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.