The mantra of the millennium in health care awareness is “self help.” We’re looking towards methods of “preventive” health care. We’re learning yoga, tai chi, and meditation. Little do most of us know that another effective medical ally is the simple, ordinary, inexpensive tennis ball.
While nothing can replace a warm oil full-body massage with experienced hands, here’s a quick and easy way to help rid your body of the stresses and pressure of everyday aches and pains:
At the end of the day, or first thing in the morning, take your fuzzy friend and lie face up on a yoga mat or carpet. (If you use a wooden floor, the ball can slip.) Before you start this surprisingly enjoyable and effective experience, bear in mind the following rules, which apply to all the techniques described below:
• Never press the ball into soft tissue areas (temple, back of knee, eyes).
• Holding the breath will hold the tension, so breathe and moan the stress out as you feel the ball penetrate the tight muscle.
• Don’t rush. Go slowly, allowing the ball to move deep into the muscle bed so that fascia (a cellophane-like sheath which constricts muscles) may spread and blood may flush into restricted muscle tendrils. Stressed out? Storing tension in your back? Lying face up on the floor, knees bent, take the ball in your right hand, bend your elbow, roll slightly to the left, tuck the ball between your upper spine and shoulder blade and roll back down onto it. With your buttocks still up, slowly walk your feet towards your head keeping your weight on the ball as it rolls down the spine towards your waist. Do the same thing on the left side, starting from the shoulder and rolling down to the lower back.
Sciatica pain and tight buttocks from sitting OR standing? Lie face up with knees bent. Lift your buttocks up and place the ball in the center of your right “cheek.” Lower your weight onto the ball and slowly draw the right knee into your chest. Slowly rotate the bent knee off to the right side in a half circle towards the left ankle and back up towards the right ear. The ball will go deep into the piriformis muscle which, when tight, presses on the sciatica nerve bed, causing a deep dull pain. The ball can help relieve the pressure and reduce the pain. (If there are lumbar disc issues, the pain may return, but even with disc issues the ball can bring temporary relief.) Roll around the circumference of the buttocks and explore all the different areas of tension. Same on left.
Tight shoes? Place the ball right under the heel of the foot and slowly put all of your body weight on the ball. Exhale! Then move the ball into the arch and roll it back and forth. Grab the ball with the toes and squeeze. Roll the ball down the inside seam of the foot. Then roll it slowly down the right outer edge of the foot. All the reflex points will be stimulated. Do the same on the left.
Tight thighs from running, cycling or “spinning”? Lying face down, lift yourself up onto your elbows. Take the ball in your right hand and place it on the center of the right upper thigh. Drag yourself slowly forward allowing the ball to drag down the thigh muscle all the way to above the knee. You can bend your right knee up and down to get the ball deeper into the thigh muscle. Do the same with the left thigh.
The GRAND FINALE! The “IT” band along the outer thigh that runs from the outer hip to the outer knee is by far one of the most sensitive muscles in our body. It is a tougher, less vascular muscle that stabilizes the leg. Lying on your right side, using your arms to support you, lift your buttocks up and place the ball right at the outer hip. Place your left leg (with knee bent) behind your bottom leg for balance. Lower your weight down onto the ball. Keep the left hip right above the bottom hip and slowly drag the ball down towards the knee. Do not go into the knee joint. Repeat on the left.
Again, when doing any of the above techniques, remember to move slowly, and to breathe!
After one half hour on the ball, you’ll be amazed at how much freer your body will feel. Use these techniques whenever you feel tension returning. And have yourself a ball! Call 508.725.8464 for upcoming workshops.
By Tricia Duffy, Fall 2004