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Season 3, Episode 17: You Need To Know How To Keep Your Fascia Healthy with Richelle Ricard

By Jodi Cohen

Fascia surrounds every single cell in your body – without it they would all be in a little puddle, along with your bones. This connective tissue wraps around and binds our cells together, and is the channel in which all nutrition, hydration, and waste products travel. So, it goes without saying… The condition of your fascia is incredibly important.

In today’s episode of Essential Alchemy, Jodi is joined by teacher and healer, Richelle Ricard to talk about our fascia and what you can do to keep it healthy. Richelle has spent the past 25 years working in sports medicine, therapeutic and clinical massage, energetic bodywork, yoga, meditation, and business. It is her ultimate desire to help others live their best, healthiest, and most fulfilling life in both body and heart!

Tune in to learn more about:

  • [05:11] – Why Fascia is “everything”
  • [09:56] – Three keys to healthy fascia
  • [17:52] – How to unravel and repair your fascia

About Richelle Ricard

Richelle is equal parts teacher and healer, scientist and mystic. In 25 years she has worked in sports medicine, therapeutic and clinical massage, energetic bodywork, yoga, meditation and business. She has taught in massage schools, yoga studios, yoga teacher trainings, and living rooms. Her highest goal is to help others live their best, healthiest and most fulfilling lives in both heart and body. Her clients and students range from professional athletes to CEO’s to stay-at-home parents.

She believes it’s her purpose in this Life to help clients better understand their own posture and movements, and to help yoga teachers learn the anatomical context and vocabulary to better communicate sound alignment principles. Richelle uses myriad tools to assess and access a person’s own potential, and tries never to take herself too seriously.

For more information from Richelle Ricard visit her website: https://yogaengineer.com/

If you’re enjoying the Essential Alchemy podcast, please leave Jodi a review on iTunes.

Jodi: Hi, I’m Jodi Cohen, your host, and I’m so excited to share one of my favorite people, Richelle Ricard, who actually launched me on this health journey. Richelle is equal parts teacher and healer, scientist and mystic. She has worked in sports medicine, therapeutic and clinical massage, energetic bodywork, yoga, meditation, and business. 

She has taught in massage schools, yoga studios – including my yoga studio – yoga teacher trainings, and live rooms. Her highest goal is to help others live their best, healthiest, and most fulfilling lives in both body and heart. Her clients and students range from professional athletes. Several of them to CEOs and stay-at-home parents. She believes it’s her purpose in this life to help clients better understand their own posture and movements, and help yoga teachers learn the anatomical context and vocabulary and teach them some new vocabulary words to better communicate sound alignment principles. Richelle uses a myriad of tools to assess a person’s own potential and tries never to take herself too seriously.

Richelle: Thank you, Jodi. Such an honor and a privilege to be here and thinking about you saying I helped get you on this health journey is like, makes me pause a little bit considering like, you know, how far back we go and where you are now and everything that you’ve accomplished in this time. It’s so like, gives me a little bit of goosebumps to think about like how long I’ve known you.

Jodi: It’s an amazing story. It was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and this new yoga studio opened. So friends of mine were like, let’s go. And I was like, okay. And it was so hard. I loved it. And I was doing it a lot.

And then my knee was an issue. And so of course I went to my western doctor and got an MRI and when I went back I told the yoga instructor and she was like, no, just go to Richelle. I didn’t know what body work was. You were like, it’s your fascia. And within like less than an hour, I was better. No MRI, no surgery.

Richelle: It’s no magic bullet, and I know there is no one thing that does it all perfectly right in terms of the health, wellness and healing of our body, but from a body work and movement perspective, right? As a yoga teacher as well, like the idea that all injury requires a very invasive set of tools in order to fix it and gaining the perspective over the many, many years that I’ve been either in chronic pain or having my own injuries. 

Life is hard, right? Just how the mainstream medical models don’t really contemplate healing. Even as a person who have received a hip replacement a couple years ago, and I’m so grateful for that. We didn’t talk about that yet for that intervention. But also was just kind of laughing at how the doctors who do this daily had very little concept about the connective tissue components across my body that I’m like, okay, well now because I’m compensating for this and because I have been compensating for that. 

And this is now sticky and scar tissue, and they’re just kind of like, Mm-hmm. They don’t know what to say. Sometimes that happens. We don’t know why. And I’m like, well, I know why. I know why it’s happening. Here’s my business cards. I will help you learn why, and help your your clients because I assure you, I know why all this is happening.

Bless the surgeons for the good that they do in the world, and also the rest of us who fix what they can’t.

Jodi:  Let’s get into it and really talk about the connective tissue, the fascia, what it does, what you see in your work.

Richelle: Fascia, first of all, in the poetic sense, fascia is everything, right? But in the technical sense, fascia is the connective tissue that literally surrounds every cell in our body and holds them together. Without that fascia, that connective tissue in it’s various forms, our cells would just be in a little puddle with the pickup sticks of our bones, right? We wouldn’t actually have cohesion. This connective tissue wraps and surrounds every single cell, binds them together in their organized fashion and all. Also, therefore, is the medium through which all nutrition, hydration, and waste products actually travel. Because we don’t have a blood vessel plugged into every single cell. We have this medium through which the cell walls do their business, get rid of stuff they don’t need, take in what they do need. 

It has a quality that is both fibrous in terms of collagen, which many people have heard about a lot in the last few years, I’m sure. Elastin, which gives it some stretch, and some other fibers depending on where it is in the body and what its function is. But all those fibers are suspended in kind of a liquid crystalline medium that can be more thick and solid like a Jell-O mold or very fluid, very viscous, thin, watery… And again, depending both on its function, what it’s there for, and the good stuff we give it that will determine its actual texture and pliability and resilience right in our body. Poetically, fascia is everything.

And also in reality, fascia is everything. Not just physically.

Jodi: Like we believe emotions. The issues are in the tissues and the extra cellular matrix.

Richelle: The water is structured. Water carries a lot of information. If you think about it, cerebral spinal fluid, mostly hyaluronic acid, right? There’s this particular fluid with this particular molecular makeup has the ability to work similarly to our nerve cells. They actually conduct data appropriately. Again, we don’t have a nerve fitting into every single cell in the body. All of this hormone and informational chemistry has to get somewhere some way and it’s the fascia across widget travels. 

When there’s so much research that started to finally really focus on fascia in the past 25 years, namely the 25 years I’ve been doing this work. And so it went from this kind of like mysterious, amorphous stuff to now having better and better ideas, at least about how it works. It was only 10 years ago, really, maybe 15, where they finally were able to identify that nerve endings terminate in a fascia layer. 

So something in the fascia is getting very clear nerve signals. And then what’s it doing with it? It either has its own contractile forces at work that are not muscle fibers, or it is disseminating that nerve conduction out to the other cells and then becoming a medium. Information is not just, my brain tells my body to make this movement information. Our thoughts, our feelings, our impressions, our immediate recall of past experience, true or not true?

In every context, the fascia is like the primary communication medium, outside the distinct and discreet nervous system.

Jodi:  Now let’s talk a little bit about what can go wrong. Most people associate like, oh, it’s pain, and that’s part of it. But like what the fascia should look like and how it should function, but what can go sideways?

Richelle: Three things impact the health and condition of fascia specifically, and that is heat, movement and foremost, frankly, hydration. So if that liquid crystalline medium dries out, then there’s just less space between the fibers. So the closer the fibers get to each other, the more they’re likely to stick together, literally making chemical bonds. Dehydration leads first and foremost to thickness, stickiness, and a lack of movement. If you stop moving, hydration has a harder time moving into the tissue and therefore it gets less hydrated and more sticky if you are cold, if there’s not enough blood flow. Cause in the body we think of our perceived temperature, but really warm, cold in terms of our tissue is how much blood flow is it getting. Because not all of us are in this 100 degree heat wave, and not all of us like go to hot yoga or sit in the saunas. 

If we’re in our ambient room temperature, what we’re really talking about is how is blood moving to and through those tissues in order to warm it up? Musculature, like the contraction of our muscles, creates most of the body heat in our body. And so the more we’re moving, the more we’re contracting our muscles, the more heat we’re going to generate, the smoother those two tissues are gonna continue to move across each other. And also influencing that hydration.

That tipping point between having enough hydration entering your body and how those tissues are actually able to utilize it. So let’s say that one of those goes out of balance. It’s a quick cascade to all of them tipping out of homeostasis as well, but do a raise of hands out in the world of who have tight hamstrings. Even if you have long hamstrings, even if your forward fold is beautiful, you’re still probably gonna feel a stretch or a sensation in that forward fold, even if you can go all the way into it, right? Partly that is because we sit and when you sit, like we’re both sitting in a chair right now during this interview, your thigh bones are literally pushing your hamstrings against the chair. Now you literally are compressing the muscle tissue of your hamstrings between your femur bone and the chair. And when you squeeze your muscles similarly to squeezing a sponge filled with water, where does the water go? Out away. You end up compressing the fascia tissue, the muscle fibers, and all of the fibers that make the fascia squeezing out a lot of its hydration, reducing its blood flow simply by that little bit of pressure. 

You’re not moving when you’re sitting in that chair. All three components are in play, right? You’re cool, you’re still, and you’re lacking hydration. So you literally end up having kind of almost a Velcro effect. The various bellies of the hamstrings, the superficial fascia of your skin, the deep fascia between the muscles and bones. All those things are being just like a sandwich press pressed together. A panini looks different before it goes in the press. When it comes out, it’s mashed together and you can’t tell the parts apart as well. That’s what has happening in your hamstrings. You stand up and you’re like, Ooh, I feel a little stiff. And it’s a lack of blood flow, lack of fluidity between those layers, and as you try to move that Velcro of those layers together means that they’re not going to slide past each other with that same ability that they had before.

Before you were sitting or after you walk up and down stairs or go for a walk around the block or do a yoga class where you’re doing a lot of chair pose and lunges where those hamstrings are working and pumping blood through them. That’s one example of how it works everywhere. 

Could sleep on your side and your hip and your shoulder and your neck get compressed in different ways, you sit in your car and you lean your arm on the window and hold your steering wheel with one hand while holding your coffee with the other. We get into these habituated postural positions that end up having on the smaller level, the same effect that sitting on your hamstrings has. So you end up with a little tension at the base of your neck and then a little tension on the other side at the base of your skull to try to compensate. That’s a whole other dive that we can make, but it’s the same principle. 

And the fascia is remodeling based on your actions and the environment in which you put it.

Jodi:  And when it remodels too far, you can experience tightness, pain, what? What are some of the main symptoms you see?

Richelle:  Definitely a sensation of tension. The brain can misinterpret the sensation of tension where it might be two things pulling away from each other, or it may be a stuck place with two things, trying to press it together. Velcro doesn’t slide either way, shorten or long. You can end up with trigger points, which are still kind of amorphously defined phenomenon in the body. And that we work with in body work a lot where it seems to be a coiling, an adhesion of a particular point of fascia layers, but that the pain shows up elsewhere.

Your shoulder blade has got all these gnarly little bits, but you’re feeling it at the base of your skull and through your jaw. You might get that like, “oh, my shoulder’s really stiff,” but it’s really coming from your armpit. Some of them in your back actually show up in your glutes or your thighs. Trigger points show up in unhealthy fascia, like adhesions themselves, those sticky places that prevent optimal movement patterns, that in and of itself can change. Gaits can change posture, both seated, lying down and standing. That can lead to other pain patterns that come from spasticity in the muscle fibers and all the other compensatory things that the body has down its checklist.

It can cause the headaches, jaw pain, blurred vision, chest pain, back pain, neck pain, pain everywhere.

Jodi:  If people are lucky enough to see you, you can help them with that. How else do you recommend that people unravel and repair fascia?

Richelle: Because hydration is the thing that really goes out of homeostasis. Fastest and worst. Gotta stay hydrated. Keeping that fluid moving through the tissue is imperative. Once you have stuck places, it’s really hard to get them undone. You know how you have a sponge? When it comes to get outta the package and it’s kind of moist and it’s pliable, and then you use it for a while and then you squeeze it out and you leave it on your counter and you go on your week vacation. When you come back, what does your sponge look like?

Jodi:  It’s really hard and not very pliable.

Richelle:  It’s hard, stiff. It’s actually shrunk on itself a little bit.

It’s maybe even bent at all the places that you squeeze it. Now, if you run that sponge underwater, what happens? The water actually beads up and rolls off the sponge. It’s so hard, it’s so compact that there’s no room in between those fibers anymore for the water to enter. Fascia is very similar. If you’ve already got those dense, deep adhesions, just drinking enough water is not enough. You either have to physically manipulate those layers apart, or sometimes if it’s a soft enough adhesion, giving it a little acid actually can break those chemical bonds between the collagen fibers. 

Handy enough, when you work out, the body creates lactic acid. Flushes through your system. There’s a reason for it. It’s to help the fascia among other things. It’s not just this waste product, it’s very helpful in helping those collagen fibers disentangle from one another and break their hydrogen bonds. And then physical, mechanical manipulation of them. Because heat is another function here, like adding external heat, I’m all for it. I like localized heat with a moist heating pad or a bath or a soak. I also love a good sauna, but keeping in mind that a good sauna makes you sweat a lot and you’re losing electrolytes and water when you sweat. Getting electrolytes into the dietary combo pack is important to make sure that the water you actually take in makes it out of your bloodstream and into your tissue

I’m sure you’ve experienced this when you’ve been really dehydrated and then you drink a bunch of water and all you do is pee all day. That pee is pretty clear. And it’s clear because it’s not actually infusing your system, it’s going from your bloodstream into your kidneys and out. It’s not actually making it to the tissue. So you gotta like give it a little help, some salt, some magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, all those things on onboard.

And then lastly, of course, keep moving. Before we move and move with intention at those places, some very old school like movement practices like Feldenkrais can be incredibly effective at getting to the core of some of those deep fossil distortions. Yoga practice, Tai Chi, Qigong, dance. Any kind of movement. Walking, anything that involves your full body and gets many ranges of motion going will help at least maintain, if not improve, and fix some of those stuck spots.

Jodi:  And I love that you mentioned Epsom salt baths. I love that you mentioned supplementing with minerals. All of these things are great. Are there any other self-massage techniques that you recommend for people?

Richelle: I don’t talk about self-massage as much as I talk about movement and alignment, but anything that gets circulation going. Dry brushing, that’s gonna be moving the lymph. That is the fluid that gets stagnant in the fascia itself back down into the lymph system. I have to acknowledge that I have become a fan of compression guns, but I am a fan of using them across muscle bellies as opposed to just like pounding through the muscle, against the bone. We’re more likely to look at it and go, oh, I’m using it on my bicep. That same compression force between the tool and my bone. I like to come at it from the side so that it moves the muscle in a wave pattern across its fibers instead of down through its fibers on the bone. 

I also like direct pressure with rollers, foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls. Those can work at various points in the body on both spastic muscles and those fascia-stuck spots. So depending on the tool you use and the way you move on it, you actually can get some legit relief.

There’s one other tool that I love for calves and it’s like a little caliper. It’s got almost like little roller balls on the middle. And then you can put it on your quads. I think it’s actually called a quad blaster or something. But I use it on the calves and it has that same effect of lifting it off the bone and then squeezing the length of the muscle between the rollers instead of pushing it against the bone when our fascia gets tight. If you can think of a model, a gift basket when it’s just got cellophane wrapped around it versus a gift basket that’s got shrink wrap wrapped around it, right? Like you got all those waves and ripples in the cellophane, or you have this sucked-in kind of like tight-to-the-bone feeling. 

When your fascia gets tight, that’s what happens. It literally hugs your tissue closer to the bone, closer to its center. You’re tightening up the stockings, compression-wise. Anything that can unwind and pull away from the bone is going to like offer relief to that version of the tension system.

Jodi:  And that’s one reason I like oil is because they help move lymph, they help vasodilate, they help bring heat.

Richelle: Any of the oils that you use that increase circulation are going to help the fascia. Anything that brings fluid from the deeper blood vessels to the surface to get anything to the skin? Like it has to go through your deep tissues. So anything that is applied, whether or not it is an oil that actually penetrates deep through the deeper layers of tissue. Anything that stimulates that surface blood flow means that blood has had to come from deep to superficial, and that is going to offer all of the intervening tissues some good.

Jodi:  Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you think is important?

Richelle: I wrote a book that talks about fascia. It’s more about movement in the yoga practice. But specifically it talks to the relationship between your bony body and it’s individual shape. My femur looks different than your femur. We all have subtle differences. Our fascia and our muscles go in directions that are appropriate for our bony blueprint when you’re moving, especially in dynamic movements. But definitely in a yoga practice where you’re holding your joints together in very precise ways. Making sure that your bones are aligned where they ought to be, means that your fascia’s gonna stay healthier, your joints will degrade at a slower rate, and you’ll be able to access your strength in a more efficient and personal way. 

It is the Yoga Engineers Manual. The landing page is Yoga Engineer.com. I even have some copies that you can order directly from me if you want a signed copy. Otherwise you can find it anywhere books are sold. You can special order it through your own small bookstore if they don’t already have it.

Jodi:  And do you see clients that aren’t like professional athletes these days?

Richelle:  I do. Especially since moving back to Portland, I was lucky enough to have a bunch of my former clientele that took a nine month hiatus while I was living in Arizona. They’ve come back, but I am definitely not fully booked. I’m taking new clients and so I can see them at Southeast part of Portland.

Jodi:  Thank you for all your brilliance, your knowledge. Everyone should check out this book. It’s amazing.

Richelle:  Thank you, Jodi. It’s been such a pleasure.

About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.