As an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainer, whether I’m teaching a class, workshop, immersion or training, I always check to see if students are new to Yoga Tune Up®. While I’ve learned over the years to distill my description of YTU into a succinct few phrases, I know I have one tool that’s going to impress itself into the students’ bodies and psyches better than any words I can come up with: the Therapy Balls. (One question I hear a lot: “Is this the class with the balls? I need this class!”)

When we roll, pin, spin, compress and shear on the Therapy Balls, we’re effectively working on two levels at the same time: a local (point of contact) level, and a global (whole body) level. Let’s look at these two aspects individually, keeping in mind, of course, that they’re actually taking place at the same time in your body.

photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio
photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio

Locally, the Therapy Balls create all sorts of positive change in your tissues: they help pry apart adhesions, increase hydration, and relieve pain from poor movement, to name but a few. Whether you lie down with the Therapy Balls under your body, or pin the balls to a wall, you’re also talking to some specialized sensory nerves called proprioceptors that are studded throughout your fascia (and can be broken down further into categories based on the type of touch they sense: light, hard, steady, vibrating). These proprioceptors relay information to your brain that helps you embody yourself and better sense where you are in space (in Yoga Tune Up®, we call this the EmbodyMap).

Here’s what’s extra cool about developing your proprioception: researchers are finding that the better you are at proprioception, the quieter your pain signals, generated by nociceptors, become. Imagine a tug-of-war going on with the body-mapping proprioceptors on one team, and the pain-sensitive nociceptors on the other. Whichever is ‘stronger’ at signaling will win. So the more your nociceptors are signaling your brain that something hurts, the less the proprioceptors are able to function, which means an area of your body that is in chronic pain (say, I don’t know, between your shoulder blades from so much computer use?) is not going to have a good sense of where it is in space, and as a result, will be easier to injure.

Now here’s where it gets even more interesting: rolling on one area of your body has a ripple effect through your tissues, via their fascial wrappings. In other words, a local action has a global effect. If you roll the Therapy Balls on the bottom of your foot, you’ll improve the pliability of the tissues up the back of your leg and possibly even into your hip, due to the tensional fascial network that covers you. Your fascia, which for a long time was the “last one picked for the team” part of the body, is finally getting attention and for lots more fascinating (or fascia-nating) information about fascia, pre-order Jill’s new book, The Roll Model.

There’s a second global effect I want to mention, and that has to do with your nervous system. While self-myofascial release on the Therapy Balls makes a sometimes visible difference in your tissues, it makes a psychological one too. It’s extremely down regulating for the nervous system to receive so much positive sensory feedback, and as a result, you’ll shift out of stress and anxiety, and experience quietude, relaxation, softness and relief. When I teach Therapy Ball work, I always cue my students in a moment of quiet to recognize these effects as well as the more obvious physical ones. Stay tuned for Friday’s blog so you can try out some simple rolling techniques and think global, roll local for yourself!

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