October 3, 2010

Roll out with the Poor Man’s Massage. ~ Elle Bieling

Foam Rolling Your Way to Body-Mind-Soul Health.

Can foam rolling be used as a body-mind-soul exercise like yoga? Never heard of it? I don’t suppose many people have. I discovered the body-mind benefit of this type of rolling purely by accident.

Physical therapists and athletes use foam rolling techniques to manage sore, over-used muscles. They roll out stiff muscles on a cylinder hard-core roller, much like a rolling pin rolls out dough. Rolling your body on a such a roller works on muscle knots – areas of congestion often called ‘hot spots.’ It is a way of elongating and keeping overused muscles supple and flexible. It is an activity that a person does, when the muscles become so overused that merely stretching or yoga will no longer suffice.

My discovery of foam rolling started when I began to realize in my middle age, that certain parts of my body were constantly aching, especially my hips and lower back.  I decided that it was time to do something about these aches and pains. Stretching was good, but didn’t completely solve the sore muscle problem.

I am very active in outdoor sports, and in recent years took up yoga and serious stretching to increase my flexibility. I always knew that flexibility and balance were key factors for ongoing physical health, especially as the laws of aging took hold.

Deep tissue massage was beneficial for getting to the muscle areas that needed work, but the cost and frequency of visits, which I seemed to need, put me off.
Then I learned about foam rolling. One could do self-massage through foam roller exercises. Ah, they even called it the ‘poor man’s massage’ because you can do it entirely on your own without the help of a massage therapist. Now that was attractive to me, since I already enjoyed the independence of yoga and working out in the privacy of my own home. Self-massage while rolling also would allow me to totally control the movement, the area of focus and the exact pressure that my body needed for healing.

There are times when the luxury of a massage is greatly appreciated and your body sings! Foam rolling, however, is for the times in-between when you can’t afford the massage or don’t have the time to squeeze it in.

The medical term for self-massage on a foam roller is self-myofascial release. A sheath of connective tissue called fascia surrounds all of your muscles and supports and lubricates them. This allows for the gliding of the muscle in relationship to other muscles and tissues, and allows for free-flowing muscle movement. This fascia around the muscles is known as myofascia, the prefix “myo” in Latin is for muscle.

During your activities of daily life, the way you move your muscles causes the bunching up of the fascia into sore, tense areas. Specifically, those areas that you hold your tension and your emotions are stored as muscle knots and hot spots.

This bunching of the fascia is easy to find. Just feel your neck and shoulder for the lumps. If you have ever had a massage, the therapist will stop on these lumps and push and massage deeply to try to break up the muscle knot and release them.

Rolling on a foam roller can do this for you.

Foam rolling can also help you achieve a new level of body awareness. It can tell you where your imbalance lies. For all you yoginis who never get your muscles tied up in a bind, you may find that the foam rolling activity is no big deal. For the rest of you, who overuse your muscles in strenuous activities, it can be very effective tool to discover which area of your body and which side you overuse.

As I got better at rolling out my muscles, an interesting phenomenon developed. I discovered that by rolling the muscle, and stopping on a tight sore spot, if I held my body on that spot and breathed deeply into the pressure, after a time, the muscle would release. What a great feeling! And to my surprise, with the physical release came an emotional release!

I soon discovered that the feelings of release could be easily related to stressful areas in my life!

My hips are a constant source of aching. They are the center for my creativity as I ‘give birth’ to new ideas and move toward a new direction in life. The desire to move forward too fast is very strong in me. The muscles of the hips are powerful muscles in the action of moving forward. They represent the body metaphor of moving forward in life – or for some people, paradoxically the fear of moving forward.

I have always been goal oriented and being able to release control to God/the Universe is one of my affirmations I say while I do my rolling on my hips. I say, “I release control and move to the rhythm of God’s time,” and, “I am moving toward the direction of my heart.” The great feelings of peace and release that I feel while doing foam rolling on my hips in this meditative fashion are priceless!

I follow up with Yoga poses and stretches to elongate my muscles for a full meditative, body-mind-soul exercise. All the traditional holistic health exercises will marry well with a meditative body-mind technique using foam rolling!

As I shared my experiences on my website, readers would write to me and share similar experiences. Yes, the deep tissue, self-massage work on a foam roller was bringing out their emotions, just as mine had.

The trick is to figure out what all those stored body emotions mean in your life. What is their significance? How do you hold tensions, and why are they stored in your body in certain ways?

If you foam roll in a meditative fashion, stopping at your sore spot, holding the pressure there as you deeply breathe, sometimes the answer will come easily. Sometimes it will take several attempts or several days to get an overused, overstressed muscle to release. Sometimes you will never know the body-mind-soul answer to your tensions, because you unknowingly repeat the same held patterns of tension over and over again – hence the lumps in your neck and shoulders!

Everyone has unique patterns of tension, accumulated over the years in their muscles. These are often not undone in one session. But you will feel better after just one session and each and every session after on your foam roller.  I promise!

Even though rolling out your muscles may be painful at first, it will become easier over time as you learn to release the muscle hot spots. When you make meditative foam roller exercises a routine, the build up of the stress knots is less severe.

The key to using a foam roller for a deeper body mind connection is to learn to listen to your body and the message that it contains while you roll. It is the same process as when you do other traditional holistic health exercises. You are just using a different tool for health, flexibility, body awareness and self-discovery.

Be open and aware of your body as you roll. Learn to hear its messages as you move in a meditative fashion. Try to understand, specifically, where it is that you hold your stress. As you roll these areas, unexpected feelings may arise from your foam rolling session. Some of my readers describe their feelings as weird or downright scary. Others cry unexpectedly and don’t always know why.

For me, I thank my body for its messages. I bless my body with love. I move into the mild pain as I hold the pressure on the roller and deeply breathe. It is a feeling of incredible release and healing when the stress and the muscle let go.

In all traditional holistic health exercises, the combination of the movement with the breath is what makes the activity so beneficial to you. Foam rolling is no exception.  The body mind connection is very important and you can use the rolling activity to focus on your areas of stress, tension and overuse for developing intuition and listening to what your body has to say to you.

As you focus on the areas of muscle stress and deeply breathe, you can meditate on the meaning of this area’s tension in your life. Your body is a storage ground for all the emotions that you have not released. Meditating on your sore area while you roll and deeply breathe can reconnect you with these emotions and allow them to be released.

Don’t create so much pressure while you are rolling so that you cannot comfortably deep breathe during the movement. The pain should only be mildly moderate, so that the deep breathing will keep your muscle relaxed. If the pain is too great you will hold your breath and tense your muscle during the foam rolling. This will create the opposite effect. Instead of releasing the stress and the emotions, your muscles will tense more. No releasing there! No body mind connection there! All body awareness will be lost.

Developing intuition to hear your body’s messages is not about pushing through any terrible pain. It is finding that area where you can still deep breathe, relax and move into the mild to slightly moderate pain to fully experience it so it can be released.

You will know the amount of pressure and pain needed for the release. You will feel it in your muscles, in your body and in your soul!  If all you want to do is scream, you are doing it wrong. Ease up on the pressure until you can relax and deep breathe again.

You can start developing intuition for yourself, today, to strengthen your body awareness and your body-mind-soul! Listen to your body and its stored pain in the foam rolling activity. Breathe, connect and feel your body’s messages.  Release and let go!

Elle Bieling is a holistic health nurse and creator of The Body Window, a website that helps you understand your body’s hidden messages. Your body’s messages are often hidden in metaphors of pain and dis-ease. Elle invites you to visit her site and begin to learn how foam rolling can aid you in understanding your body’s metaphors.

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