By Beck Beverage
I’ve had a consistent self-myofascial release practice for the past year. I’ve amassed a collection of cool tools, techniques, and have designed some excellent sequences for almost every part of the body (let me know if you’d like me to talk more about this). I got interested in self-myofascial release while exploring ways to release chronic shoulder tightness and ease pain. It’s one aspect of my current body/mind/movement care routine.
There is a lot of great research out there on the benefits of self-myofascial release (SMR). I think there’s one missing from the conversation: The first step to being better embodied is being curious about what your body is experiencing right now, in this moment. That’s why SMR can be thought of as a great embodiment and stress relief practice.
“The first step to being better embodied is being curious about what your body is experiencing right now, in this moment. “
When you use a roller or massage ball, the connection between musculoskeletal and visceral sensation is obvious. When you’re on a sticky spot, you’ll notice other sensations that seem to arise from the body part you’re working on. Sometimes starts to feel like there’s a pit in my stomach, or I’ll start sweating. My breath is impacted too. If I don’t concentrate, my breath gets stuck in my throat. It’s an emotional experience as well as a physical one. It demonstrates that emotional experiences (an amalgamation of visceral sensations interpreted and given language) and physical experiences (musculoskeletal feelings) are all the same. They are all vibrations.
SMR is great tool to use to create a current map of you as human being. When you move around in the world, your brain is relying on the map of your body it is most comfortable with, SMR aids interception and proprioception. Rolling over each body part, you feel the intricacies of your boarders and how expansive you are as you push up against them. You can anchor something going on outside of you, with a very specific sensation. You can connect to parts of your body that can be hard to feel otherwise. For many of my community, it’s the shoulders and thoracic region, hips and pelvis. With the feedback of an SMR tool, you can feel what those areas are like, how they move, and where any sticking points are.
Finally, the state of your muscles tells us something important about how your brain is currently perceiving level of threat. SMR gives you the opportunity to learn where your tightness and holding is located, which in turn can help you make educated guesses about the state of your mobility in those areas. Over time, you’ll learn to discern the difference between a tight muscle in a threatened, protective, and anticipatory stance, vs a muscle that is ready to respond without reticence due to low threat level.
Here’s an experiment you can try to explore some of these ideas: Grab a foam roller or a tennis ball. You’re going to manipulate your experience by changing the amount of pressure you apply to the implement as you roll out. First ask, how little pressure can you use? What does it feel like to roll out this way? Come up with some words and an image to describe the most obvious sensations. Then, increase the pressure, but only by 20% and ask yourself the same questions. Finally, repeat the process with the amount of pressure you’d normally use. What differences did you notice between the first and second time? The first and third time? What kind of sensations are you experiencing now that it’s over?
If you come to our small group classes, we do self-myofascial release every time! In fact, some of our trainers have grown to utilize it more than stretching. If you ever have questions about any techniques, or how to get certain body parts, just let us know!