The practice of foam rolling is more than physical. The purpose of
this article is to help you learn how to perform self-myofascial release and heal your body, mind and soul!
‘Why do we spend years using up our bodies
to nurture our minds with experience and find our minds turning then to
our exhausted bodies for solace?’ ~ Author Unknown
You learned in the
that you hold tension in your body as a result of your habitual stress
patterns. You hold your breath as you pull in your stomach and tense
specific muscles as a result of strong reactions to strong emotions. Emotions
and movement are very closely related. You repress emotions by
restricting the movement of your body! When you tense and restrict the
movement in your body all sorts of trouble ensues.
You also learned in Emotions Affect Our Body that your body is a storage ground for the emotions that you keep suppressed. Your body stores emotions if you are unable feel them and heal them by allowing them to felt fully and released. These emotional responses lead to the holding of stress that leads to the problems of the tight, sore, tension-filled muscles.
Your held tension targets certain areas in your body and certain muscles as a result of YOUR specific stress pattern, and YOUR habits of holding stress in your body. That specific area where you hold your tension creates an imbalance in your muscles and in your body. The constant, static tension held in muscles leads to tightness and weakness in the effected muscle. This tightness is called a muscle knot, hot spot or trigger point. Other muscles attempt to take over for the tight and weak ones, which can no longer perform as well. This leads to stiffness, knots in muscles, and poor joint mobility. All of this eventually results in a stiff body that is unbalanced.
This lack of balance is more than just physical. As you have learned throughout my website the imbalance is one of the body-mind-soul. When you become more body-aware, you continually develop intuition when you use your body. It is true that often your affected body parts are metaphors for what is really going on in your life. If you read my article on metaphors you will better understand body metaphors as they are used in our culture. Your muscle issues are often issues of your body-mind-soul. We all have a weaker side - a side that is tighter, sorer, more overused. We are all unbalanced and need work! See the body metaphor? Creating balance and health in your body, automatically creates health in your soul. Creating health in your body will automatically create emotional health. A healthy mind can only exist in a healthy body.
Now you are going to learn one of the simplest, most effective way to take care of your body and loosen its restrictions. Those who discover foam rolling, myself included become addicted to its therapeutic effects. Athletes all over the world depend on the foam roller. No other gym toy works quite like the simple, lowly and inexpensive roller. You can purchase a 36" x 6" foam roller for under 15 US dollars.
I am particularly fond of the premium, textured foam rollers. They are more comfortable and cushioned than the cheaper ones. The textured surface on the foam roller grips my premium yoga sticky mat too, to keep me in place. This is good because the rollers tend to move around a lot as you use them. These premium models are hard to find in your local discount or sporting goods stores.
I would recommend starting out with a more cushioned foam roller before graduating to the harder, high density ones that are less comfortable but more durable. This is especially true if you are new to foam rolling. Also get the 36 x 6 inch round, as this size is much more versatile and it is what I show in all my roller exercise videos!
I have also read where some really tough guys use PVC pipe for a roller! Now that is some serious self-myofascial release! I would not
recommend it to start out, for sure. I use PVC pipe with a piece from an old yoga mat glued to it for comfort, when I really need to get deep into the muscle. But this is less frequent as I make foam rolling a consistent part of my healthy lifestyle.
Foam rolling is my personal favorite technique for understanding where your imbalance lies, where your muscle knots and trigger points are (Yoga is a hot second favorite for me). If you have done your body scan, that I taught you in Developing Intuition by using your body, you would know which area to begin your work. If you have not yet done a body scan you can still begin your rolling session, because often through the process of deeply rolling the muscles you discover muscle knots you did not know you had.
I like to think of muscle knots as representing congestion and toxins in your life. This clutters up the muscle and creates junk that needs clearing! As you foam roll, think of it as removing all this congestion and clutter. We all have too much clutter in our lives, in our homes, in our hearts and in our souls that is manifested in our bodies. While foam rolling, invite this congestion to dissipate and allow simplicity, peace and understanding to flow in instead.
Rolling the lower back with the Spanish Peaks in Colorado behind me.
Foam roller exercises provide the following benefits:
Rolling exercises are a very effective way for self myofascial release. The fascia of a muscle is simply the fibers or thick layer that surrounds and encapsulates a muscle. Fascia also surrounds other tissues and organs of the body. The prefix 'myo' stands for muscle therefore myofascia simply means the fascia of the muscle.
The purpose of the myofascia is to support and lubricate the muscle. As the muscle contracts, the fascia prevents the muscle from catching other muscles or tissues. The myofascia consists of microtubules of collagen and elastin that carry the lubricant fluid. Nerves and blood vessels also travel through the myofascia. The fascia is rich in nerve endings. When the fascia becomes compressed or twisted, the sensation of pain or soreness is felt. This is the ‘hot spot’ the muscle knot. The sensation may also be carried down the length of the muscle and to other tissues as well to feel like a sore hip or sore leg.
Foam rolling is often called the poor man’s massage. It is very effective at deep tissue muscle work or self myofascial release. You can control the pressure by the amount of weight you apply to the roller. You can also control the exact location for the pressure, by shifting your weight slighty up or down, right or left. Plus you can hold the pressure for as long or as short as you like. Self myofascial release on a roller is totally controlled by you.
By rolling a muscle you can easily find the knots, loosen them and elongate the muscle by rolling it. It is generally thought that by practicing Pilates, Yoga and body rolling, you will lengthen your muscles and therefore lengthen your body. As a result you will feel longer and taller.
Feeling longer and taller is more about balance. The feeling of elongation, evenness and balance is felt when your muscles are flexible, relaxed and without tension. Often you don’t know how relaxation and balance feel because you are trapped in abnormal ways of holding and sensing your body. When you start using the foam roller, you will learn where your imbalance lies. You will know which hamstring or which quadriceps group is pulling more of the weight, because that side will be sorer or tighter. You will focus your self myofascial release exercises on that sore and tight area.
Re-balancing your body through rolling on uses self myofascial release techniques that help you balance each side more effectively. You become cognitively aware that one hip is sorer than the other, or one IT band is tighter than the other. If one side is tighter or sorer than the other, most likely you are using the one side more than the other.
When you do your body rolling and physical movements, meditate on your weaker side and tell it to pull the load evenly. Reflect on your balance, both physically and your life balance. Listen to your body’s message.
Rolling out the hamstrings
The added benefit of foam rolling if you make it a meditative practice, it can also be a tool for emotional release. When you roll your muscles, the physical tension is released. The feeling of well being is enormous if you add the meditative dimension and really open your heart to what the significance of the tension in the particular area may represent in your life.
When you roll a muscle, if you sense a spot or knot that is sore, hold the pressure of your weight over that area for a while, about 20-30 seconds, or as long as you wish. B-r-e-a-t-h-e as you sink into the sore spot. If it is too painful that you cannot breathe, ease up on the pressure. The deep breathing is the signal to your body that you are in the relaxed state. If you can breathe deeply while holding the pressure on the muscle, eventually the muscle will release. This is the secret to foam rolling the body-mind-soul way.
If while rolling, the pain is so great that you have to hold your breath, the opposite effect will occur. Your muscle will tense up and become even more painful. So only apply as much pressure that you can continue to deep breathe! Also do not roll the muscle area too vigorously at first or you may cause bruising and more soreness to occur. Go slowly if you have never done this before.
Really notice your body and how it responds to the specific foam roller exercises listed below. Feel the tugging, the stretch, the discomfort and sink into it. Breathe deeply as you sink farther into the muscle. Let go. Let the tension go, let the stress go and let the muscle release. When the muscle releases, so may your emotions, your need to control and hold the tension! Let the feeling and the release come! Feel it and heal it! It will do you body, mind and soul wonders!
I always seem to have lower back and hip issues, especially on the right side. I deeply roll the lower back and hip areas and say personal affirmations for health. For me it is: "I am supported in all things. I release control and surrender to a larger plan that awaits me with all good things, so that I may prosper and be well." These are my issues.
Do your body scan (See Developing Intuition) to discover your personal area(s) that needs attention. As you roll your muscles, contemplate the possible meaning of your sore areas. Create Positive Affirmations for Health to heal your body-mind-soul.
Just remember that foam roller exercises may bring up feelings you did not expect. The emotional response is unique to you and may be ‘weird,’ frightening, confusing or just different. Embrace the emotions by just staying aware of them, and if you feel safe, move into them to feel them fully. (See Emotions Affect Our Body for more information on this technique). Thank your body for its message and sit with the emotions along with the pressure on the muscle until they are released. Eventually over time, as the physical and emotional congestion is cleared, the rolling exercises will bring you great feelings of release and therefore peace and calm.
Please see the exercises that I have posted below, to help you with
your intuitive movement on the foam roller. You can use a 36 inch
roller or a smaller, 18 inch one, it doesn't matter. However, I have found that the 36 inch one is much easier to manipulate and balance on, so if you are a beginner, choose the larger one. I love my premium model, with a textured surface and durable EVA foam. I have yet to find any premium models in stores. Shop online if you want one of these. Amazon has many models. To see my recommended model, click here. Add a premium yoga sticky mat to complete your experience.
My videos are meant to be a starting point only. As you start your foam rolling on a particular muscle, don't forget to follow your own intuition, close your eyes, and sense where you need to move. There is no real right or wrong way to do it. Roll your body slightly to the left, the right, up or down, to get your sore spots and the areas that you discover need work. When you do this, all parts of the muscle can be targeted, which may be very important for you personally. Body awareness is vital in this practice, so use your right-brain to increase your own personal body awareness.
If you need more coaching on discovering your body's messages, I am here for you, as your holistic health coach and Body Window interpreter.
Foam Roller Exercises for the Lower Body and Lower Back:
Foam Roller Exercises for the Upper Body and Upper Back: