Interview With Cecilia Douglas – Why is Fascia so Crucial to Our Health?

In a way, they stole the body away from us; we should have this education in school

Lena: You’ve had a long and fruitful career in the world of health and wellness, starting with different massage therapy techniques before transitioning your career into teaching movement; when did you develop a passion for movement? 

Cecilia: I always had a passion for movement. As a child, I could never sit still; I was always running around and climbing trees. I did a lot of track and field, running around in the forest and I have been working professionally with horses. I started as a massage therapist and took my first course in 1982. I was injured a lot in my childhood. I was a very fast runner but I had to stop running when I was around 13 or 14 because I had bilateral achilles tendonitis; I got 10 cortisone injections in each Achilles tendon. I also started to get a lot of pain in my lower back.  All of that led me to massage. That was more to learn about my own body because I never really got any help from chiropractors or doctors, my pain kept coming back. I was not planning to be a massage therapist full time but one thing led to another. I Started with Pilates in 2004. I needed more tools for clients, I noticed that people were sitting too much, they needed more help to move, to get active again and find their core muscles. 

So massage therapy was then not a long-term solution for your clients?

No, I could help them to get rid of their tensions, pains but for them, they needed to take more self-responsibility.

You are a fully certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a trained and experienced Garuda instructor and in the last few years, you have dedicated yourself to becoming a Slings Myofascial Practitioner and Teacher Trainer for the Art of Motion Academy based on the work of Tom Myers. What led you to choose this particular path in the world of movement?

Pilates had a great effect on my body; I finally got help with my mobile body. I started to get stability in my pelvis. Pilates gave me stability but it made me kind of rigid at the same time and then in 2012, I started with Garuda and I found more movement joy in it. It was also more in line with my idea of Fascia Movement. I have been working manually with fascia since 1994 when I took my first course in connective tissue massage. There wasn’t much literature on fascia, it was more of mouth to mouth and we were like nerds talking about it in the basement. I began to work with a Swedish ‘’Naprapat’’ who had been in contact with Rolfing in the US and then I started assisting him in his Revolving courses – which  is a myofascial technique that he developed and was inspired by the work of Ida Rolf. So that is where my interest and knowledge in fascia started.

So how did you come into contact with the Art of Motion’s Academy Slings Myofascial training course?

First through Garuda; it’s a technique that has a fascial movement quality. I love Garuda and it’s an amazing technique but it didn’t give me all the answers I was looking for. I wanted to know more. In 2016, I read about the course Anatomy Trains in motion that was going to be held at Anatomy Trains Summer School in Maine . I read Tom Myers book, Anatomy Trains when the first edition came out in 1999. Tom Myers was also in Sweden in 2011 to give a manual workshop. That was the first time I met him. His work for manual therapists has always been a big inspiration for me. The Anatomy Trains Summer School program in Maine and Anatomy Trains in Motion, was the first course being given outside of Switzerland – and I just had to go there to learn the movements based on Tom Myers myofascial slings. So that is how I found Anatomy Trains in Motion. 

Who is Karin Gurtner?

She is from Switzerland originally and had her own Pilates Education program.  Then she started to read Tom Myers books. She realized that there is more than muscles and wanted to understand more about the fascial system, so she took the whole Manual Therapy Anatomy Trains education: Structual Integration. Not to be a manual practitioner but more to understand why and how; what is really happening in the body. How can we move with these myofascial lines? After the education, she went back home; she developed the Slings Myofascial Training and the first course of that training was Anatomy Trains in Motion .  She is amazing, how she really goes outside the box and can build something and create. She presented the material to Tom based on his myofascial lines and he said ”wow yes”. That’s how the Anatomy Trains in Motion started. He gets contacted from people often saying they have the perfect myofascial movement technique. It took some time but eventually,  he took her under his wings and she was allowed to use the name Anatomy Trains in Motion.

That is very impressive and inspiring.

For someone that may find the term myofascial a little abstract, could you give us some examples of movements or techniques used to stimulate fascia?

Don’t get me wrong, all movements are a collaboration of fascia and muscles. Pilates is training the Fascia also. In training though it is possible to adress one system more than the other. Let’s say you train more traditional weight lifting, you focus then more on the muscle fibres; when you are running it is more the cardiovascular system. Karin Gurtner has defined 12 different movement qualities of the fascia; muscle collaboration is one of them like when the muscle and the fascia are working in collaboration. Tensile strength is another quality when you lengthen in opposition. That is a way to strengthen the fascia.

Plasticity is another fascia quality. In Yin Yoga for example, they work more with the plastic quality, when you lengthen the fascia. There is also elasticity, buoyancy; there are many different ways of working the fascia. What is unique in Karen’s work is that she combines these 12 qualities in her movement sequences.

Can you explain in your words, what is fascia and why it is important for everyone, whether they are weight lifters, dancers, or the everyday person to know about it? 

Wow what a big question! Fascia is the biodynamic tissue that connects every muscle, bone, organ, and nerve in the body; it connects everything and separates everything in the body at same time. It is a communication and sensory system. Some fascia is very solid like tendons, ligaments, endomysium, epimysium, perimysium and aponeurosis. But the fascia is also a part of the extracellular matrix, what is between all the muscles and allows the sliding, gliding and communicating in between structures of the body. The periosteum (the tissue enveloping the bones) is also fascia. 

Fascia needs to be moved, stressed; you need to elongate it for example with pendular movement like cats do. When you sit too much or just don’t move your body in different directions, it can retract and create adhesions. That’s the normal  physiological response. Like every morning when we wake up, or we have been sitting for a long time we are a little bit stiff.   When we move our bodies in different directions like in yoga, we also stimulate the fascia ”cytes” which is a cell devoted to fascial gliding, between the different layers in our bodies. There is a research from Carla Stecco in Italy; a big fascia researcher who has seen that when we move, when we stretch, we stimulate the fascia cytes to create more Hyaluron. That is basically our lotion, our glide in the body and in the joints.   It’s the same when you put coconut oil in the fridge, it gets rigid, but when you stir it, when you warm it, there is a change in the viscosity.

This is important, because stiffness can come from lack of movement, trauma, and a common problem today: sitting too much. Lack of movement will decrease communication in the body; it stiffens up and creates adhesions. The fascia glues together. It’s like if you wash your favourite angora jumper too hot; it gets too small and tight and it shrinks. It is the same with collagen (one of the components in fascia). It has been shown that if you don’t stretch it and stress it, it sticks together. 

Does this ‘’gluing’’ together of the fascia automatically create pain?

It can create pain. It is one of the reasons we feel pain. But since it’s a whole body system, I can have for example pain in my shoulder but it may be coming from some rigidity in my ankle. Old scars are a kind of adhesion; after an operation or injury; the scar tissue is also a kind of fascia. And if I have a scar somewhere, there will be a pull and that will create an imbalance.  That is why it is necessary to keep the fascia system elastic and open. Having tightness in the fascia system is like wearing a too small bodysuit.

What kind of positive changes have you seen in yourself or your clients when you started to use the Slings Myofascial training method?

First of all, I don’t have pain in my body anymore as long as I keep doing my Slings training to keep my myofascial system stimulated. When I went to Maine in 2016, I had bilateral plantar fasciitis and I had pain in my lower back. Pains that had come and gone in my body since I was twelve years old. After I started to understand the myofascial lines and how to move with them and keep them open and connected, the less pain I would feel.  It has given me an axis to keep the body open. All of us have different movement patterns, parts that will contract easier; Slings Myofascial training helps my body and I can help other people’s bodies to stay away from dysfunctional patterns. We are tensegrity models. Most people work from traditional anatomy, with the levers system. When you learn the fascia anatomy, you start to have to rethink the whole anatomy. We realize that the bones are floating in this myofascial continual web. That is what I have felt in my own body; understanding how you can move with the myofascial slings. I have also seen it in clients; it’s opened up my eyes even more. For whatever reason they come to me whether it is back pain or other issues, It has given me tools to open up the whole body.

Personally, Slings have also helped me open a lot of up frozen traumas in my body.  The Slings Myofascial training has allowed me to embody, to get in contact with my body and open up these stored traumas on a deep level. The more in contact we are with our bodies the more open, resilient, the more and the brain and body communicate and become one.

It isn’t just trauma, stress also gets stored in the body, that is why it’s so important to move. All the sitting and then stress on top of that that people are experiencing…When animals are stressed they shake; like a gazelle or a rabbit after being chased. When the predator is gone and they feel safe again, they jump or shake and then start to eat again as if nothing.  Unfortunately, we can store traumas and stress, we move less and less and become more and more rigid and stiff.  This tension we build up in our bodies also compresses our organs and nerves; around each nerve you have three layers of fascia and around each organ you have fascia. The cell communication gets less effective. We need this body to be body and adaptable.

So do you believe that anyone can benefit from incorporating the principles of Myofascial training into their regular training?

Definitely. They can incorporate into their regular training. Everyone needs mobility and strength training. Often what you see in the Yoga studios are these very mobile people who can do all these amazing movements and often at the gym you see these rigid people. Well I am exaggerating, but more often than not it is true. It’s about finding the balance. Usually what you are getting drawn to is what you are good at. All of us have our constitution. Tom Myers calls it Vikings or Temple Dancers. Some are more rigid in their constitution and some are more mobile. We have to figure out what kind of body did I get in this life, what does my body need? I cannot compare myself to you or my neighbor because I am exceptional in my constitution, in my history. With the Slings Myofascial Training you start to discover more things about your body and yourself. That is why I like so much this expression: body and mind training.

There has been a big increase in interest in Fascia in the health and fitness world. Do you believe it may be the missing link?  

Definitely.  To understand historically, you can go all the way back to Vesalius, the father of anatomy in the 16th century when he began to dissect dead bodies. In those days, the bodies belonged to the church, so it was forbidden. When they started to dissect and to draw anatomy, they took away the fascia, they scraped away all the connective tissue.  Still today in anatomy books, you don’t see any fascia. You only see the tendons and ligaments, all the rest doesn’t exist. When I first learned about fascia, in massage training reading traditional anatomy I learned that it was more or less just a packing material for the muscles. Anatomy will have to be rewritten in the future. We need to incorporate the fascia, you cannot deny its importance. It is there for a reason, it’s a communicative, sensory system, it is a movement system in the body. 

In the old days, we have always separated things in the body; looking at each part and that is very important to look at each part but we also have to look at the system from a whole. Everything is depending on everything in a way; all parts are communicating. Which explains why pain in the shoulder could come from a knee.  To understand the whole body we need to look at the fascia system. Now it’s hype; everyone is talking about fascia.  But we can go back to A.T. Still, the Father of Osteopathic Medicine; he spoke about fascia. He wrote about it and understood it was there.  Also Ida Rolf who is the Mother of Rolfing. She also spoke about fascia. Even Chinese Medicine; how they look at the body in a different way. What is interesting is the TCM acupuncture meridians; 80 percent collaborate with the Myofascial Slings meridians. Tom used the term meridians because he was a sailor and he was thinking of the meridians connecting the earth. In Reflexology, they connect the foot to the brain and the body. Professor Helen Langevin, who is known for studying the effects of acupuncture, could see that when they put the needles in fascia.  She compared it to putting the fork in the spaghetti and when you twist the fork, you get the connection. In Chinese Acupuncture, you have stagnation in the energy, so they open up energy pathways with the needles in the fascia and when you twist the needles, you open up these stagnations. 

You continue to motivate, inspire and educate your clients, family and clients with such generosity and passion. What is the message you would like to convey to them?

Keep moving; motion is lotion! What you don’t use, you lose.

We only have one body and that is what we are going to carry around for so many years until we die. I want to keep educating people so that they can understand the body so everyone becomes the expert of their own body. In a way, they stole the body away from us; we should have this education in school.  If we had learned more in this way and to understand our bodies earlier in school, we would be in a much healthier state. The more you understand your body, the more you understand how it functions, how to eat, get quality sleep, good movement the better we would feel. I wish that everyone would have the accessibility to that knowledge.

Yes that is so well said, and I also wish that more people will have access to and awaken to the knowledge that is available to them. It saddens me that people are dependent on a system that focuses on disease management and not health. 

I am over 60 and I have never felt as much movement freedom in my body as I do now. I’ve always been training and moving, I’ve done martial arts, riding, weight lifting  yoga, but understanding the myofascial slings and Karin’s work really gave me back my movement freedom. I will always keep on learning and still have a lot to learn – we are born to die ‘’unfinished’’.

There is nothing more freeing and precious than having that freedom.

Yes and I feel sorry for those who haven’t experienced movement freedom and joy in their body. Also those don’t have that experience and accessibility. You don’t know what you don’t know. You need references to understand.

It’s often when people are in pain that they start to look for answers.

Yes but you have to look at how many years has taken to get this pain. Most pains have built up for years. People often come to me and say that they got a slipped disc from lifting their arm but it’s really from years and years of immobility, adhesions, imbalances and overload.

I really appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge. Your story and path in the world of health and movement is unique and inspiring. Thank you!

Thank you for asking me for an interview!