Certified instructor Betsy Shilling says daily myofascial release gets easier the more you do it.
I USE YOGA TUNE UP therapy balls at home for my feet. The squishy balls spring back even after I put my full weight on them; I love releasing my arches or balls of my feet after a hike.
I knew the colorful rubber balls had more uses, though, so I wanted to learn more ways to dig into my connective tissue and send blood flow to tight spots.
I discovered a Yoga Tune Up class at KMS Seattle, led by Tune Up certified teacher Betsy Shilling, in which we would use a couple sizes of Tune Up balls. I was thrilled. Shilling, who teaches a combination of yoga and self-myofascial release at Seattle-area studios, had us use the 2½-inch therapy balls I knew, and two 3½-inch alpha balls.
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Before class, Shilling asked what we wanted to work on — people mentioned hips, lower backs and shoulders. Another woman and I asked for feet.
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We started on our backs, placing two small therapy balls in their little bag on top of a block, just under the base of our skull. Shilling told us this position moves us into the parasympathetic state, which includes a slower heart rate and relaxes our bodies so our connective tissue, or fascia, would be more receptive.
We placed two balls, still in their bag, right inside one shoulder blade. We used our breath and moved one arm side-to-side. I reveled in the shoulder opening, happy that I now knew to use two balls at once, especially in this perpetually tight area of my body. After doing both sides, we placed the balls at the bases of our necks and lifted our hips for an upper-shoulder release. We also rolled both sizes of the balls up and down the muscles around our upper and middle spines, digging into rhomboids and trapezius muscles. It was intense in a glorious way. Shilling reminded us to relax our faces.
We used a yoga strap to stretch hamstrings while on our backs, comparing before and after for both sides.
Our feet were next. We sat on tucked toes with the strap wrapped around our ankles to keep them in position for a super-intense stretch. Then, we stood up to roll out our feet, a familiar sensation, though I learned to pause on points of tension and squish the ball side-to-side. We tried picking up the balls with our toes for strengthening. My toes didn’t cooperate, and I made a mental note to work on this at home.
We moved on to quadriceps and hip flexors, using the larger therapy ball. If there were a battle for tightness between my upper back and quads, my thighs would put up a good fight. I felt like yelping from the intensity. If we had more time, Shilling said, we would use the small therapy balls, too. I made another mental note.
We ended with glutes, using the small balls to dig into the complex muscles and layers of fascia in our hips. I loved using the therapy balls to work out tightness, moving my legs side-to-side and feeling the release in my hips.
We ended in final rest, which was helpful, because I doubt I could have gotten up right away. At the end of class, Shilling told us we might be sore, and we should drink plenty of water.
I am excited to know more about therapy balls, and now I want more sizes, too. Shilling says myofascial release is a daily practice, and the more you do it, the less intense it is. I clearly have a lot of work to do.