Every yoga practitioner knows that sinking feeling of having gone a little too deep into a pose and feeling a muscle strain or spasm or having practiced too often during a week. Most regular practitioners keep a massage therapist or bodyworker on speed dial. But what about the times when it’s not convenient or affordable to consult a professional?
Massage balls, also called therapy balls, have a devoted fan base among seasoned yogis. Use them to give yourself a full-body, do-it-yourself massage using this sequence. Just remember not to roll the balls directly on your joints, avoid any obviously swollen tissue, and if your body is giving sharp pain messages, STOP.
Roll a massage ball under foot. While standing, place a golf ball or massage ball under the arch of your foot and roll over it, keeping the foot underneath the hip (i.e. not too far out in front or to the side.) The trigger points on the sole of the feet unlock the joints traveling all the way up your leg, leading to an almost palpable sense of release and relaxation. Since you use your feet in yoga as much as any other part of the body, giving them a little massage is a great investment in your practice.
Next, sit on the floor (or on your mat) and roll a massage ball under your calf muscle. If you can, roll the ball up from your Achilles tendon, initially in a straight line and then going side by side which pointing and flexing your toes. Notice the areas that are tight and spend a few extra seconds with the ball in those places, releasing the tightness. Gently roll the ball behind your knee. Don’t forget to do the other side!
Move on to your hamstrings. The hamstrings are giant muscles, so if you have a second therapy/massage ball, you can use both at the same time. Place the ball or balls directly under the thickest porting of the thigh and begin to roll in very long strokes, always coming back to center. (Bonus: roll over onto your side and roll down the length of your outer thigh. This can release your iliotibial (IT) band. Roll backward and forwards so the ball travels horizontally across the side of the thigh. Roll over and do the other side. If you’d like to roll over and roll the ball along the top of your thigh to release your hip flexors, make sure you support yourself with your hands so you don’t apply too much pressure.
Glutes. Roll gently over the ball, taking particular care in the areas just behind your hip socket. This is the seat of the psoas, notoriously tight in yogis. Move the ball a few inches at a time and then take three-to-four slow breaths while remaining motionless. This will release the psoas and you might notice a big opening through your hips.
Onto the back.You might spend the bulk of your massage time on your back because there is a lot of areas to cover and because a flexible spine is so important in yoga, so it’s usually the area most likely to be injured. Pay attention to the areas that are the tightest such as the lower back and the area between your shoulder blades. (You can increase the effectiveness of this back massage by doing a little research to choose the best massage balls for yoga practitioners, particularly for ones that are designed for use on your back.) As you work the ball around your shoulder blade, try stretching your arms out to the sides to really feel a deep release.
Naturally, progress up to the neck. Go gently here because this is likely to be the tightest area of your body (although it competes with the hip flexors on that score!) You can stay lying on your back, or sit up and place the ball between your neck and the wall in order to have greater control over the pressure.
Finish with the hands and arms. This one is easy–just roll the balls up and down your arms, cupping your hands around the balls, or even rubbing the ball between both palms for a nice trigger point release up the arm.
Don’t feel you have to do the complete massage every day, but pay attention if you are storing your stress in any one area and work on that area when you notice it. As time and money allow, see a professional massage therapist as a treat for your hard-working body!