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Fascial Manipulation and Connective Tissue Treatment: Why my bodywork style is different

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

When I was a student in massage school, I had an amazing instructor, Layna Cirelli. You might recognize her name from my previous blog post about Structural Integration. One day in class she was demonstrating how to make changes in the position of the pelvis by working on the glute muscles. The student who volunteered to receive the work was face down on the table and Layna began working on their left glute. After a few minutes, she stopped and asked the class to observe any differences in the left side compared to the right. To our amazement, the difference was striking! The students left glute was about two inches flatter than the right one. At that moment I knew that I wanted to become a massage therapist who could make dramatic and lasting changes in a person's body.

“It’s not how deep you go, it’s how you go deep.” - Ida Rolf

Here’s an example that relates to the above quote. I once worked at a highly rated day spa in Sedona. A client booked a standard 90 minute deep tissue massage and I was going to be her therapist. During the session she opened up to me that she was having some health issues and was making a few lifestyle changes, including becoming more active and adjusting her nutritional needs. She also mentioned that she was a concierge at a resort. During her massage, I sensed that she wasn’t very enthusiastic about the deep tissue service that she received from me.

Fast forward a few weeks later, when a couple requested me as their therapist for two deep tissue massages. To my surprise, the couple shared with me that the concierge at the resort they were staying at said that it was an absolute must that they book with me. I treated them both, and they left the spa delighted and feeling great. Soon after, the same concierge that I treated a few weeks prior and who referred the couple, booked another appointment, requesting me as her therapist. When we got into the treatment room, I expressed to her that I was surprised by her referral because I had the feeling that she wasn’t very impressed with her last session.

“At first I wasn’t,” she said. “Then later that night, I couldn’t believe how much different my body felt. Everything was so much more open, and I was moving better than I have in years!”

What’s different about my style of bodywork and common massage? The analogy that I like to use is that it's like sculpting clay. I lift, spread, and separate tissues rather than using direct, compressive force on the muscles specifically. I pull the fascia away from the structures that it attaches to. I also spread the fascia, and go in between the individual muscles and joint capsules to unglue areas that are stuck together. Pace is also a huge component to my style of bodywork. By moving slowly, it gives the nervous system time to adjust to the pressure being received. Another benefit to working more slowly is that it allows me an opportunity to truly listen to the client’s body. I know that the concept of listening to a body sounds pretty ‘woo’, but the body speaks when we have the capacity to listen.

These techniques soften dense fascia, so that the muscles can relax and melt into the space that was just created. Fascial manipulation also facilitates better blood supply and nutrient distribution to the areas treated. Working in this manner to make space in the body can be an unusual feeling for some people because they have become accustomed to deep tissue work where a therapist might grind down on muscular knots and mash the muscles together. In the realm of traditional deep tissue, I sometimes ask, “Why would a therapist continue smashing muscles that are already glued to each other?”

I’m not underestimating the benefits of traditional deep tissue massage because

many people who receive them love how they feel. Instead, I’m inviting the idea that the no pain, no gain approach isn’t necessary to elicit change to a person's body. Fascial manipulation is very deep work; the techniques are simply a different way to bring a client relief. It would be short sighted of me to think that standard massage modalities don’t affect the fascial system in some way, as I’m certain that they do. Fascia is a fascinating and complex network that influences every aspect of the body. If you don’t know much about it, I recommend reading more in my post about fascia. Over the duration of my career, I have performed several modalities to meet my clients needs. None of them however, have had such profound results as manipulating fascia and the other connective tissues of the body.

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