Updated: Aug 18, 2020
An Introduction to Fascial Unwinding
Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves, binding those structures together. The fascia extends from the top of head to the tip of the toes. Fascia can be seen as the organ linking all internal structures within the human frame while separating its functioning units. It is responsible for the shape of our body, organising into posture patterns.
“Fascia is the organ of posture.”1It takes time and work to change patterns within it, while at the same time it is constantly changing and adapting in response to demands placed on the individual’s body and emotions2.
A Psychophysical System
The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, the real joy in the sun or the snow... real anger, real sorrow, real tenderness, real warmth, real passion, real hate, real grief. All the emotions belong to the body and are only recognized by the mind.3
The fascia is like a library that stores the memory of our life events, both physically and psychologically. "In the formation of a life impression, the membranes are the clay upon which the information is etched."4In a case of trauma, this collagen-based soft-tissue gets stuck in patterns of stress, and bad use.
Psycho-Physical pioneers of the last century, like FM Alexander, Wilhelm Reich and Ida Rolf, pointed out that body and mind are a combined unit and affect each other.
Alexander wrote: “the term psycho-physical is used.... throughout my works to indicate the impossibility of separating "physical" and "mental" operations in our conception of the working of the human organism”5. Ida Rolf was among the first to address how the body holds unresolved trauma in the tissues and how to restore balance: “Go around the problem; get the system sufficiently resilient so that it is able to change, and it will change, it doesn't have to be forced. It's that forcing that you have to avoid at all costs.”6According to Somatic Psychotherapy, chronic patterns of muscular tension can store negative emotions, thereby perpetuating the influence of those emotions on the individual personality. According to Reich, we tend to hold unresolved emotional trauma in the tissues, thereby locking us into patterns of thinking and behaving7.
When provided with the right conditions, fascia has its own inbuilt corrective mechanism to realign itself, release its traumatic contents and correct bad habits of use8. As you give the body space and attention to release itself from restrictions, from fascia-pulls', it does just that - unwinds, moves spontaneously, finds its restrictions and releases. Fascial Unwinding is a very effective technique to assist this inbuilt mechanism to express itself.
What is Fascial Unwinding?
Fascial Unwinding is a therapy through which physical and emotional blocks, whatever their cause, can be released.
“Fascial unwinding provides a means of discovering and releasing the effects of traumas and tensions, be they recent or long-standing, thereby releasing restrictions which may be the deep-rooted cause of pain....It is a very gentle and non-invasive treatment process which involves responding sensitively to the body’s demands, never forcing or imposing on the body tissues in any way. It is therefore generally painless (even in acutely painful conditions) and brings about a sense of ease, softness and relaxation, as well as the more profound therapeutic release of chronic underlying conditions.”9
In Fascial Unwinding,the client undergoes a spontaneous reaction in response to the therapist’s touch. Fascial unwinding can be used to “release” fascial restriction by encouraging the body or parts of the body to move without habitual restrictions.
The Process of Facial Unwinding
I'v been working with Fascial Unwinding for many years, often in conjunction with the Alexander Technique, sometimes as a system in its own right supported by the presence of direction and inhibition.
Fascial Unwinding requires a sustained active attention from the practitioner.
The person being worked with is invited to relax into an unconscious sensory space. Perhaps to close their eyes, and to rest their attention in a pleasant memory, or a quiet place. The practitioner is required to inhibit any 'doing' habits and to 'listen' and wait until a movement presents itself under their hands, sometimes hardly perceptible, allowing the person touched to open to their movements.
An FU practitioner will often start the practice by touching the person quietly, listening to the contact area, to the quality of the touched system and to any subtle movement that presents itself. Sometimes they will lift the person's arm, or another body part, support its weight, inhibit and wait, listening to the contact point and to any movement that presents itself. When a movement presents itself, the practitioner follows the movement, whether it is very subtle or very expressive. It is important to be open to surprises. These movements are unconscious. The practitioner just provides holding, listening, without any attempt to control the movement expressed, following the movement until it stops at a point of resistance, like a barrier. The arm, leg, or whatever is being held stops moving. The practitioner waits, staying there, witnessing until eventually, the movement starts again, releasing the barrier, sometimes followed by an emotional expression. The movement is then followed to its conclusion where it comes back to rest. As the skill develops, one can transfer the listening to deeper tissues, joints, muscles and organs.
Fascial Unwinding and the Alexander Technique
Unlike the Alexander Technique, Fascial Unwinding is not an educational consciousness-building system. It is a trigger to an unconscious release. In fact, it requires a high level of inhibition and letting go of conscious control by the person being worked with, and by the practitioner, allowing freedom of expression beyond the person’s and practitioner's conscious control.
In FU the mindful process is all about inhibition, relying on the body's unconscious mechanism to know where it needs to go. The practitioner’s ‘means whereby’ in FU are inhibition and listening, supporting and following without any expectations, listening to one’s own presence and poise, to the other person’s system and movement, following that movement and allowing it to unfold.
Why Practise Fascial Unwinding?
I find FU to be a very useful, simple, yet profoundly change-evoking system. It is very compatible with the ‘spirit’ of the AT, with inhibition and ‘non-end-gaining’.
It is a great tool to use when the system is resistant to change, and when it has suffered physical or mental trauma. I find it a good companion to the AT when dealing with depression, chronic fatigue, persistent aches and pains. Alexander Technique is a teaching-therapeutic method; FU is a therapeutic method. One is all about being conscious, the other about opening to unconscious patterns. Both are catalysts for profound change.
Mika Hadar-Borthwick is a a Psycho-Physical therapist and teacher.
Through her work in teaching yoga, Alexander Technique, Cranio-Sacral Therapy and a variety of mind-body and healing systems, she has developed her unique style of teaching.
Mika teaches and works internationally.
1Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing and Physical Reality (Healing Arts Press: Vermont, USA, 1978, 1990)p.124 2See Ida Rolf op cit and Thomas Myers,https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/[accessed 1 December 2015] 3D.H. Lawrence, Sex, Literature and Censorship(London: William Heinemann, 1955) p.232 4D. VanHowten, Ayurveda and Life Impressions Bodywork: Seeking our Healing Memories(Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 1997) 5F.M. Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual(Integral Press: Bexley, Kent, 1955 ) p.2 6Rolf, op cit, p. 83
7W. Reich, The Function of the Orgasm(New York: Touchstone, 1973) pp. 270–271 8M. Kern, Wisdom in the Body: The Craniosacral Approach to Essential Health(Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2001) and MJ Shea, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy(Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2007) 9Thomas Attlee 'Fascial Unwinding',http://www.ccst.co.uk/unwinding.html [accessed 1 December 2015].