If you don’t floss your teeth every night, your dental hygienist will probably warn you about gingivitis during an extra long teeth-cleaning session. But as it turns out, your pearly whites aren’t the only thing in your body that can benefit from the practice. Your fascia (aka connective tissue) needs a little flossing from time to time, too.
If right about now you’re thinking, I have so many questions! What is fascia? And how do I floss it? Here’s the deal: “Fascia is the body’s scaffolding, a matrix of hydrated, semi-crystalline collagen fibers in varying strengths and interweaving patterns that wraps around our organs, bones, tendons, ligaments, brain matter, and more,” says Bonnie Crotzer, founder of the fascia-focused movement method The Floss.
If not for fascia, our bodies would essentially collapse. “Without the tension and compression of the connective tissue network, we would have no form,” explains Crotzer. “Fascia takes on the [shape] of whatever it is wrapping while maintaining separation–for example between organs–and creating continuous connectivity throughout the body.” TL;DR: It’s really important–and not just physically speaking.
A growing body of research indicates that our fascia acts as an archive of our most emotional and distressing experiences. Most notably, trauma. “Recent research has shown that all past traumas, both physical and mental, are stored within the fascia, causing its natural form to be disrupted and hardened to hold the body in a distressed state,” says Crotzer.
Taking it a step further, research indicates that–left alone–fascia can harden and impair movement and circulation. “So when we feel a knot in any muscle, it’s a build up of fluid, toxins, adhesions, and scar tissue within the fascia that’s unable to move within the lymphatic system of the body,” says Crotzer.atic system of the body,” says Crotzer.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to care for your fascia while improving your mobility and flexibility in the process. Ahead, Crotzer gives you the 411 on fascia flossing, its benefits, and five easy moves you can try today. (No more muscle gingivitis for you, fam.)
So, what is fascia flossing?
“Fascia flossing, a term that I coined in 2019, describes the simultaneous elongation and contraction of major muscle groups dictated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) meridians,” says Crotzer. In TCM, meridians are 12 energy (or “Qi”) passageways through the body that are often used in acupuncture. For example, the heart meridian runs from your armpit to the tip of your pinky finger. (Try extending one arm straight out to your side, and holding your hand out like a stop sign. Gently tilt your neck the opposite way, and you’ll probably feel your heart meridian stretching and activating.)
In fascia flossing, elongating and contracting the fascia along these meridians creates what Crotzer calls “internal exfoliation,” which breaks up old connective tissue, and releases toxins stored in the fascia.
All of this sounds really complicated (and hey, it is), but in practice, you can think of fascia flossing as intentional stretch and mobility work. And if you’re someone who’s ever used a foam roller or massage ball, you’ve already experienced some of this in the form of self-myofascial release (SMR), which focuses on releasing tight spots in fascia through massage and manipulation of the connective tissue. But fascia flossing puts an emphasis on mobilizing fascia along your meridian channels specifically of keep blood (as well as good vibes) flowing.
This 15-minute foam-foam roller self-massage video is a great example of SMR in action:
The benefits of fascia flossing
We’ve talked a bunch about the benefits of fascia flossing, but just to put a finer point on it, let’s review. Although fascia flossing is a new concept (and thus, needs more concrete research), Crotzer explains that it offers a host of advantages for everybody. Like SMR, “fascia flossing alleviates scar tissue, densified fascia, and systemic stagnation for an almost immediate sense of improved mobility, tension relief, and symmetrical posture,” she says.
She adds that some of her students have experienced improvement in their digestive and hormonal health since beginning their fascial flossing journey, which anecdotally makes sense seeing as de-stressing can have positive impacts on your gut and cortisol levels. But, of course, everyone will experience their own personal benefits. “As a practitioner who feels more open and spacious in their body, fascia flossing impacts the health of the nervous system, relieving daily stress and eventually helping to resolve past traumas,” adds Crotzer. Similar to how certain yoga poses like hip openers can bring about emotional releases and even tears.
With all this in mind, you’re ready to start flossing your fascia.
5 fascia-flossing moves to get you started
Start lying on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your ankle over left thigh, just above the knee (foot flexed). Press left knee into right ankle for resistance, then drop both legs over to the right side and slowly pull them back to center. Repeat 10-30 times and then switch to the other side.
The benefits: “This move is beneficial for TMJ as the fascial tissue of the jaw and quad live on the same meridian–the stomach meridian in TCM–with the quad having the densest amount of fascia along this particular chain,” says Crotzer. “As the fascia from the quad releases, it will allow the jaw to release as well.”
2. Upper-body floss
Start on all fours with knees under hips and forearms on the floor so elbows are right under shoulders. Forearms make a number 11, meaning they’re parallel and palms are pressing down. Tuck your toes under, and slowly pulls your hips back to hover over your heels. Arms will straighten, and (without moving them) feel like your dragging your elbows back toward your knees. Slowly pull yourself forward, lifting hips, moving through all fours, and pushing your shoulders forward of your elbows. Repeat rocking back and forth 10 to 30 reps.
The benefits: “This move helps open up the fascia around the upper back, lats, armpits and upper arms and is great for moving stagnant lymph. Great for those who work at a desk and tend to hunch in their upper body,” says Crotzer.
3. Upper shoulder floss
Sit with your feet flat on the floor knees wide with elbows inside the knees, hands together, palms pressing into one another (you can watch Crotzer demo this in the second video above at 16:40). Keeping hands together, spread elbows wide pressing out to open knees, then squeeze knees closed to bring elbows together, lengthening the spine to sit up taller as you do. Repeat five to 10 times.
The benefits: “This floss is great for relieving tension around the neck and traps, and allows the shoulder to retract. It could also support digestion as it is activating the small intestine meridian in TCM,” says Crotzer.
4. Hamstring floss
Come into a kneeling lunge with right foot forward. The left leg stays back with left knee on mat, toes untucked, and torso over the right quad. Arms are straight by sides, hands under shoulders and eitherbe on the floor (propped up on finger tips) or you can bring them onto two blocks or books to bring the ground closer (demo at time stamp: 3:28 in the video above). Flex right toes up to the sky, digging heel into the mat, energetically pulling back in space (it won’t really move backward) as you sit your hips back over left heel and straighten front leg. Come back to starting position bringing right foot down and lunging forward to feel stretch across the quad and hip of your left leg. Repeat 10 to 30 times on each side.
The benefits: “This floss allows the pelvis to come back into neutral position and stack the spine with more space between each vertebra, which relieves the low back and supports an erect posture,” says Crotzer, adding that overtime this move may also release neck pain.
5. Pelvic floss
Lie on your back with a pillow under your head and press your left foot into a wall. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just above the knee. Create tension by pressing left thigh into right heel and right heel into left thigh. Then use hands to hug right knee into chest, then use palms to press it gently away from you. Repeat 10 to 30 times on each side.
The benefits: “Try this floss for low back support and to change the functionality in your glutes,” says Crotzer. You tend to hold a lot of tension in your hips, so don’t be surprised if this movement makes you more emotional, as well as mobile.
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