WTF Is Fasciayoga? I Tried It to Find Out

Photo: Hal Horowitz / Neo U
As a person who can’t touch my toes, the idea of getting on a yoga mat alongside my much-bendier peers never felt feasible. But, in the name of interesting journalism, I volunteered myself (or rather, surrendered) for a 60-minute FasciaYoga class, which unlike the eight most-popular types of yoga, is a new form of the ancient practice focused primarily on increasing flexibility through stretching. (What can I say? I'm willing to try anything that'll increase my range of motion and help me break parallel when I squat.)

But could spending an hour with connective-tissue guru Ashley Black teach me how to safely manipulate my not-so-limber limbs into new positions? By the end, would I be updating my online dating profile to: Just a CrossFit-loving human trying to be a pretzel? And WTF is fascia anyway? Keep reading to find out and see what happened when I tried my first FasciaYoga class.

What is fascia?

Fascia means “band” or “bundle” in Latin. "It's a head-to-toe, all-encompassing, and interwoven system of fibrous, connective tissue found throughout the body," says Black. "Your fascia provides a framework that helps support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body as a unit."

Think of fascia as a form of flesh mesh (okay gross, but go with it). If it's too tight, your ability to move is restricted. “So when you loosen your fascia, you can increase range of motion,” she explains.

Once I understood what fascia was, the only questions that remained were about what the heck fascia work looks like in a yoga setting. And—most importantly—would it give my mobility the boost my Crossfitting-self craved? I decided to find out.

Here's what a FasciaYoga class is actually like

Black had told me ahead of time that it’s best to do fascia work after exercise, so I hit up a noon CrossFit class then walked a mile to Neo U where the FasciaYoga demo class was being hosted. (Classes are typically offered on-demand through its app, which is currently free.)

The class starts with an intro to the equipment we'll be using: a FasciaYoga Ball (basically, a bean-shaped exercise ball that costs $25), a yoga mat, and a towel. (Ummm, was this gonna make me work up a sweat?) Props in hand, we get to work.

Despite the dim lights and the yoga mat, this didn’t feel like a yoga class. “Yes, yoga is in the name," says Black. "But, I’m not a Zen-type yoga person. I’m a fascia person. There isn’t specialized breathe work or pose work the way there is in traditional yoga. What there is in FasciaYoga is deep stretching."

The downward dog, crow pose, and headstands that I expect to do in class are replaced by stretches I’ve done in soccer and rugby practice for years: like lizard pose, simple calf stretch, and side lunge. But this time, we use the FasciaYoga ball to help deepen the postures and support our bodies.

“When you go to a physical therapist and lie on the table, the expert maneuvers your leg and you’ll feel a very specific pull in the fascia of the hip. The FasciaYoga ball lets you get that type of stretch on your own. It gives you traction,” says Black.

With every maneuver, I feel like I was tricking gravity into making me more mobile.

Right away, I feel the stretches deep (like in my soul deep). With every maneuver, I feel like I'm tricking gravity into making me more mobile. Between poses, I reach for my sweat rag and keep going feeling proud when, halfway through the class, Black shouts: “My CrossFit girl is getting the hang of it.” We focus primarily on the front of the hips because according to her, “Everyone has jammed hips. We sit too long.” (The FasciaYoga app allows you to target all parts of the body if by some miracle your hinge pattern isn't hindered by a 9-to-5 schedule.)

I feel looser almost immediately, which Black assures me is completely normal. “It’ll give you instant results," she says. "You’re going to feel like you’re being ripped open limb from limb. You’ll feel open in your body in a way you haven’t felt before.”

It's a whole different kind of intensity than a power yoga class. The pulling apart sensation Black describes doesn't give way to the bliss factor typically associated with yoga. For me, this is a total plus. I came to work on my mobility, and I get to without trying and failing to nail advanced yoga poses for an hour. And while I get sweaty, it doesn't get my heart rate up like the yoga classes I’ve taken in the past, so I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a “workout.”

Still, I leave class thinking, I’ve never stretched like that, with my FasciaYoga ball in hand. I carry it on the subway planning to pull it out often in the name of becoming a better CrossFitter because, you know, #dedication.

Here’s what happened when one editor tried exercises to improve her posture. And here's 10 flows for when you want more traditional yoga

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