Fascia is extremely important membrane layers of connective tissue, mostly made up of collagen, tiny blood vessels and nerves; that surrounds, covers, and interweaves like a web around all of our body's muscular structures. This includes all of the organs and all of the muscles found throughout the body from head to toe.
It is equally important, and if not more so, to stretch the fascia before performing any exercises or more dynamic yoga poses.
Fascia can become stiff, loose, or torn if not properly stretched and maintained. Many people when first beginning any exercise routine may find that after their first few workouts that they are very sore (DOMS) and inflamed (fascitis: inflamed fascia). This can be because of a few common causes such as not properly warming up and cooling down before an exercise routine, having a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor, repeated motions in your daily life that can align your muscles improperly which then causes pain when we attempt to realign them to their proper locations, and of course past injuries can play a role in how our body responds to newly introduced exercises.
Stretching is an instinctual act. We do it when we're tired, sore, getting out of bed, etc. and even animals do it on a regular basis. Our body sends us pre-warning signals to stretch and we are all guilty of ignoring these signals, then trying to move after the fact, only to realize how sore you have now become. Ignoring these crucial warnings could lead to injury and even immobility.
There are several ways to stretch and be proactive about your muscle health including warm-up and cool-down stretching before exercising, stretching in between sets of exercise (although there are different thought processes behind this, as a yoga instructor I believe it to be imperative), stretching before going to bed and then again after you wake up. If you have a job that requires you to stand or sit for long periods of time, try to do some simple stretches every 15-20 minutes, or walk around if you can.
Many stretches can keep your muscles strong, supple, and healthy. Great poses in yoga that can be done at any time of the day and can be done more than once a day are:
-Balasana (child's pose)
-Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)
-Tadasana (mountain pose)
-Uttanasana (forward fold)
-Ardha Uttanasana (half-lift in forward fold)
-Bidilasana/Biralasana (cat-cow) either seated or in table-top
-Baddha Konasana (bound-angle/butterfly)
-Dandasana (staff pose
-Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
-Janu Sirsasana (seated tree-pose)
-comfortable seated twist
-Apanasana (supine knees to chest)
-Ananda Balasana (happy baby/dead beetle)
-Savasana (corpse pose)
These are lighter yoga stretches and great to do at any time. They can be done individually and held for a few breaths or in a set sequence to create your own flow. To deepen the stretch of these poses, one can hold a pose for several breaths or minutes and then repeat the pose to even further deepen the stretch.
Other lighter stretches to consider:
-neck rolls making an oval with your chin, looking from one side to the other, shoulder rolls forward and back
-interlacing the fingers and stretching them in front of you with palms out, overhead, and behind your back.
To achieve a very deep yoga stretch, you could (and should) perform several or all of the above poses and consider adding:
-Eka Pada Koptanasana (pigeon pose), either prone or supine versions are great for deeper stretching
-Halasana (plow pose)
-Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) with or without leg variations
-Setu Bandha Savangasana (supported bridge pose)
-supine leg twists variations (legs together, crossed, or one leg crossed over the body)
-Upavista Konasana with variations (i.e. seated wide-legs with forward fold and side to side).
There are many other poses that could be added in, however, these are great yoga poses to get you started on practicing releasing your fascia and keeping the muscular structure of your body healthy.