browsing my blogs using search terms for “plantar fasciitis” or “foot pain.” You’ll find everything I’ve shared on the topic and all the techniques I recommend trying. A lot of the time practitioners go directly to the site of pain and manipulate those tissues, but in my experience that makes the pain worse or kicks the can down the road because it’s not addressing the root cause.

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