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.
BOOK MY PLACE!
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.
So, whilst reading this week, I was surprised to read that tight hip flexors are the most frequently seen problem in runners! Yet, considering the fact that many runners are over-striding, it’s obvious.
The job of the hip flexors is clear: to flex the hip, ie. to lift it. But if actively doing this when running by lifting the knee, placing the foot too far ahead occurs, causing a multitude of problems! What we want is to lift the heel and extend the hip back – meaning we need flexible hip flexors for great running technique.
To test hip extension:
take a low lunge position, on one foot and one knee. Find a square in the shape of the legs, with knee over ankle and hip over knee. Posteriorly tip the pelvis (tip it back), lengthening the tail bone. This will isolate a stretch in the iliopsoas, the primary hip flexor. Other than the most flexible of people, I think pretty much everyone will have at least some stretch here but if it feels really intense and difficult, you know you need to work on lengthening the hip flexors!
Lack of flexibility here means you’ll end up placing the foot too far in front of the body when running, losing efficiency, as this adds force and impact, increasing the risk of injury but also really losing the stability of the core, which is vital for great natural running.
As we move forward with our energy, we need to send the hip and heels back behind to drive us forward and for optimal alignment.
What to do? Great for any runner – remember, don’t wait until you have a complaint to take action! All of these steps are more thoroughly explained in the most recent video in the Run Better with Yoga Facebook community.
Morning or pre-run:
- Daily morning Sun Salutes Watch on YouTube, or buy my Yoga for Runners Collection
- Pre-run drill: Lift heels behind you on the spot, gradually getting faster. Take this into your running! Lift the heels up, not the knees!
As part of a longer session, possibly on a non-run day:
- Use MFR ball on Rectus Femorus, TFL and Vastus Lateralis
- Lie over a block under the sacrum, draw one knee toward chest
What’s your experience? If you suffer with tight hip flexors let me know in the comments below what you’ve tried and how you get on with these tips.
Learn how to run better with yoga on a Yoga Flow Running course next year: 1 Day courses are 26th January and 6th April; a 6 night retreat in Portugal 21-27 April and the full weekend is 7-10 June.
Yoga Flow Running is natural, efficient running technique, applying key principles of yoga to enhance strength, flexibility, mobility, breathing, focus and awareness.
This is a 1 day, condensed version of the full 3 day residential retreat! A great opportunity to find out more about yoga for runners – in terms of how it speeds up recovery and prevents injury – but also how it can enhance your running technique and efficiency, especially if you can’t attend the full retreat.
Held in Perranporth, Cornwall, Saturday 26th January.
Investment is £125 per person and limited to a small, intimate group maximum of just 6!
The day includes:
8.00-9.30am Strength, conditioning and warm up yoga
10.30-12.00pm Yoga Flow Running workshop [How to use yoga to improve your running]
12-1.30 coastal run (suitable for almost everyone – easy pace with breaks en route to recap)
2.30-3.30 gait analysis feedback and tea/ coffee
3.30-5pm relax and recovery yoga
To reserve your place, place pay here and complete the Booking Form, just below.
“The one day yoga running workshop was a brilliant injection of knowledge and technique into my sporadic and rather lack lustre running of late.
The whole day was a wonderful, positive experience. Yoga routines to strengthen and stretch the key muscles to running (not always the most obvious), then the wonderful technique sessions on the beach. The natural running technique after yoga was enlightening, and the coastal run was an absolute delight when we let our minds go and relax into a more natural running style. The final stretch on the sand barefoot reminded us that we live in a very special place and that we should definitely get out running more! Whatever your level you will get a lot from this, Helen knows her stuff inside out and practises what she preaches.” Alison
Payment Terms & Conditions: Full payment of £125 is required to confirm your place. If we cancel the event all payments are refunded, excluding any additional costs you have incurred. In the event of your cancellation: 30 days or more prior to the course: Your entire payment will be refunded, less £25 admin fee. 29-14 days prior to the course: Payments are not refundable, but are transferable (less £25 fee) to a future course. 7 days or less prior to the course: Payments are not refundable (exceptions are made in cases of emergency or with a doctors note).
Have you got an advanced yoga practice? What makes a yoga practice advanced anyway?!
Is it only the ability to do advanced asana, that makes an advanced practice?
This was a discussion that I had with some other yoga teachers over the summer in Bali. We were trying to define what is it to be an advanced yogi…Years practising, time spent practising each day, advanced series or asana, meditation, focus? Or all of them?!
The conclusion that we came to quite easily was: integration. The ability to integrate yoga naturally into life and a practice that integrates mind and body. This means practising in a calm, focussed, mindful way – present with what you’re experiencing, without your mind elsewhere or without over-straining to please your ego.
For example, the ability to challenge yourself without straining, whilst remaining calm and focussed – being aware of possibilities and limitations. Yet also being accepting of your current state of mind and body, without losing focus and concentration. (At one end, don’t hurt yourself by trying to hard in a pose and don’t stay in a pose for the sake of your ego, yet don’t relax too much you fall asleep or avoid ever challenging body and mind.)
So, this focus, acceptance and awareness does come with time and experience – but also means that you don’t need to be practising super challenging postures to be advancing in your yoga journey. It has more to do with the state of mind you are in, whilst practising.
Interestingly… there is no real physical benefit to doing more advanced poses. A simple backbend has the same benefit as a deep back bend on the spine, and with less risk. There may be extra mental concentration and benefit to the nervous system in a deeper posture, but on a purely physical level we can gain as much from something much simpler.
4 Ways to Advance your Yoga Practice, without ‘advanced’ asana
- Pay attention – to your body and your head. Try to notice when you’re thinking about breakfast/ dinner, work, what to wear later etc. etc. We all have these thoughts from time to time! But learn to notice and let go, come back to what you’re doing, your feelings and your breathing, and it becomes the norm.
- Pay attention – to yourself, over others! In group classes it’s so easy to look around and compare but really what someone else is doing is irrelevant to you. Give your body and mind the individual unique attention it deserves.
- Observe your physicality and mentality, at that moment. Just because you have done a particular pose or sequence before, doesn’t necessarily mean you can, or should, do it today. Respect the fluctuations of the body and challenge it when appropriate, back off when required.
- With all that practise observing your own body, thoughts and breath in yoga, you’ll find a greater awareness of them out of yoga. Embrace the ability to stay calmer, to stand taller and to think clearer. To be less judgemental of yourself and others, to have less mental chatter, fuller breath and more inner joy.