Poor Man’s Massage or a Body-Mind-Soul Exercise?
guest post by Ellie Bieling
What is foam rolling? Never heard of it? Is it a purely physical exercise? In this guest article, Elle Bieling of Body Window tells us all we need to know
The Case for the Poor Man’s Massage
What is a “poor man’s massage?” A good masseuse kneads and massages your sore and over-used muscles, right? However, instead of another person massaging your muscles, when you do it yourself on a cylindrical hard-core roller, it is now very economical for you. When you use a roller, it is similar to the concept of a rolling pin, rolling out dough but instead you are putting your own body weight on the roller and rolling out your muscles.
The foam roller exercises that you do can target just about any muscle or muscle group in your body that needs attention. While massages are wonderful if you can afford them or have the time for them, most of us can’t get them on a regular basis.
In fact, I prefer foam rolling to a “real” massage, because I control the exact amount of pressure that I need and I can sink into to the sore spot for as long as I want. The “poor man’s massage” gives me total control of the movement in the comfort of my own home.
Foam Rolling and Athletes
Physical therapists and athletes use roller to roll out their stiff and over-used muscles. They live by it. It is a way to keep their muscles supple and elongated. It increases their flexibility and balance and works out the muscle knots, often known as muscle “hot spots.”
Does this activity sound similar to any other activity you know? Indeed, using a foam roller is very similar to Yoga, because it works on flexibility and balance. It also requires a certain amount of strength and coordination to roll around on the floor on the roller.
However, a roller is used mostly when the muscles are sore from overuse, as is often true with long distance runners and other endurance athletes. In the case of overuse, stretching and Yoga no longer suffice to work out the muscle knots.
Foam Rolling as a Body-Mind-Soul Exercise
So, how else is foam rolling similar to Yoga? It can be used as a body-mind-soul exercise. I discovered this body-mind benefit purely by accident. Here is my story.
I am an active 50+ year old. I love skiing, hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, biking and, of course, Yoga to stay happy and healthy. I love the outdoors and the state of Colorado is my playground.
As I got older, I began to realize that my aching muscles no longer went away as fast! I especially carried my baggage in my hips and lower back. In my searching for something to treat my muscles, I discovered foam rolling. Stretching and Yoga were great, but just not quite enough. I loved deep tissue massages that definitely helped, but I couldn’t afford them regularly.
With foam rolling, you can do your own deep tissue massage when you do the roller exercises. The medical term for this is type of treatment is called self-myofascial release. The fascia is a sheath of connective tissue that surrounds all your muscles. It supports and lubricates them, which allows them to glide in free movement, instead of getting stuck on the surrounding muscles and tissues.
Every day when you move your muscles in your normal, physical activities, you may move in a way that causes overuse of your muscles and the bunching up of the muscle fascia. This bunching up can become sore, tense areas known as muscle knots.
When you become stressed, you also create muscle tension that leads to muscle knots and hot spots, especially in your neck and shoulders. This bunching of the fascia can be felt in your neck and shoulders. Just feel the top of your shoulders for the lumps! If you have ever had a massage, this is where the therapist stops and digs into the lump. She will try to break up the lump to release the knot. Foam rolling can do this for you!
Self-myofascial release also feels great! As I used the roller regularly and learned the techniques, I realized that one side of my body was sorer than the other. This is a common phenomenon for anyone who moves! Rolling on a hard-core roller can raise your body awareness and tell you where your imbalance lies. It is a very effective tool to discover which side of your body is stronger and therefore which side you overuse. This is the side that will need more work.
I also discovered that while rolling, if I stopped on a sore spot, and held the pressure on that spot, that if I breathed deeply, after a time, the muscle would release. This was a really great feeling! And, as you might suspect, with the physical release of the muscle, also came an emotional release. Just as the saying goes, “There are issues in the tissues!”
Meditative Foam Rolling
So, just like in the practice in Yoga, you can develop body awareness through foam rolling. The body awareness that you will gain, as you discover those areas of your body that hold your stress is very releasing indeed.
As with Yoga, the trick is to keep your rolling meditative. Stay in the moment with your body. Slowly roll to locate the stress knots. Breathe deeply and move into the knot. Hold the pressure on the knot. Don’t hold your breath. As you breathe, the knot will eventually give up and release! And with the release comes the release of the stored negative energy required to heal your body-mind-soul!
As I worked my aching hips, I came to a new level of understanding. My hips are the center for my creativity, my birthing area for new ideas as I move forward in life. I tend to push forward too hard. The muscles of the hips are very powerful muscles for the action of moving forward. The hips represent the body metaphor of moving forward in life. In my case, it is moving forward too fast. (In some people, paradoxically, it is the fear of moving forward).
Knowing this about myself, and my almost constant aching hips, while I am rolling my buttocks, I say “I release control and move to the rhythm of the Universe.” The great feelings of calm and peace that I achieve while rolling my hips in this meditative and affirmative fashion are priceless!
I often combine foam rolling and Yoga poses for a full, meditative body-mind-soul exercise. The key to it all is to listen to your body as you foam roll. Try to understand its messages to you. Stay open to the messages. Why do you have this particular sore spot? Is it chronic? Why? How do you hold your stress in your body? What are you holding in that needs releasing?
Since I started writing about the meditative benefits of foam rolling on my website, the The Body Window, readers have written to me to share similar experiences. Yes, the deep tissue, self-massage work was bringing out their emotions, just as mine had.
Self-myofascial release, when you first start, may be painful at first. However, if you stick with it, the sore muscles will get better and it will become easier. If you are like me, you will soon become addicted to the practice. My muscles now release much quicker than at first. It is like they learned that I would not stop until they released. I almost never have the intense sore spots like I did when I first started.
We all have unique patterns of muscle tension that we have accumulated over the years in our muscles. Often these habits are not undone in just one rolling session. However, you can and will feel better after just one session and each and every session on your roller! I promise!
You can start developing your own body intuition today and strengthen your body awareness through foam rolling. You can listen to your body and its stored pain when you learn foam roller exercises. Breathe, connect and feel your body’s messages. Release and let go!
About the Author
Elle Bieling, RN, is a holistic health practitioner and creator of The Body Window. Her site helps you understand your body-mind connection. She teaches you that your body contains messages that are often hidden in metaphors of pain and dis-ease. Elle invites you to learn how to do foam rolling to aid you in understanding your body metaphors.
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