What is Myofascial Release and how is it linked to yoga?
If you’ve been practising yoga with me for a while, in-person or online, you’ll probably know about my love of incorporating myofascial release (MFR) into a yoga practice. But in case you haven’t, unsure what it is, or need some MFR inspiration, read on!
MFR is a way of self-massaging, using props – usually tennis/ lacross balls, rollers or block, to apply pressure to the myo-fascia, releasing stored tension to relieve pain and restore movement. Myo-fascia refers to both the muscle and the fascia that surrounds it. In fact, fascia covers our entire body and plays a huge part in our mobility.
How do MFR and yoga differ or work together?
- In a dynamic or Vinyasa style yoga practice we mobilise the joints, whilst building strength and support around them, protecting us against injury. We can improve our flexibility here but we mainly enhance strength and mobility, warming the muscles and fascia. This can keep us supple but does not release deep-set tension.
- In slow Yin style yoga, we hold poses for longer, allowing the body to relax into the shapes. The tissues have the chance to re-lengthen over time here and release some of their deeper set tension. There is no strength involved and we have more opportunity to improve our flexibility.
- Myofascial release works similarly to Yin yoga, in that we take our time and stay with the applied pressure for up to several minutes. This can often be in a Yin posture but not necessarily. Allowing the tissues to relax against the pressure can help specific areas of tension to dissolve, improving not only our flexibility, mobility and range of motion but also our blood circulation and eliminate pain.
As you can see, it’s pretty useful, if not essential, to be doing all three practices regularly!
2 MFR techniques for the shoulders and hips/ lower back.
Shoulders: lie on your back, with your feet on the floor, hips propped up with a block/ bolster. Place a ball either side of the spine at the base of the neck. Take slow breaths here for 1-2 minutes. Gradually roll the balls along the top of the shoulder blade towards the outer edge of the shoulder, pausing for a minute of two along the way – especially if you find a tender spot.
Hips/ glutes/ low back: lie on your back with knees bent and resting against one another. Place a ball either side of your sacrum and take slow breaths here for 1-2 minutes. You do not need to feel a lot. Gradually roll the balls along the tops of the glutes, again pausing along the way, until you reach the outer edges of the hips. Go back the same way, or return to a good spot.
*MFR can feel tender on pressure points but it should not be painful. If you do feel sharp pain or tingling, stop.
Join me this Sunday morning, 27th January, 9-11am, in St Agnes at the Wellbeing Studios for a creative combination of dynamic and strengthening Vinyasa Yoga, calm and restorative Yin, plus the releasing benefits of myofascial release. Please bring 2-3 tennis balls.
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Some of us seem to fall over more often than other runners – years ago, I used to have the occasional tumble, maybe you do too?!
Now, obviously there are rogue factors that we can’t do anything about: someone else falling/ crashing into us, a huge root/ rock that came out of nowhere (more on that below) – but here are the 3 most likely reasons that a runner will fall over, that with the help of yoga, we can over-come.
- Lack of core strength. There it is again, the ‘core’ cropping up in my posts but it really is the key to great running, including staying on your feet! Firstly, a strong torso means we can run with correct alignment and proper technique, making the second point below easy. Secondly, if we do trip on something, having great core strength often means we can recover from the fall before we hit the ground. What to do? All my classes, other that recovery/ Yin, involve core strengthening. But here’s a recent, core targeting video:
- Not picking up the feet. We need to be actively lifting our feet up and back (heels towards butt), as soon as they touch the ground. This ensures that feet are landing in the right place for proper alignment and technique, keeps our cadence around 180 and means we are never ‘shuffling’ and risking tripping over that rogue rock/ branch. We are purposefully lifting our feet and not shuffling or striding forwards, this will prevent the majority of falls from occurring. What to do? Get your technique checked out (perhaps on one of our courses/ retreats), work on core strength and overall posture with yoga and start thinking about lifting the heel behind, not lifting the knees or feet forward.
- Not concentrating on what you’re doing! I love that running can be social – however, you cannot deny that chatting away means a lack of awareness on the task at hand: running efficiently, so that we can run for longer, faster, injury-free!! For the runner with the perfect technique that comes naturally with ease, this is less of an issue but for so many runners, running with proper technique requires focus. Even when correct technique becomes natural, staying mindfully aware of our body and surroundings is going to greatly reduce falls and other injuries. What to do? The gaze should be forward, so that we can see any obstacles ahead, occasionally dropping the gaze down but generally keeping the head upright. The right combination of yoga will help with strength and posture, but also with the ability to become really aware of our own body and surroundings, and to actually help us enjoy the process of the running itself, not just the social aspect 😉
Let us know your experiences in the comments just below!
If you’re interested in ‘running better with yoga’, take a look at our One Day Course, and the Weekend Retreat here.
Healthy feet and lower legs, that are strong and flexible, are absolutely vital for finding your optimal running technique and staying injury free in this area. Don’t let this area be overlooked!
This is a flowing Vinyasa yoga based class that covers all areas, including hamstrings, hips and core, but our main focus is taken to the feet and lower legs. We explore some creative ways to help maintain the stability that the foot should provide, how to maintain a strong, yet flexible Achilles tendon and calves, and stretching the elusive top of the feet and shins 😉
Ideally do this 28 minute class on a non-running day, as much of it is standing sequences but we wind down with some floor based poses and a little myofascial release. Have a tennis ball to hand if possible.
Check out these previous blogposts, if you haven’t already! Yoga for Feet and Yoga for Achilles.
Why do hamstrings get so commonly tight?
- Hamstrings are commonly tight in many people, not just in runners – because just sitting too much of the time means the hamstrings shorten and adapt to that contracted length.
What to do… Stand up more! If you have a desk job – stand, bend knees and fold forwards, with chest resting on thighs, gradually listing hips – do this several times a day.
2. Then there’s core strength. If your core strength is insufficient then the hamstrings will be trying to stabilise your pelvis, which is the job of the deeper abdominals and abductors!! This leads to over contraction of the hamstrings.
What to do… Make sure you’re doing regular, targeted core strengthening. One of my favourites is the toes taps, as this also builds coordination and pelvic strength (not suitable if you have tight hip flexors though). Watch my 5 favourite core exercises here.
3. If you’re a runner, then a certain amount of hamstring tension is useful because we want them to be strong and powerful – however, too much hamstring tightness is going to limit the motion of the pelvis, causing flexion in the spine and loss of core stabilisation! And the Numero Uno consideration for runners should be good posture, which is maintained with core strength.
What to do… Core strengthening, as above, plus hamstring lengthening…
Test and re-lengthen the hamstrings…
Hamstring test on back – lie flat on your back, draw one knee in to your chest and hold behind the thigh. Slowly start to straighten – the leg should go up to at least 70 degrees, with only a mild stretch. If you can feel more, or the leg doesn’t want to come that high, then there is some work to do!
- take this position every day – bend the knee and straighten the leg several times, gradually straightening the leg a little more each time.
- use a strap to help keep the leg up, relaxed for around 3 minutes.
- resist the strap by pushing the ball of your foot into it for 5 long breaths, then relax for 5. Repeat 3 times. (This resisting is eccentric contraction, and can also be useful in healing hamstring strains. Do not stretch the hamstrings when there is a strain!*)
Watch these strap exercises, plus more for the hamstrings, in this 17 minute video.
Watch the Tutorial
If you’re aware of tight hamstrings, then now is the time to start doing something about it! Watch a video tutorial of this content in the latest video in the Yoga Flow Runners Facebook group, here.
*If you have a hamstring strain or tear, don’t stretch it. Focus on eccentric contraction only, which I describe in the video tutorial.
In this video I also discuss how many runners are running ‘quad dominant’, meaning the quadriceps are over-powering the hamstrings, leaving the quads too tight and the hamstrings too weak. This will be the topic of focus in the next blogpost!
Musculoskeletal disorders, in particular back pain, are one of the leading causes of sickness absence. With an estimated to cost the UK economy of £15 billion a year, it’s no wonder that more companies have brought in yoga teachers to offer corporate yoga sessions. But if yoga practitioners have been found to have the healthiest spines, believed to be because we move the spine in it’s full range of movements every day, surely everyone can maintain a healthy spine with a regular yoga practice.
A well rounded yoga practice will encompass all spinal movements, so it’s important to go to a weekly class and build up your daily home practice. Here are my top 5 poses though, that can be incorporated into a full practice, or done as a sequence on their own. They are intended for those with a healthy spine, if you have back pain, see a medical professional before practising yoga.
In addition, try to do some targeted core strengthening exercises each day for 5-10 minutes – more on this here – as the most common culprit for back pain is core weakness.
It’s also a great idea to lie over a couple of blocks for a few minutes each day, to release the front of the shoulders and chest – an area that can get really tight and impact your posture. See more on this area here.
1. Cat/ Cow
Such a simple and well known movement, you’ve probably done it many times in a class, but this simple action is a great way to combine easy flexion and extension of the spine. The flexing, when rounding the back, has a subtle core strengthening element to it, so really try to draw the abdominal muscles in towards the spine, helping to strengthen this area, whilst stretching out the back muscles. When extending the spine, by lifting the chest and the tail bone, keep broadening the shoulders drawing them away from the ears. This movement provides a great massage to the spine, giving you an awareness of your range of movement and opportunity to get the spine moving.
2. Sphinx and/ or Cobra
Following on from warming the spine up in Cat/ Cow, you may be ready to take a gentle back bend posture. Sphinx requires less upper body strength than Cobra and Up Dog, so is a great back bending pose to do whilst acquiring more arm strength, and to spend a little longer in. Keep a gentle activation of the belly drawing in and the tail bone lengthening.
Cobra can be practised on its own, or when doing Sun Salutations. From the floor, roll back the shoulders, roll up the chest as the shoulders draw back, finally lifting the head. Keep the sides of the neck feeling long, as you keep the shoulders down and away from the ears. Press the pubic bone down to activate the abdominal muscles and lengthen the tail bone, supporting the lumbar spine and creating space in the upper spine. Not only is this one of the best poses to build upper body strength, it also starts to strengthen the back. What we want is to build the strength of our spinal pillars, to support the spine from all sides.
3. Salabasana/ Locust
This pose is THE BEST for a healthy spine! It builds upon the back strength required in the previous poses. There are so many arm variations but this is my favourite because of the additional benefits to the shoulders. Start lying face down, with arms in cactus. Lengthen the legs back, press the pubic bone down to lengthen the tail bone. Lift from the back of the shoulders, drawing the shoulder blades towards each other, lifting from the heart. Float the legs up, keeping them straight and close together. Take 5 breaths and repeat once or twice more.
4. Ardha Matseyendrasana/ Half spinal twist
After Salabasana, slide back to Childs Pose (Balasana). Roll up to take this lovely twist. I like this really gentle version. Depending on how you feel at the time can dictate how far you go into any pose but especially consider this when twisting. Sit tall by drawing the lower belly in the reaching through the crown of the head.
Cross one leg over the other, with the low leg staying straight, or drawing the foot to the opposite heel, with both sitting bones level. Sitting up on a blanket roll feels great and will facilitate this. Move slow, use the finger tips to support you as you gradually twist to the same side as the top leg, keeping the height through the spine and the support of the belly. The head will be the last thing to turn if you are going towards the full expression of the pose, or you can choose to look straight ahead, feeling the pose work here on the lower and mid spine.
5. Supine Twist
Etched Floral leggings and Crop top are from KiraGrace
This can feel a fantastic release for the lower back and is particularly good to do after back bends like those above. Also great post running. On your back, draw one knee in towards you, then across your body. Adjust your hips, so that you can comfortably relax the knee towards the floor – resting this leg on a cushion or bolster is a great option if the hips are tight.
Upcoming Backbend Yoga Workshop!
Backbends: Health and Grace – A workshop on Saturday 26th May, 10am – 1pm, at Gwills Yoga, Newquay – £25
In this workshop, we’ll explore a range of different backbend postures, that effectively strengthening the back and lengthen the spine – potentially relieving back ache and improving posture.
We’ll also work towards some more advanced asana in deeper backbends and how to come into them safely, respecting our individual bodies and looking at how they can benefit us physically and emotionally, as well as look great.
This 3 hour workshop will involve strengthening work, Vinyasa flow and workshopping poses. Some yoga experience required. Not suitable for those with back injury/ complaint, as a one to one session is more appropriate.
Booking via the App