This little ball has become my new best friend… and I’ll tell you why.
The nagging stiff neck, stiff back, stiff hips that you just can’t loosen up
Although yoga is a great way to keep your body flexible… it isn’t always going to address all of your “issues”- especially if you have chronic pain from deep muscle or joint stiffness (or from tight fascia).
When you practice yoga, you are stretching and asking the whole muscle to lengthen. This is great to do, but sometimes there are “sticky points” in the muscles that need to be released so that the whole muscle can lengthen. When you use a foam roller- or even better- a small ball, you are targeting these knots- or as I like to call them, “the sticky points” stuck in the muscle tissues.
How do you know when you are doing it right?
The key is to roll the ball around until you find a tender or tight spot. Sometimes you will literally feel a hard spot in your muscle, and other times it feels sore or you might feel a slight burning sensation. When you feel any discomfort in the muscle, don’t immediately back off. If you can- close your eyes and slow your breath down. Imagine that you can literally breathe the tension out of your body. Visualize the rigid muscle melting or dissolving into a softer, more pliable tissue. Hold for a few breaths and then roll to a different spot. Sometimes I come back to the original spot and try again to see if it feels a little less intense. Even though rolling can be uncomfortable, make sure you take the time to notice how you feel after you have rolled an area. Ask yourself if you can feel a lightness in the muscle or joint now that you didn’t have before (this means it’s working).
My favorite parts to “roll” are...
When my neck is tight and my shoulders are stiff and my head starts to ache (and my face takes on the look of crankiness), I get on the ground and roll on the spot right between my shoulder blade and my spine.
Starting on your back, stick the ball in the meaty part between the shoulder blade and spine. Then roll the ball up and down about an inch or so (or more) until you find a knot. When you find that spot (and you’ll know it), lay into the knot, take a deep inhale (this is where it gets intense) and then let that breath out- and imagine the tension and the tightness leaving with the breath. You can even lift your hips off the ground a bit, and put some more weight into the ball for deeper pressure (and deeper release). Also, spend some time moving your arm around (slowly, with the breath) while you are laying on the ball.
My second favorite place to roll the ball is right on the meaty part of the glutes (the butt muscles). Sit on the ground with your feet flat and your knees bent, then slide the ball right under your hip (glute/butt). Lean into the ball and roll it around until you feel the spot (try not to cry… this one hurts). Most of us have tight hips, and an aching back. Rolling on this spot can really help release some of the tension that causes sciatica or other back pain.
The good news is that as you roll more often (even just a few minutes a day), the pain should not be as intense because the muscles will learn to soften. Even though I’m using the term “muscles”, the part that is most likely softening is the fascia. The fascia is the connective tissue between muscles, organs and other parts of your body- and it can become rigid and inflexible.
What is fascia and why do I want to soften it?
As I said above, fascia is the connective tissue between your muscles, joints and organs. Fascia can become tight or “stuck” in places. Here’s a few bullet points from Healthline that address the benefits of keeping fascia healthy.
While yoga is a great practice for all around mobility and mental health, rolling is a fantastic addition to addressing the stress we hide deep in our tissues. I would suggest that you roll on the ball right before taking a yoga class, or anytime you notice your body aching from stiff muscles, joints or tension. Don’t think too hard about it, just take a few minutes and you will feel not only a shift in your body, but also a shift in your mood. For more info on ways to keep your fascia healthy, check out this article on Healthline.