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L i s te n to T h e A B M P Po d c a s t a t a b m m /p o d c a s t s o r w h e reve r yo u a cce s s yo u r favo r i te p o d c a s t s 89 L i s te n to T h e A B M P Po d c a s t a t a b m m /p o d c a s t s o r w h e reve r yo u a cce s s yo u r favo r i te p o d c a s t s 89 TAKEAWAY: Fascia is continuous throughout the body. When you engage it superficially by pushing on it, lifting it, lengthening it, etc., it affects the areas to which it extends without having to engage deeper tissues. you can still cause a therapeutic effect with this release alone. Second, since fascia is continuous throughout the body (in other words, it extends throughout the body in a wholly connected sheet), when you engage it by pushing on it, lifting it, lengthening it, etc., it affects the areas to which it extends. I once saw this demonstrated with the use of a balloon. If you have a balloon filled with water and you pinch one side of it, you can see a stretch throughout the entire balloon (even as far as the opposite side). One pinch affects the whole. It is the same with fascia. Superficial fascia connects to and affects deep fascia. This is especially true for areas where there are dense bands or sheets of connective tissue, such as the iliotibial band and the thoracolumbar aponeurosis. Although these structures appear to sit superficially, the complexity and depth to which they extend is both fascinating and powerful to understand and can greatly inform your intent when you are attempting to go deep via a superficial approach. Studying current theories in fascial research is well worth the investment of time to recognize the ripple effect of one shift within these tissues. Third, in areas of the superficial fascia where nerves, blood vessels, and lymph vessels penetrate, there can be a thickening in the tissue that causes the flow of fluid and currents to be impeded. By gently manipulating these superficial areas with clear purpose, stagnation can be reduced and flow can be restored, causing a widespread effect. In addition, because fascia is now understood to be highly concentrated with specialized sensory receptors that have direct links to the autonomic nervous system, approaches such as slow, multidirectional stretching and gentle compression can cause a decrease in sympathetic tone, heart and respiratory rate, and blood pressure, even when indirectly contacted through manipulation of the superficial fascia (remember, it is connected to the deep stuff!). Incorporate Gentle Stretching and Breathwork Often overlooked are the potent practices of stretching and breathwork. When you wish to access deeper tissues but need to keep your hands in the superficial layers, put the body to work for itself. Applying gentle, passive stretching is soothing and relaxing while it reaches deep into and around the joints. When you rhythmically incorporate breathwork with this movement, you support balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses. A great way to perform this is to ask your client to inhale before the stretch, exhale on the stretch, and inhale again on the release. Then, have them exhale again for a second round of stretch and inhale on the release. Repeat in very slow, rhythmic cycles (not quick and bouncy, which can injure tissues). Tap into Intent Perhaps the most notable aspect of any type of bodywork is intent. When you center yourself in the present moment and focus on what is under your hands, you can facilitate deep work without ever contacting deeper tissues. This is why knowing anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology is so important. With an understanding of how parts of the whole relate to and interact with each other superficially and deeply, you can move superficial tissue strategically while also contacting what lies beneath by placing it in your mind's eye and holding a vision of cause and effect. Add to this a focus on quality of touch— in other words, what is being conveyed through your hands. When you embody an intent of loving kindness, of seeing and honoring a client's state of being, of silently communicating safety, respect, care, and support for the body's natural desire to sustain life, you reach places in the body that can't be reached any other way. Practice Offering superficial massage is a skill that requires practice. While some think it is easier than deep-tissue massage, I find it more challenging—primarily because of the keen focus and restraint that is involved with maintaining just the right depth. Not too much, not too little. Find an acquaintance whose tissues are healthy and practice recognizing the difference between gliding across the skin versus engaging the superficial fascia. Then, sink just below into muscle tissue, feeling the difference in the qualities of fascia versus muscle. Even though this practice is taught early in massage and bodywork training, it is valuable to return to it to re-hone skills you might have stopped using. It makes for a much more complex practitioner. DEEPEN YOUR LEARNING Although this overview only scratches the surface, my hope is it will inspire you to deepen your learning of what is beneath your hands and the many ways you can access more than you may realize. Since 2000, Cindy Williams, LMT, has been actively involved in the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. In addition to maintaining a part- time massage and bodywork practice and teaching yoga, she is a freelance content writer and educational consultant. Contact her at

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