Your daily routine might not seem outwardly stressful, but tension and anxiety builds slowly from daily pressures and stores in the muscular system. Yoga and massage are two ways we can softly relieve some of this tension, soothing stress away. Myofascial release is a form of massage that targets not the muscles themselves but the connective tissue surrounding them. My local studio is a non-profit and was doing a fundraiser which lead a friend and I to this special class this morning. The class was called Deep Tissue Massage Yoga, but our teacher reminded us that technically, it was a myofascial release technique. Using a yoga mat, a yoga blanket, and tennis balls, our teacher led us through a 90 minute class that was one of the most relaxing and physically satisfying yoga class I have ever experienced. Tennis balls are about 2.5 inches in diameter and can be substituted with a Thera Band Hand Exercisers which are softer and a more specialized product for this specific use. The standard size Hand Exercisers are 2 inches which can be used for a more acute massage, and the larger size is 2.5 inches, like a tennis ball, for a gentler massage. These balls are also available in a variety of densities ranging from soft to firm.
First we started in Shavasana and did breathwork. I don't know how long we stayed here but I became very sleepy. We placed the two tennis balls underneath the shoulder near the top of the spine -- one under each shoulder and the knees were bent. Then, after holding for 2.5 minutes, we pressed our feet down and pushed up through the crown of the head, rolling the tennis balls down the spine a couple inches and holding the pose for another 2.5 minutes. Once again we rolled the balls down the spine a couple more inches and held this pose. To create a kneading sensation, we moved the arms around in a circular motion and across the body.
Then we moved the balls the sacrum, lying on our backs with a folded blanket as a flat pillow. We deepened the massage by lifting the feet and rolling around with the knees tucked towards the chest. Next came the glutes. You could really loosen up and move the balls around the buttocks, again on your back. I would do a spinal twist and find a tight spot on the side of one glute and hold for a few minutes to fully relax that muscle, making sure to repeat on the opposing side.
We used the tennis balls like a foam roller to exercise the IT band on the upper thigh (hamstring). Then, to massage the calf deeply I had to place the tennis ball on top of a yoga block, while rocking back on and fourth, lifting the buttocks and balancing with my hands.
For the neck, we used a larger weighted pilates ball that was about 5 inches in diameter. We placed the ball under the neck and pushed from bent knees up and down to gently massage the neck. We massaged the feet using a rubber ball covered in spikes which accessed the many acupressure points on the sole of the foot.
Our instructor allowed us to assume whichever previous pose we found most beneficial for the last five minutes of class. I liked the work we did on the glutes the best so returned to that area as we wrapped up the class. The class ended full circle: right back where we began in Savasana. Very relaxing, very effective at relieving stressed. I definitely had that natural “blissed out" total body feeling as I left the studio.
I never realized household items like tennis balls could be so effective when combined with proper instruction at releasing muscle knots and bodily stores of tension. This class gave me a very useful set of tools for my relaxation tool kit: now, anytime I'm feeling stressed, I'll just grab a yoga mat and a pair of tennis balls: using my own body weight to press into and release the soft connective tissue surrounding tight muscles.