By the time I got pregnant with my daughter, I had been practicing yoga regularly for about six years. I favored “rolling around on the floor” and very fluid vinyasa, meaning that I didn’t always stick to the same sequences and I would often bring in a bit of flare from my dance background. That said, it was still a practice based on the classic sun salutation.
I developed a lot of pain in my hips during and after pregnancy. When a year went by, and I was still in pain, my doctor sent me to physical therapy where the focus was on rehabbing my core.
We all know that while we can do core work in a yoga class, this is not yoga’s best offer. So, I also took up Pilates. And it helped.
Maybe this sounds familiar? Your body starts to hurt. Your best friend tells you about a new “system” that helped her. The new thing works for you, and you get really enthusiastic and tell everyone you know about it.
Maybe you even feel betrayed by the old practice that seemed to be the cause of the pain? I did. For a while, I was on a real tear about how yoga was bad for postpartum women because there was too much emphasis on expansion and not enough focus on consolidation.
I knew nothing. Well, not absolutely nothing, but I was off in left field.
What’s really going on when we switch movement methods?
The brain does not tell the fibroblasts, the cells that create new connective tissue, what to do. Our movements do. The fibroblasts “decide” what kinds of fascia to produce, where to put the fibers, and how to arrange the fibers, based on what speed we move, for how long, and the amount of force we apply. Fascia literally thrives on variety.
There is another factor: proprioception. The nerves that track where we are in space are located in our fascia. When we don’t stimulate those tissues with movement, our proprioception diminishes. It’s as if parts of us go dark.
Here’s the kicker. Low proprioception is linked with increased pain. The reason for this is a complicated relationship between nociception (our alarm system) and proprioception that is not yet fully understood. What we do know is that increased body awareness through novel movement can reduce or eliminate feelings of pain EVEN IF the source of the pain persists.
Pilates wasn’t my miracle cure, and yoga wasn’t really the cause of my pain. The real reason Pilates helped and yoga hurt was more straightforward. I needed to change things up. That’s it. I didn’t really need to abandon my asana practice. I just needed to do something other than riff on sun salutations.
Do you feed your fascia good movement nutrition?
Find out by keeping a movement journal for a week. Write down when you move, how long you move, and what you did while you were moving. Get as specific as possible.
After a week of tracking:
- Look for patterns of inactivity and change that first. Sitting or standing around for long periods of time grows thick, sticky fascia that interferes with hydration.
- Pay close attention to what you do, and add variety. Go to a different yoga class or try something entirely new. If you like walking, try to find variable terrain, so you have to step up and downhill and on uneven surfaces.
- Try to do things that require a bit of extra effort by going a little faster or adding weight. Remember that amount of force should also be variable. Just make sure to increase your loads progressively to avoid injury.
- Duration is also an important variable. Practices like Yin or Restorative Yoga uniquely affect some fascia tissues because the poses are held longer than in a more typical yoga class.
The most important aspect of a healthy movement diet is variety. So the practice of paying attention to what you feed your tissues is a life-long activity. As you continue through the different stages of your life, try to stay receptive to change. Don’t be surprised if something that once felt like it “worked” becomes something that no longer suits. Just stay open and curious.
Have you ever thought about whether or not your yoga classes are good for your students’ fascia? Take this quiz and find out.
Hi! I’m Jennifer O’Sullivan (Sati Yoga). I write about yoga, meditation, stress management, functional anatomy, and bit of this and that about living a healthy life. I teach yoga classes and workshops in the Washington, DC area, and you can find me online at Facebook or www.sati.yoga.
If you enjoyed this piece, please click the 👏 button below.