In 1998 I was completely immersed in Ashtanga Vinyasa third series. Life was pretty much eating, sleeping and lots and lots of intense Yoga. The postures didn’t come easy for me and at times it was pure willpower to get on the mat. I was pushing the limits with my body. My body ached right down to the bones. There was little humility in how I approached things and it was determination and stubbornness that kept me coming back for more. My muscles got to the point of not being able to turn off. I was getting intense cramps after practice. Sitting for any duration would bring excruciating pain. I spent lots of time and cash on massages to reduce the pain but it wasn’t the answer. The yoga was making me very tuned in to my own body, I knew where the tension was but I could not lead a therapist to that place that relieved the pain. It was frustrating.
Around this time, I came into contact with a new system devised by a lady named after a river in India. One day after teaching a yoga class, a student pulled out a ball and showed me what she had learned from Yamuna Zake in USA. I told her about the pain and restriction in the back of my leg and she led me through the hamstring sequence of Yamuna Body Rolling (YBR). Following her instructions, I moved the ball down my leg, the ball moving and sinking into and along the muscles, lengthening them, spreading against bone, releasing tightness. I was able to locate the point of restriction, which I was unable to communicate to the therapists. The muscles at once felt much freer. A wave of endorphins rushed through me – I was healing myself! Rolling around on a ball didn’t seem all that impressive, but I was soon feeling a remarkable difference.
So, what is Yamuna Body Rolling? You are thinking tennis balls, aren’t you? What is the big deal rolling around on a ball? Not very revolutionary at first glance, that is until you experience it. Like many things, including yoga, you have to actually do it to understand it. Yamuna Body Rolling is a powerful method of physical self-help, healing and sustainability. It came to me in a time of great need and helped me though my intense yoga practice not as a separate practice but as one that was complimentary and inclusive.
Yamuna Zake (pictured left below) began practicing yoga at the age of fourteen, and she once casually told me a story in her lovely New York accent of how she “used to do yoga with this guy in a basement in Manhattan in the early 70s. You might have heard of him. Norman was his name.” I’m taken aback. “Norman Allen?” I ask. This mystical Ashtanga pioneer was literally the first American to study ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. It was a moment of serendipity.
Yamuna considers herself first and foremost a Yogini. Her method stems from her deep understanding of yoga practice and is translated into her therapies. Her journey also began with a yoga hamstring injury. She literally researched and studied her own body and injury, healing herself and then going on to develop her Yamuna Body Logic system. This systemized body therapy has its foundation tracking muscle over bone from origin to insertion. From this manual therapy she devised Yamuna Body Rolling, a total bodywork system that uses specially designed balls to replicate this process of following “lines” of muscle and bone. This method allows the patient to become their own therapist. They learn the method so they can work on themselves. The beauty of it is that you can feel where pain and restriction is as you work, you know better than any therapist where to go deeper, where to apply more pressure and where to hold longer.
Yamuna is an incredible advert for the youth and health giving benefits of this system and there is no doubt that Body Rolling can have a fundamental influence on the way in which our bodies age. Yamuna calls her system “Body sustainability”. It empowers the students to heal themselves of injury whilst keeping the body flexible, strong and aligned. The use of breath, internal focus and following ‘routines’ is familiar to yoga students. Sinking into the balls using your own body weight, working first the origin of the muscle, then the tendons, then the muscle itself as you move towards the point of insertion, dramatically releases tension and elongates muscles. Malalignment can be rectified, bone is nourished and toned and even the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated. It’s yoga on a ball. For me the combination is killer. The extraordinary effects of Yamuna Body Rolling are noticeable instantaneously. There is a feeling of expansion of muscle, increased range of mobility and a somewhat addictive ‘stoned effect’ of deep relaxation. Once you do it a few times you are hooked.
It has to be said that my journey with this method began with rolling around not very skillfully! After my first experience with Body Rolling all those years ago, it was difficult to access more information. The system worked so well for me, I was hungry to learn more. My wife also got hooked and we wanted to offer it at our yoga studio. We found a few people teaching it, but these exposures where rare because so few people teach it here in the UK. When I learned that Yamuna was to hold a Teacher Training in London I jumped at the opportunity. Coincidentally the first part of my training was at the Garuda Studio, set up by James D'Silva who used do yoga with me way back when. Another uncanny coincidence.
From my first contact with Yamuna Zake I was sure that I wanted to integrate Body Rolling in to my yoga teachings. I knew that the combination of yoga and Body Rolling was like a perfect marriage. They work so well together. I think Yamuna saw my commitment and we struck it off from the start. Yamuna Zake is a no-nonsense, down to the point New Yorker, who looks decades younger than she is. Her great teachings aside, I liked her as a person and I was humbled and overjoyed when she decided to host the second phase of her teacher training at the Shala. I completed YBR training in September and now as a fully certified Body Rolling practitioner I am excited to be able to share her profound work with my students.
I have been incredibly fortunate to study with some greats in the yoga world including the late Derek Ireland, Sri Pattabhi Jois and Shayam Yogi of Pushkar. I found Yamuna Zake as wise, inspirational and masterful in her teachings and method as these Gurus. It has been powerful to realise that I had found yet another inspirational mentor and teacher. Like my other teachers, she has a complete presence and knowledge of her work and is able to communicate it, as all great teachers can, with grace, humour and conviction.
So, this is how I got to rolling around on a ball. Quite a journey! I’ve gained a much deeper insight of anatomy, learnt to slow down and now approach my personal practice completely differently. There is definitely more humility and with Yamuna Body Rolling I have found a tool to communicate much more to my own body – and my students. I’m here for the long run for sure and am delighted that we can now finally offer Yamuna Body Rolling at the Shala. So come roll with me at the Shala soon!