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Jill Miller on The New Science of Self-Care: The Role of Myofascial Massage in Healing
This is the first of a series of interviews from the 2015 Fascia Research Congress in Washington DC. YogaUOnline talks with Yoga Tune Up® Founder Jill Miller, author of The Roll Model, about the implications of new findings in fascia research for our understanding of self-care and healing.
Q. Jill, you are an incredibly busy girl. You conduct workshops and teacher trainings in the Yoga Tune Up® program all over the country and internationally, and you also, I believe, teach sports teams now using the Yoga Tune Up® method?
Jill Miller: Yes.
Q. We’re here at the 2015 Fascia Research Congress, which is definitely very interesting, but also very nerdy. So, I’m curious what inspired you to take time out of your busy schedule and travel across the country to come here?
Jill Miller: Yeah. It almost hurts your brain, doesn’t it? Well, jokes aside, I came to the Fascia Research Congress this time, because I went to Vancouver for the last Congress in 2012, and presented a poster presentation on a case study of a student of mine, who had a phenomenal change in his entire body and mind from using self-care fascial massage with the Yoga Tune Up® methods.
He was on a hundred micrograms of Fentanyl, which is one of the most intense prescribed narcotics that you can take. And ultimately, over the course of a year and a half, he decided that he wanted to go off the Fentanyl, and he got completely off of that medication using the Yoga Tune Up® method. And that wasn’t the only drug that he was able to get off of using the approach. He has a chronic per-neuropathy called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or hereditary sensory-motor neuropathy.
And the number of changes in his body, mind, and life with the methods were so astonishing that I put up a proposal, sent it to the Fascia Research Congress. I mean like, “Oh, I'm just gonna send in this case study” to see what happens. But they accepted the proposal, so I presented a poster, and met so many amazing people.
This is not a yoga conference, for sure. We’re sitting around, listening to a lot of lectures. But the science that the researchers and clinicians are presenting is directly applicable to those of us in movement education and in the yoga therapy field. And of course, a central focus of my work is the use self-massage balls. We use these pliable, grippy balls called Yoga Tune Up® balls or Roll Model balls in a variety of different sizes.
So, I want to learn more about what’s behind the effectiveness of these self-massage tools. So that’s one of reasons why I continue to follow the fascia researchers and come to the Congress, so that I can help to validate and substantiate the work that I'm teaching in the classroom, because we’re getting results all the time. I want to know why.
Q. Yes. And of course, whenever we’re talking about massage, whether it’s manual or using self-care tools like your Yoga Tune Up® balls, we’re used to think about it in terms of myofascial release. It seems simple enough, you roll the ball or you massage the shoulder. But some pretty profound things happen in the body as a result of that process. Do you understand that better now, having learned more about the fascial dynamics?
Jill Miller: If I get three takeaways… If I get three pieces of data over the course of three days, then I'm happy. There is a lot of both new and old information. And there’s, let’s be honest, a lot of really confusing and conflicting information.
So, what can we definitively say right now? Well, researchers have learned a lot about how a stretch transfer medium like a massage tool can influence not only your myofascia, that is, the fascial tissue wrapped around the muscles, but also your neuro-myofascia. So, we know that touch stimulates all the soft tissues. But, you’re also touching your brain when you’re touching. So massage tools are also touching your nerve endings and influencing the up-regulation or down-regulation of the cells, i.e. your ability to map yourself, your pain sensing.
So to me, the real interest is through the integrated understanding of what the therapy ball is doing. It’s not just touching your soft tissues and your fascia. It’s not about just trying to get in a muscle. It’s touching all integrated aspects of your being.
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Q. As one begins to understand fascia in relation to the musculoskeletal system, it also gives us new insights into the art of self-care. When we think about taking care of ourselves and keeping the muscles healthy to stay fit, we think in terms of staying strong, staying flexible, with possibly a little bit of balance work.
Jill Miller: Yes.
Q. But when you start moving into the world of the fascia, there are new concepts that become important. One fascinating finding is that it’s also critical to retain the ability to glide or slide, because the muscles in the new model of the body are not isolated structures, but rather contained within fascial pockets. So the ability to slide and glide is essential for fascial health, for musculoskeletal health. And it is increasingly recognized that a key factor that hinders this process are adhesions. Could you talk about the role of adhesions and how that relates to self-massage and healing?
Jill Miller: Yes, adhesions basically are overgrowth, or inappropriate amount of repair tissue. One of the properties of fascia is that it’s your repair system. The most common cells in the fascial matrix are fibroblasts, which synthesize the extracellular matrix and play a critical role in wound healing
When there’s an injury to bodily tissues, fibroblasts will migrate to that area and they’ll produce a lot of disorganized collagen in order to stabilize that tissue. It’s basically like an internal scab. It’s also a bridge for new blood vessels and nerve endings, so that blood vessels and nerve information can get into and across to the site of injury. But the problem is that once the healing has occurred, that extra collection of disorganized collagen or scar tissue often remains. So once enough healing takes place, you want to be able to remobilize the area in order to regain your appropriate amount of slide and glide.
Of course, then the question is, “What’s the appropriate amount of slide and glide? How much give should certain tissues have in relation to one another?” Certain areas of your body are naturally more restricted. They’re just naturally more restricted. There are other areas that are looser and fluffier and have more range of motion, internally.
So, I think studies of your body within movement, studies of your body with different types of load, be it body weight like yoga training or load using elastics or load using metal and load with massage tool application or hands-on application will give you more and more feedback about what is a healthy internal range of motion. I'm not even talking about joint range of motion. I'm talking about your tissue’s normal range of motion per area of your body. I'm still learning about this, it’s a very interesting area of study.