The Tennis Ball Massage Technique – A Cure for What Ails You

Tennis Balls Photo by Rik Vig

What if your doctor told you, “take two tennis balls and call me in the morning.” Well, for body aches and tension, two tennis balls might just be what the naturopathic doctor ordered. About a year ago, my wonderful yoga teacher, Devin Morgan introduced me to do-it-yourself Tennis Ball Massage. One day, everyone in our yoga class was handed two plain tennis balls – and then, much to our surprise, we proceeded to learn how to work out every ache and tense area in our bodies from head to toe. When we finished, my body felt as if it had just received a deep tissue massage. The beauty of this Tennis Ball Massage technique is that the equipment is very inexpensive and you can take it with you wherever you go. And the benefits are tremendous, releasing pockets of tension hidden deep in muscles or joints and improving blood circulation to all muscles and internal organs. So, if you are curious about what Tennis Ball Massage can do for you, go get two tennis balls (not golf balls, baseballs, croquet balls or any other type ball, but Tennis Balls) and let’s get down on the floor. Also, remember to do everything slowly and carefully, ceasing the instant you feel any unreasonable discomfort.

First, an important caution. Before trying this self-massage technique, you should be in a good state of physical health with no back or limb injuries, nerve damage, or serious muscle trauma. If in question, be sure to ask your doctor or health care provider first before trying any new physical exercise or practice. If you experience any kind of intense pain, numbness or major discomfort, stop immediately and seek medical help. You are responsible for knowing your own body and personal state of health.

Let’s get started

Now lie down on the floor on your back with your two tennis balls close at hand. Try it out the first time on a padded carpet, since the harder the floor, the more intense the experience. Also, it is very difficult to control the balls on a hard, slippery surface. Put your feet flat on the floor about a foot apart and with your knees up. Raise your butt up off the floor enough to place the two tennis balls in the area of your tail bone (coccyx) with one ball on each side of your spine. Always avoid having one or both of the balls directly on the vertebrae of your back bone. Your back is very sensitive and needs to be protected against injury at all times. Now begin to slowly lower your hips and lower back down onto the balls. As you feel the balls creating pressure on your muscles, breathe into it and try to consciously relax the muscles, letting go more on each exhale. If you are comfortable with this degree of sensation, you may try moving your body slightly to create a small circular massaging motion with the balls. After about a half to one minute of this, raise your tail again and maneuver the two balls with your hands a few inches higher up your backbone. Remember to make sure that each ball is on each side of your spine and never directly on any vertebrae. Now repeat lowering onto the balls and breathing into it as you let your body weight create pressure, generating the circular motion to massage the area.

You repeat the above procedure, progressing the balls up your back one step at a time until you reach the middle area of your back. Now it is time to lower your seat to the floor and raise you head and shoulders using your forearms to support you as you again work your way up your back a step at a time. Once you reach the base of your neck, it’s time to get your shoulders. Move the balls outward away from your spine along the shoulder blade area. Wherever you find tension or soreness, concentrate on exerting a little more pressure and a circular motion. You’ll know the key points that really need massage when you find them – then remember to breathe it out! When the tension finally dissipates, it’s amazing how energy suddenly flows into the area. Now that you know the basic principle, it’s time to go for all of the other areas of the body. You can massage the buttocks, the back of the thighs, the back of the knees, the calves – then flip over onto your stomach and work on your collarbones, the front of your shoulders, your solar plexus (the area in the center below your ribs and above your belly), the stomach and abdomen where a lot of internal organs are, the area where the pelvis and legs join in the groin (full of lymph nodes), then the front of the thighs, and finally the feet, both tops and bottoms.

You may find that massaging certain areas, like the legs work better with one ball at a time. One area in particular that goes better this way is the outer hip on each side. Lie on your side with the ball in the hip area where the leg and hip come together in the socket joint. The muscles in this area can be very tight. Be patient here as the sensation will probably be very intense – we carry a lot of tension in our hips. And remember not to forget your arms and your hands. But we’re not finished yet. There’s still that 15+ pounds of weight you carry on top of your neck and shoulders – your big ol’ head. The first area to massage is the base of the head where the cervical vertebrae join into the skull. You want to use two balls and place them to each side of your neck at the skull base, never directly on the delicate neck bones (cervical vertebrae). Next, take one ball and lay on your side with the ball under the point where your jawbone hinges and work the tightness centered there out with a careful rolling motion. People who suffer from TMJ know this area well. Now take one ball in the palm of your hand and do the temples, the cheek bones, the area under your jaw on each side of your throat, your forehead above your eyes, and finally the scalp on top of your head. By now you should feel like a big bowl of mellow jello.

By the way – Some practitioners of back massage prefer to begin at the top of the spine and work down towards the tailbone. My preference is tailbone up because we hold so much stress and tension in our sacrum (tailbone) and lower back area, that relieving this first has a dramatic overall effect on us of relaxing  tension. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that the tension we store in our shoulders and neck is more profound. Use your own intuition as to which directional approach is better suited to your needs – or experiment with both at different times and choose the approach which gives you the greater result.

Now grasshopper, you have now been initiated into the Way of the Tennis Balls. Keep your two new fuzzy friends with you wherever you go so relief and relaxation will always be close at hand. If you find the two balls hard to control at the same time, try putting them into a sock with four inches of space between them until you become more adept with the technique. As I mentioned earlier, be careful, be safe and go easy, never overdoing it or doing it when something doesn’t feel quite right. Tune in and be mindful of the messages your body sends you – they contain wisdom about what’s right or not right for you and your body.

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