20 Jun Roll Yourself
We live in a bizarre world where no one tells us that Aum isn’t just a nifty spiritual seeming way to start a class, but that it actually stimulates the auricular branch of the vagus nerve, turning on our parasympathetic nervous system and physically relaxing our body. Or that if we’re stressed, submerging our head in cool water activates the ancient throwback called ‘Mammalian Reflex’, which lowers our heart rate, and releases an array of anti-stress enzymes and hormones. No one even tells us that our muscles don’t actually stretch – at least not in the way we’ve been led to believe.
Literally, we’re given the coolest, most complex and wonderful toy on earth: our body. And no one hands us the instruction manual!
The traditional anatomical view of how the body works is both grossly flawed and widely taught. The idea that muscles work solely in isolation is a great paradigm when working with a cadaver, but completely misguided when working with a living body. Yogis know this intuitively, if not always intellectually. We can feel that a subtle change in the angle of our scapula can shift the entire feeling of a pose; that a knot of tension in our lower back doesn’t just affect our back, but our whole side body. We intuitively know what has just recently been coming to the forefront of anatomy and physiology: that everything in our body is connected.
What is the vehicle for this connection? Fascia. It’s amazing. I mean, truly astounding. It covers and wraps everything, every bone, organ, muscle and every individual muscle fibre. It’s the thing that gives us form and shape, the thing that inhibits or provides range of motion, and gives our bodies elasticity and dynamic stability. It’s the key to healthy movement, lithe bodies and a flexible open mind.
I studied it out of necessity. How many of you have the wonderful experience of tight hamstrings despite practicing yoga for more than a year? How many of you still think that by practicing more yoga this problem will magically be solved (what’s the definition of insanity again?). This is what I found when I started a deep yoga practice. Years of martial arts had given me strength and dynamic stability, but not flexibility in a yogic sense. No matter how often I practiced or what style I practiced, the results in terms of lasting range of motion were minimal. I knew there must be a better way to get easeful motion, and searched many different avenues – eventually finding the Roll & Release Technique.
Roll & Release Technique is a yin system of yoga using props like blocks and solid rubber balls. It works intensively with the myofascial layer of the body, releasing points of stuck fascia, stuck energy and creating length and ease without the wear and tear on the body. After a full class it feels like you’ve just been through a deep tissue massage on steroids and it’s the most effective way to gain flexibility and easeful range of motion that I know of.
Loosely working with the lines of fascia in the body laid out by Tom Myers, the author of the revolutionary book on fascia Anatomy Trains, Roll & Release uses the balls and blocks to find and release knots of tension. Because we’re not cadavers, releasing a single spot in the body has an effect on the length of the full fascial ‘train’. Rolling out your feet creates length in your hamstrings. Rolling out your jaw deepens your backbend. Don’t take my word for it, instead try the following:
Take a solid rubber ball (or tennis ball if you don’t have one), and while standing, place it behind the mound of the big toe. Slowly, consciously roll your foot over the ball with medium to hard pressure. Do this for a minute or so. Every time you find a point that is sharper, has more feedback, stay with it, breath and feel it release. Once the time is up, step off the ball close your eyes and feel the difference in the feet. Then, take a simple forward fold and feel the difference between the side you rolled and the side you didn’t. Notice the difference in your glutes, back, or maybe even shoulders and neck.
The superficial back line (train) runs all the way from the bottom of your foot up your legs, back and neck. Just by releasing our foot we relieve pressure from the entire line. Just like undoing a knot in a rope gives it more length, undoing points of stuck fascia gives our muscles more length – and does so quickly, effectively and without putting pressure on natural imbalances of your body. This is just one pose in the Roll & Realease discipline – the variations, like any yoga, are endless. Because it’s so restorative, and rejuvenating, it’s the perfect compliment to your yoga (running, tennis, cycling) practice. It brings lasting flexibility, ease and lightness faster than anything else I’ve discovered.
– By James mattingley
James is a teacher and trainings manager with Radiantly Alive. You can find him on fb at jamesdoesyoga or jamesdoesyoga.com