this post encouraging me to try rolling on a tennis ball to ease the soreness in my upper back and shoulders that seems to be a direct result of my adventures with the Ashtanga Intermediate series. I'd like to take this opportunity to personally offer Jim (he commented as Anonymous, but signed his name at the bottom of the post) my most heartfelt thanks for the nudge. Thank you, Jim!
I had heard of tennis ball massage before. I'm familiar with muscle rolling, though I've never done it, and I love a deep tissue massage every now and then. However, in spite of the fact that, thanks to my dog, we have plenty of tennis balls around the home, I've never bothered to try the tennis ball method out for myself. Until today. And... oh... my goodness. Oh, my gracious! It's amazing!!!
I started with the trouble spots in my back and shoulders. At first it was awkward figuring out how to shift my weight around and how to find the trigger points, but I got the hang of it quickly enough. The release was painful and hard-won, but so worth it. Deep breathing and conscious relaxation made the experience almost like a yoga practice in and of itself. After the initial awkwardness of becoming accustomed to the intensity of sensation, the endorphins began to flow and the focus narrowed to the most subtle of internal shifts. I rolled on that ball for nearly two hours, going deeper and deeper into the tight spots, discovering a new sensation with every subtle shift of weight. It's no exaggeration to say that I experienced some... umm.... mild hallucinations. Swirling colors and the like.
I rolled on both sides of my upper back and shoulders, targeting the usual rough spots. Hard masses of muscle were gradually, begrudgingly smoothed out. Then I moved to the lats, which was incredibly painful but so very effective. I even rolled the ball under my left upper chest, where I've experienced lots of resistance for as long as I can remember, but I've never been able to find the physical root of the tension (hmm... left upper chest, eh? Armored heart? Too obvious...). The tennis ball found it. The mass held strong against the pressure and then suddenly would give way, resulting in radiating muscle spasms, searing heat, and eventually softness.
Then I started in on the hips, mainly glutes and piriformis. I can barely verbalize the rawness of this experience. I saw stars. I remembered my birth. I felt the pulse of the universe in my own throbbing ass. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but not much. It is said in yogic circles that we store emotional trauma in the hips in the form of unconscious clenching of the muscles. I've always believed that pain or sickness in the body is often simply the physical manifestation of emotional pain, but I've never had such a direct and immediate experience confirming this to be so. After a thorough working over on both sides, pausing for several deep breaths at trigger points and then rolling the ball maybe an inch along the muscle fiber and pausing again, I'd finally had enough. Not two minutes after removing the ball and lying down to rest, I became suddenly emotional. Downright weepy, actually. The nature of the pain was as if someone I loved had betrayed me or been hurtful to me in a deeply personal way. Sad but pure.
Fortunately, my back, hips, and shoulders felt great. So I guess the lesson is: if you wish to release your pain and increase your emotional intelligence, you might do well to explore the body. And maybe roll around on a tennis ball once in a while.