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Tennis ball muscle releases to support your yoga practice

July is Wimbledon time and this month I introduced my students to tennis ball techniques to release tight muscles.

Before you attempt any of the below massage techniques please consider the following 3 golden rules

1) look for the tender spots, this is a journey of discovery and only you know where the tender spots are, these are tight muscles and sometimes you may come across what feels like a knot. This is a build up of lactic acid and the use of the ball will alleviate tenderness and help melt the knots

2) do not rush , choose a time when you are not in a rush so that you can slowly progress through the different areas. Muscles take anything between 20 seconds and 2 minutes to truly relax. If there is no major discomfort stay in the area for a count of 10 breaths or until the discomfort and the tenderness fade completely

3) move away if the pain increases , respect your body and if something does not feel right , back off. You will know very quickly if this technique is working for you, if the pain is becoming more intense then back off or you'll risk aggravating things. You can apply less pressure to begin with by doing some of the rolling at the wall then move to the floor. At the wall the pressure is less intense and you can regulate that pressure with ease.

Here are my top 5 areas to practice on, choose between a tennis ball ( this works best on smaller muscles) or a softer, larger massage ball ( this works best on larger muscles)

1) Neck

The neck carries an enormous amount of weight ( around 5-6 Kgs when the neck is neutral) , this weight increases the more forward tilt we apply due to gravity pulling the head downward. This causes major tension in the muscles that are responsible for holding the head up , rotating or side bending the neck.

There are a couple of muscles in particular that can cause headaches, pain , nausea and even tingling: the Sternocleidomastoid and the Scalene group

One of the simpliest most effective ways to release these muscles is to gently pinch them. To locate the Sternocleidomastoid bring your right ear to your right shoulder and with the right hand find the internal end of your collar bone you should be able to feel a long muscle departing from there and attaching to your jaw. Gently grab this band of fibres and massage it by pinching and gently mobilising the tissues around it.

The scalenes are just behind that big muscle and again your will be able to find them pretty easily just by pressing your finger tips on the side of your neck. Spend sometime finding the sore bits and gently pinching up and down these long muscles. Breath deeply and exhale through the mouth a few times. You can try and roll a ball on this area too although it's a bit tricky with a small tennis ball , try and hold the ball with the opposite hand from where you are stretching things out.

2) Shoulders

Let's take a look at the shoulder muscles that you are most likely to be wanting to work on.

My personal preference is to work on the following areas at the wall :

Rhomboids, find your shoudlerblade( scapula) and then roll the ball along the inside edge of the bone . You can do this at the wall or on the floor

Latissimus dorsi and Teres major : these two muscles are amongst the tightest muscles in my shoulder and often require a long hold for them to relax. You can easily find these two muscles as they make up the fleshy flap you get at the back of your armpit. First identify the tender spots by running your fingers along the bottom edge of your shoulderblade, that is where your want your ball to be.

Infraspinatus : this muscle covers the face of the shoudlerblade and can be very tender, run your finger along the top edge of the scapula and then walk your fingers just below that, found any sore spot? That's when you want to apply pressure.

3) Glutes and QL

There are 4 major muscles in the buttocks and lower back area that can create radiating pain and tension and these muscles seem to respond well to rolling techniques.

This picture illustrates the difference is size of the gluteal muscles, we often try to stretch the biggest muscle ( the maximus) or the smalles muscle ( the piriformis) and we don't pay much attention to the Medius or the Minimus.

My suggestion is to try and roll the Medius and Minimus first. You will need to identify the back crest of your hip first and then position the ball just under there. You can roll or if you find tender spots you can stay and wait until the discomfort fades completely. You can roll at the wall or on the floor as per the picture below. Try to work on several lines starting at the top and towards the sacrum and moving along horizontal lines to the outer hip. As you get to the outer edge of the hip you will also start to release the Minimus on the side of the buttock.

After a few minutes in this area you can move to the Maximus and the Piriformis area and again you will want to do a mix of pinning ( holding the ball firm in one spot) and rolling. You can add more pressure by bending the knee and lifting the foot of the floor and by making circles or opening and closing the hip joint.

One more muscle that is responsible for back pain is the Quadratum Lomborum, it attaches to the bottom ribs and the top of the hip and can cause serious pain if it tightens.

To identify it , find your back bottom rib then begin rolling to find where the tight spots are and follow the same technique we have used so far.

4) Legs

The obvious tight muscle to release here is the group of the hamstrings. Take a look at this picture, we often think of the hamstring as one single muscle but it's far more complex.

Rolling the hamstrings at the wall is very difficult so try and roll these big muscles either on a chair or on the floor and try to use a larger size ball rather than a tennis ball if you have one. If on the floor you will find it helpful to use your arms to roll back and forth.

Before you move on, you may also want to roll your calf muscles ( with a smaller ball) and your peroneal muscles by moving to your knees and rolling the tennis ball along your shin bone edges. You may also want to explore how your your Iliotibial band is getting on by coming onto your side. You will definitely know you are in the right spot, you are looking for the outer edge of the top of your femur (it's white in the anatomy picture above)

5) the front body

The front body is a bit more difficult to roll ( especially in the abdominal area ) there are lots of soft tissues and organs, it is however good from time to time to explore some of the front muscles and here are my suggestions :

The Rectus abdominis and the hip flexors

USE A LARGER BALL To roll the left side of the rectus abdominis roll on your front and bend your right leg to the side, slide the ball to the crest of your left hip and then roll the ball upwards along the left edge of your abdomen, do that a few times remaining vigilant and backing off if any discomfort to the belly occurs. Repeat to the other side and the middle ridge.

To release the psoas start by rolling the ball on the flat front of the hips or just simply lying on the ball psitioning it on the flat of the hip crest. Breath deeply here then you can move up a couple of inches away from your belly button. For more sensation you can bend your left knee.

You don't have to do it all at once , perhaps you can alternate upper body to lower body and if you really do not have time to do any of it at least you can give your feet a good massage before you go to bed by rolling the ball on your arches and your heels , you will be surprised of how tight and tender they will feel the first time you try it.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, if you did please share or let me know your feedback .

Love and light



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