Beyond Release – What is Myofascial Unwinding?
Myofascial unwinding is the body's innate ability to heal itself by moving into areas of ease. I explain unwinding in detail, but first I go over the purpose of Myofascial Release (MFR), and what a release is.
What is the purpose of Myofascial Release?
The objectives of MFR are diverse. Myofascial Release is:
manual therapy that treats inflammatory responses, injuries, and surgeries—a practical application used for pain rehabilitation
trauma therapy that helps undo the fight-flight-freeze response—a method for reducing stress, and healing PTSD
a somatic practice that heightens sensory awareness—a way to feel more comfortable in your body
What is a release?
Myofascial release techniques are gauged by how much force, or pressure the therapist uses. When the therapist uses a gentle approach to address the soft-tissue (fascia), it’s to try and initiate a release.
A release is a discharge of tension in fascia. It can be felt internally, or manifest as an involuntary movement. Releases can be subtle, or remarkably big. A big release looks like a person spontaneously turning their head towards their shoulder.
What is Myofascial unwinding?
Unwinding is like an amplified release. It’s continuous movement in any given part of the body. An unwinding looks like a person doing rotations with their arm.
A full-body unwinding is when multiple areas of the body move simultaneously. The movements stem from the body's core. A person might, wiggle, twist, undulate; move left-right, up-down, and side-to-side.
What does Myofascial unwinding feel like?
Unwinding is similar to an early morning stretch while still in bed. It feels different than a stretch done awake. It's not a linear stretch, like what's done before working out, or running. An early morning stretch has a natural fluctuation to it, and there is a subtle shake that happens. The shaking is the loading-up of tension, followed by a small release. When a person is just waking up from sleep, they're coming out of an alpha state (not focused too hard), and still a little bit unconscious. If you can imagine—multiply the feeling of an early morning stretch, and you'll get close to what an unwinding feels like.
Myofascial unwinding happens without a person's conscious effort. When the therapist creates enough safety for the client, the client's nervous system can go into a deep state of relaxation, and that's when an unwinding is possible. Unwinding can go on for a quite a while. When it does, the therapist holds the client and follows their movements. After people experience an unwinding they describe a feeling of spaciousness in their body. When a client unwinds during a treatment, Myofascial Release becomes more like energetic bodywork.
What does unwinding therapy do?
Metaphorically speaking, the connective-tissue (fascial system) is like a battery. Our battery can become energetically maxed out. The more stressful events a person experiences, the more wound-up their system becomes.
The fascial system stores information in the form of a visceral feeling, which becomes a visceral memory (cellular memory). A person who suffers from chronic pain, or trauma, will be apt to unwind because their fascial system is overloaded and ready to purge. That being said, you don't need to be stressed out to unwind. Anybody who desires to feel—more in their body—will be naturally inclined to unwind. The body has an intelligence of its own, and when it’s tapped into, a person might unwind their spine with a twisting motion that literally rings out tension.
Myofascial unwinding is somatic healing
The word psychosomatic is often used out of context. There's a difference between psychosomatic discomfort, and having an actual psychosomatic disorder. Ailments are often misdiagnosed, or if a diagnosis can't be appointed, the ailment is often referred to as psychosomatic, inferring that a person’s sufferings are a delusion. If you've ever had a tension headache, it's psychosomatic. A tension headache is brought on by stress—being unable to deal with emotional pressure. Stress can also manifest as back pain and many other things. The term psychosomatic discredits a person's symptoms; therefore, it hinders the healing process.
Unwinding therapy improves mind/body awareness. When someone is unconsciously unwinding, their body is relaying messages to the mind. This is the reverse order of a conscious command: the mind tells the body what to do. When the messages are from the body to the mind, the subconscious gets validated. This is an important piece for healing pain, and for trauma healing. Physiatrists help heal a person's mind, and MFR therapists help heal a person's body, which is storing the related tension.
How does Myofascial unwinding help the nervous system?
The fascial system and the nervous system are codependent on each other. One can’t function well without the other functioning properly. Tense fascia puts pressure on the nerves, and then the nerves start sending pain signals. After a while, an overactive nervous system starts contributing to anxiety, stress, etc. Releasing the fascial system allows the nervous system to breath again. Both systems release together, and then flow unrestrictedly.
Myofascial unwinding is not a requisite of MFR
Myofascial Release calms the nervous system, sometimes to the point that a person experiences an unwinding. Most people take baby steps when they receive MFR treatments because their body needs to learn how to respond. Once they are familiar with the feeling that comes with a release, the releases might get bigger. Typically, people respond a little more each succeeding treatment. When someone releases enough tension, their nervous system can become incredibly relaxed. That’s when they might start to unwind; however, some people might unwind right away.
Myofascial unwinding is an efficient way of healing
Myofascial Release opens-up the tissues, puts space between the joints, takes pressure of the nerves, restores motion, and relieves tension. Myofascial unwinding enhances all of these things. Some of the positions my clients involuntarily move into would be hard for them to do consciously, if not impossible. Myofascial unwinding allows people to safely go beyond their perceived range of motion, which furthers their release of tension. It's a phenomenal way for the body heal itself.