Tension. The very essence of our inner fibers, limbs, hearts and minds. It is the force that can simultaneously hold us together while pulling us apart, physically and metaphorically. Like a glue that's tacky and stretched, tension exists in a way that is both necessary and reluctantly uncomfortable.
Tension. We need it, yet we hate it. It is, in so many ways, the epitome of both being and feeling 'stuck'.
Sometimes you can see it, the tension. The strain on an athlete's face when she presses up from a 185 pound back squat. The shred of muscle fibers in an attackman's legs as he sprints, full force, towards the goal. This is where tension shines. It is in its glory in these moments of pride and hard fought effort. It is crowned for all it does to assist performance.
But what about the tension we don't see, can't see. This is the hidden work of fascia- the connective tissue that coats our every muscle and organ. It serves to provide stability, protection, connection. It works dutifully to keep things going, to allow us to move, to run, to literally and figuratively keep it all together. Without the protective web of fascia our organs would move and shift out of their designated place, thus rendering us a pile of disjointed and ineffective human rubble.
There is a tipping point though, where the tension moves from necessary to debilitating. It is always a delicate balancing act. After an injury, or chronic overuse, fascia moves in and takes up space. It weaves itself tighter and tighter, tugging and pulling your joints in closer and closer. It's doing its job. It is protecting you. Even if that means it tangles itself in such a way that you can no longer move, rendering your body useless. It is doing so in an effort to provide you with a shield, an armor. After all, if you cannot move, then you cannot make things worse. In the eyes of fascia, it is best to keep you still, even if in turn you lose the joy and health of movement. To fascia, this is still more safe than allowing you to go about your life risking further damage. It believes it knows what's best for you.
Fascia is wise, yes. But it is short sighted. It is limiting and relentless, stubborn and ornery. As we often say, it cannot get out of its own way. As athletes we understand this premise. We know, all too well, what it is to push and grind even when depleted or injured, because we believe it to be necessary. Fascia is one of us.
But its tension, the deeply rooted and embedded sort, has a time and a place to be on high alert. Just like the tension in our minds and hearts, the longer it lasts, the stronger it gets, and the more arduous the de-tangling process becomes. Though we want, and need it to release its never-ending grip, it doesn't want to; it's scared, it's worried. It wants to protect us from the pain that's been felt, the damage that's been done, and the threat of what further danger may be lurking.
But just as in the rest of life, we have to teach it to let go. We have to show it that the body is stable, safe, and capable without its misinterpreted need to be an overbearing daily feature. Never easy, but worth it. This is how all healing works.
When I sat for a cupping session last week I had severe and debilitating pain in my left serratus, tricep and bicep muscles following a particularly demanding strength session the day prior. When the cups were dragged across my skin, pain ensuing, parts of strained tissues lit up like a Christmas tree. A sign that fascia had already moved in and surrounded the area with copious amounts of caution tape.
Knowing the pain of treatment was worth it, I made my way through the list of tips and tricks for managing the grind. The pain reaching a 'level nine' at times: I breathed, counted to ten, did math problems in my head, and visualized the progress the treatment was making. And after several sweat invoked minutes, it was over. Range of motion had returned, the pinpoint, stabbing pain had subsided dramatically, and I felt like a badass who had earned her badge of honor when I saw the petechiae (the red and purple marks left from broken capillaries) marks all over.
I had reclaimed my serratus, tricep and bicep from the grips of fascia and it felt amazing. Why not treat more?, I thought. Though I did not have any additional pain, I figured it wouldn't hurt to also cup my right side as well. So we did. And I was humbled.
I may not have felt pain, but all along fascia had been hard at work. As it always is, it had clearly once again been protecting me from its vision of harm's way. The evidence perfectly clear. The petechiae on my right, painless, side (seen above in this photo), was easily double the amount as the left. And I didn't even know there was tension.
These are the body, and life, lessons learned from fascia's wisdom: Just because we don't see it, or feel it, doesn't mean that tension isn't present; that something doesn't need tending to; or that we can carelessly and blindly go about our lives pretending that ignorance is bliss. It's important to check in, to notice, to care. You never know the burden being bared. So be kind. To your body, to your mind, and to others.