Ashley Honneycutt was giving me a quick overview of the class we were headed to when one thing in particular caught my attention: “… and it’s all done on a roller.” Knowing that I’m a runner and sensing that I was about to wheel and make a break for my car, she grabbed my arm. “It’s not that kind of roller. Not the roller you use for running. It’s softer.” Softer than rock wasn’t that reassuring, but I followed her anyway.
We were taking a new class called MELT at Rex Wellness Center, where Honeycutt is manager of corporate and community services. MELT: I immediately thought of the obvious, of a workout so devastating nothing would be left but my ruby red sneakers. In fact, MELT is short for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique. Now I was picturing a devastating workout involving a Medieval rack.
This was probably one reason instructor Karin Singleton was especially keen on me sitting in on a class before writing about it (which I normally do, anyway). I was writing a story for the Observers (Charlotte and News &) on stretching and flexibility and, especially because of MELT’s newness, she wanted to make sure I knew that MELT was about more than just touching the toes and reaching for the sky.
“As one of just a few MELT instructors in all of North Carolina, I am anxious that MELT is represented in the correct way,” Singleton emailed me. “Yes, MELT, on the surface, includes applications to stretching and flexibility but a MELT class encompasses much more than that.”
Like those rollers, I thought as we walked into the workout room.
On her Web site, I’d read a little bit about MELT. “MELT has elements of several techniques such as reflexology, lymph drainage, trigger points and myofascial release in its use of balls and rollers for a structured self-application. Through this, MELT elicits adaptive changes in the body to improve posture and well-being.”
“ … adaptive changes in the body to improve posture … “ ? My thoughts reverted to the rack.
In fact, the class turned out to be anything but. Save for the last 5 minutes it was the most relaxed I’d been all week.
We started by laying flat on our backs on mats, the classroom lights dimmed. “If I ask you to assume a position and you think, ‘Man I shouldn’t be going there,’ don’t. Only go as far as you can.”
That restriction in how far we might be able to go could be because of our connective tissue, or fascia, which is the focus of MELT. The fascia is a thin layer of interwoven connective tissue just under the skin that enwraps the entire body. It basically helps keep everything — muscles, organs, blood vessels, nerves — in place. It’s a clever construction, but one that can cause pain when it get inflamed, injured or dehydrated. And it doesn’t necessarily cause the pain at the point of inflammation or injury. A key to keeping a healthy, well-aligned body is to keep your fascia in order, which is the goal of MELT.
Singleton, who has been a personal trainer since 1994, first heard about MELT at a fitness conference early in 2009.
“It all clicked,” she said of the role the fascia plays in keeping our bodies happy. “I had found the missing piece of the puzzel.” By year’s end she became one of the few instructors certified to teach MELT (there are only four others in North Carolina). She teaches two classes at Rex and also has a private studio.
As we lay on our backs, we took “assessment” of our bodies. “Are your hands open the same way, or is one curled in and slightly clinched?” (The latter.) “Are your shoulder blades both resting on the mat the same way?” (No.) “And your legs, are they pointing the same way?” (I didn’t need to look down to tell that mine were all cattywampus.)
Thus began 45 minutes of gentle rolling, twisting and turning using the roller (yes, a much softer version of the runner’s “foam” roller) as prop and support. We put the roller under our spine and worked on balance. We put it under our shoulder blades and arched. We put it under our heads and tried to avoid drifting off to nap time. Near the end Singleton put us through one Medieval move that had us balancing, stretching and pulling at once. Even through the pounding in my ears I could tell from grunts scattered around the room that my classmates were struggling as well.
“I can tell this is a journey of discovery for many of you,” Singleton said as she roamed about the room. As the grunts reached a crescendo, she said, “One more thing, then I’ll leave you alone.”
We put away the rollers and, once again, Singleton had us lay flat on our backs for a post MELT assessment. Immediately, I noticed that my palms were now both facing up, that my shoulder blades rested equally on the mat, that my left foot was at 11 o’clock, my right at 1. I may not have been in perfect alignment, but this was about as close as I would get. I thought about how my unaligned fascia affected so much of what I do: Favoring a less tight or inflamed leg over the other, cutting short a bike ride because of a tight upper back, shying away from certain moves on a climb because my reach on one side was limited. Singleton says she’s had students who’ve used MELT to find relief from various maladies, from chronic pain to MS.
“How often should you do this?” I asked Singleton.
“You should do an assessment to see where you are every day,” she said. As for the workout itself, MELT is intended to be a self-treatment: Learn what certain moves are intended to address, become adept at self-assessment, and eventually you’re MELTing on your own. Until then, she said, take the class maybe three or four times a week.
If it’ll keep me aligned, I’ll try.
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MELT with Karin
Karin Singleton teaches MELT twice a week at Rex’s Raleigh Wellness Center, Monday at 4:30 p.m. and Friday at 11:30 a.m. Free to members, $10 for a one-time guest pass.
She also teaches MELT through her private studio. For more information, visit www.meltnc.com, email her at email@example.com, or call 919.272.1478.