What was your introduction to working with the body? How did this change and develop over time?
I started dancing at 4, so I was admiring bodies and studying them from a very young age. I have always been fascinated with the body, I think we are walking miracles. By 15, I was taking Pilates and yoga to support my dancing, and it opened another layer of integrated awareness. I went deep into my yoga practice, got certified and began teaching in my young 20’s. I loved it and still loved it but overtime I recognized that, on my mat, I wasn’t truly listening to my body as I pretzeled myself into crazy shapes and arm balances. I was stressing my body both dancing in ballet companies and in my yoga practice, the exact practice that I had thought would save me and sustain me through my dance career. That’s when I was introduced to integrative stretching and it opened up a whole new world, a way to heal myself, and beyond that, to feel incredible. I didn’t know that I was allowed to feel that good or that is was even possible.
Can you explain your theory (or rather the theory you teach) on stretching?
You know how the places where we feel tight, like where a knot is? Where the tissue feels tough, hardened, even dry or like a dead zone? Well, the kind of stretching we do helps make that tissue elastic, springy, and hydrated again. To revitalize the tissue, we stretch like animals stretch...picture a cat or a dog pawing the ground as they lean back or how you naturally yawn in the morning...animals contract as they stretch...it’s an engaged elongation also called pandiculation also called eccentric contraction. So we take that concept of engaged elongation and apply it in an organized fashion to every major muscle group of the body.
In an integrative stretch session with me, I have you engage a muscle group (imagine your bicep contracted) and you continue to resist me as I elongate your tissue (I pull your forearm out long while you resist). The resistance and movement together create an internal exfoliation that breaks up hardened old, dry connective tissue, fibers and scar tissue releasing any toxins that the tissue is holding.
With this technique, the myofascial tissue changes from the inside, instead of trying to soften it with an external force (traditional technique of myofascial release and deep tissue massage) which can be painful. I really enjoyed getting deep tissue more once I received integrative stretching, because this technique changes the tissue en masse. It’s a complete overhaul of your fascia, starting with the structural connective tissue, deep to the bones, before working on the superficial fascia. I go to myofascial release for cranial sacral and intricate work.
What is the difference between the way you teach stretching and conventional stretching? What makes your technique different?
Ok here’s the deal my loves, I am about to be raw, disclosure alert...our movement, stretching heritage and what we have been taught our whole lives in regards to stretching is “relax when you stretch” and “farther is better.” You guessed it, it’s not. We need to delineate hyper-mobility from truly flexible. Truly flexible means your tissue is pliable/elastic/ hydrated and ready to pounce. So many studies show us that overstretching tears our tissue, the next day the body has repaired itself over night by laying down scar tissue fibers and then you feel tight again. Oy! Beyond that, wherever you are super mobile, the body will try to find balance by creating restrictions (scar tissue) nearby to stabilize: that’s the nagging neck pain, or achy hip. Once tissues around the joints are overstretched, they act more like an overused rubber band.
The kind of stretching we do stays out of the joints (where we generally become hyper mobile), we work with shorter ranges of motion and we work with active effort and resistance. We get into the belly of the tissue (think the depths of your hamstring, quads, or traps—imagine them strong and elastic, springy) and we don’t hang out in the end range of motion where micro tearing usually occurs.
If you are not hyper-mobile and instead feel tight or even super tight, this work applies to you in the same way: resistance and elongation will make your tissue elastic. Everyone will gain range that is functional, sustainable and makes you feel comfortable in your body by harmonizing imbalances.
How do you explain fascia to someone who has never heard the term before?
The most simple definition is that fascia is the connective tissue that connects all other tissues. Boom. Fascia is the webbing of the body. We have been taught muscles and bones hold us up; actually, if it wasn’t for the fascia’s suspension and tension web all of our parts would slosh to the floor.
It wraps around and morphs into our organs, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, etc. Fascia is a huge deal! The fascia is continuous and ubiquitous, as Joanne Avison says. It was discarded by classical anatomists for centuries as if it was packing material. Finally, western science is realizing that the connective tissue is a major player in the body. Clinicians, acupuncturists and body workers have known for a long time that impacting the fascia can impact our health in a major way because it is the great connector. It is the one tissue that touches every other bit and piece of us (and it acts as a compartmentalizer, separating the lungs from the digestives zone for instance). When I started doing integrative stretching my immune system and digestive health went way up.
The fascia forms an interweaving silk like web morphing from sheets of fascia to spindly fibers. If we were to extract everything in the body and just leave the fascia, a very detailed webby ghost like replica of you would remain. It transfers fluids, blood and electricity. It even generates its own electricity. We can think of the web of fascia as a transportation and communication network, the conductor of electricity in Chinese Medicine, the Qi.
How does yoga and TCM play into your teaching?
We use the Chinese Medicine road map of the body to guide us along the fascial chains.
Many folks, including Dr. Dan Keown PhD., LAC, postulate that it could be the fascial plains that form the channels in which the Qi flows, also known as meridians. In other words, as we stretch we are cleaning up the fascial pathways so the Qi flow is more efficient, like taking the kinks out of the garden hose.
From a clinical stand point, I find this to be true. Often if someone has scar tissue where the Small Intestine Channel runs (along the back of the shoulder), they most often are having gut issues as well. If they get UTIs or have to urinate a bunch, the Bladder Channel is usually super tight. If they are a mega worrier (me!), they usually have tough tissue along their Spleen Channel. So we use the Meridian road map to give us clues, like we are on a treasure hunt for healing.
An integrative stretch session, in some ways is the macrocosm if an acupuncture treatment is the microcosm. Receiving acupuncture works on the fascia as well but on a smaller more acute scale to refine the Qi. After working with integrative stretching, my acupuncture sessions became more potent. Because my fascial channels that form the meridians became unblocked and the Qi could flow.
What can people do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to benefit their bodies?
Start with sleep, good water and enjoying yourself. Go mega on the veggies, mostly cooked with a steady amount of raw. Then add movement, get the fascia moving, warm it up to melt it down and get your energy flowing.
Learn one integrative self stretch, the hamstrings preferably! They have a direct impact on how the Spine sets up.
Learn two acupressure points that are specific to your needs...like if you get headaches try GB 20 at the base of your skull, press everyday for one minute, do it anywhere (on the subway, at the office, home, etc.) To learn more about acupressure go to our blogs on Ghostflower.com or follow us on IG @ghostfloweractive.
If people want to learn more about the work you do where can they go to read, experience and learn more?
If you are in NYC, come take my class at Sky Ting! Best to feel this stuff, it’s confusing to resist and elongate at first! I will help you! And book an integrative stretch session or mashing session with me at CAP!
Another good starting point is my blog post on fascia on the Ghost Flower website (my activewear brand that teaches you where the meridians and acupoints are on the body). Look up Bob Cooley, he taught me, he is an genius when it comes to changing the fascia and so much more.
Spark in the Machine by Dr. Dan Keown
Yoga Fascia Anatomy by Joanne Avison
The Endless Web by Schultz + Feitis
Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers
What are your favorite products from CAP?