Body Rolling for Runners
by Marilyn DeMartini for Running Times

Runners, it’s time to get on a roll. Tired of nagging injuries? Need a little more flexibility in your footwork? Ready to let loose with a really full stride? Body Rolling could be your ticket to a better PR and a lot less strain and pain.

Yamuna Body RollingTM is a therapy, a stretching technique, and in some ways, a workout, that is an ideal adjunct to any exercise or athletic pursuit. Former yoga teacher, Yamuna Zake created a deep tissue therapy she called Body Logic, to heal her own leg injury, brought her technique to her students, and then to the general public. To replicate the manual pressure she used in her Yamuna® Body Logic therapy, Zake developed The Yamuna Body RollingTM ball from a dense plastic that is firm enough to become a self-massage tool. Yamuna Body RollingTM uses a progressive routine to roll the body over the ball, from muscle origin to insertion, allowing the body to use its own logic—hence the name Yamuna® BodyLogic—to lengthen, separate and heal. The technique is especially effective for legs and the lower body, because so much tension is stored in the lower extremities. Yamuna Body RollingTM helps release and elongate these tight muscles, tendons and ligaments to help avoid, or alleviate injuries.

Deb Powers is a runner, a massage teacher and a massage therapist in a chiropractor’s office in Port Huron, Michigan. She has used Yamuna Body RollingTM as both a preventive maintenance and a recovery vehicle. “The older I get, I want to enjoy running, but I want to enjoying running injury-free,” she says, “I do a Body Rolling routine before and after runs, in place of, or in addition to a warm up and cool down.

While Yamuna Body RollingTM is effective for the entire body, Zake describes the importance of Body Rolling to strong, flexible legs in her book, Body Rolling, An Experiential Approach to Complete Muscle Release. (Healing Arts Press, 1997) She discusses two common injuries for runners—ankles and knees. “People who walk heavily or do much high-impact exercise also often lose the natural shock absorption of the intra-articular space in the ankles, the space that keeps the bones from touching each other…The decrease in space within the ankle forces the knee to absorb more weighted impact. If this extra stress persists over time, the knee can weaken and become injured, resulting in increasingly limited range of motion in the ankle.”

When the lubrication of the joint diminishes and the space decreases, the only way to counteract the injury-producing pressure and stress is to create space between the joints and to separate the muscle and bone. Yamuna Body RollingTM, by freeing the muscles and separating bones, can do just that—creating longer, streamlined legs with increased freedom of movement.

Rolling the legs, spine, joints and muscles over a small dense, inflated ball replicates the pressure of a deep tissue massage, relaxing and elongating the muscles with therapeutic effects. “The body needs muscles to be free and unrestricted to perform, which requires flexibility and proper alignment,” explains Zake, “Body Rolling is the tool. It removes physical restrictions so that energy can flow unobstructed through the body.”

The leg routine starts by sitting on the ball, then moving slowly through the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, adductors (inside thigh), and illiotibial tract (outside thigh). The first four are the most basic and include working from the hip joint down through the ankle, from the center, medial (inside) and lateral (outside) parts of each muscle. Where tender or painful spots are encountered, breathing into the muscle and breathing out the tension—much like yoga—is effective to help release knots and tension. The limbs immediately feel lighter, looser and at ease.

Yamuna Body RollingTM has grown from a small following of practitioners and teachers to an international community of zealous body workers and students. Zake has recently rolled out a campaign to bring the therapy to the masses as an affordable way to be treated to a daily massage. “It is empowering to take your body care into your own hands, rather than turn it over to a therapist,” says Zake, “When I developed Body Logic therapy, I wanted to share the experience and found the ball was the best way to do it. Now Body Rolling can become your personal way of healing your body—and preventing injuries from occurring.”

The preventive maintenance approach has special appeal to Powers, who deals with injuries daily in her therapy practice. “Injuries are not generally in the belly of the muscle. The power of the muscle pulls on the tapered juncture, where the tendon attaches to the bone,” she explains, “Body Rolling helps cure micro-muscle tears—where most injuries occur.”

Powers adds that the pressure of the ball on the tendons warms the area, so space can be created in the joints and between muscles to loosen and lengthen, providing more freedom and movement. “The effect is a smoother stride, and it also helps you to be more resilient if you slip or twist,” she says.

Both Zake and Powers make the point that most people think of bone as being hard and lifeless, but it is a living entity where blood platelets are manufactured and where muscles start and end. By contacting the bone first, the Yamuna Body RollingTM ball gives direct access to the muscles and tendons. “Most modalities treat muscle and chiropractors treat bones. Body Rolling incorporates both very nicely,” says Powers, who sees the positive effects of all three in her work.

“Body Rolling is ideal for the do-it-yourselfer,” Powers comments, “It is the biggest benefit to know you can go home and do it and not hurt yourself like you can with weights or machines—you can’t overdo Body Rolling.”

By visiting, you can find a Yamuna Body RollingTM teacher in your area, learn about teacher certification programs, or simply purchase Yamuna Body RollingTM Balls, books and videos and learn to do the program on your own. Balls come in various sizes and densities to suit body parts and body types. The red, 9″ ball is the standard, while yellow “Basic Beginner” balls are softer; 6″ green balls are smaller for getting into the joints and neck. Calf balls come in sets of two and are the smallest and best way to work into the calves and ankles. Foot Savers are small, half balls that release tension and cramps in the feet.

A new series of six videos are available including a full-body routine, leg workouts for the hamstrings, quadriceps and adductors, abdominals, and a 10-minute foot saver and fitness routine. “Body Rolling Anywhere” even provides tips on using balls while traveling or in airplanes. A new book, The Ultimate Body Rolling Workout is also available through Broadway Books. (December 2003)

So if you are ready to get more out of your legs, give them some relaxation, decompression and circulation. Get rolling!

Photos of leg routines sent by Yamuna Body Rolling

(If you can send me the photos you are using, I can caption them for you.)

Please note additional photo recently sent of Yamuna Zake rolling out her hamstring.