In today’s world, restless minds are indication enough of the pervasive high stress levels plaguing our everyday well-being. But not quite as distinct is the precarious amount of tension we’re unknowingly storing—make that hoarding—in our bodies day in and day out.
And while hitting the gym or taking a yoga class can do wonders for releasing muscular tension, it can be difficult to make these things habitual due to our increasingly busy schedules. And that’s where self-myofascial release, a form of self-massage by way of foam-rolling, offers a game-changing solution. Described by Maya Jocelyn, founder of Brooklyn-based holistic health and arts center Studio Maya, as a “one-size-fits-all approach to stretching,” the alternative medicine therapy is equal parts accessible, effective, and time-saving. “It’s extremely efficient in that you can use your body weight to create pressure and give yourself a substantial massage, accessing parts of your body that you can’t reach with your hands,” explains Jocelyn. “You can address your entire body in 10 minutes.”
Technically speaking, myo means muscle and fascial refers to fascia, the thin lining that wraps every muscle in the body. “When muscles stay contracted, fascia can lose its elasticity, leaving you feeling tight, stiff, and tired,” she explains. “Self-myofascial release increases blood flow to the muscles and gives a gentle stretch to the fascia, which can help you feel more open, free, and energized.” And as one can imagine, foam rolling offers a multitude of benefits for those who spend an alarming amount of time sitting in an office chair—an entirely unnatural position for the human body—all week. “It helps reverse the damage this causes, while lengthening the leg muscles, elongating your back, opening up the shoulders, and freeing up your neck.”
To get started, Jocelyn recommends beginning with a soft, low-density roller, such as Perform Better’s three-foot molded foam roller as opposed to a firmer, high-density one, which will allow the body to get accustomed to the pressure. For a foam-rolling novice, it’s essential to tread lightly so as not to strain or seriously bruise your muscles. And in that sense, you’re your own best judge. “There’s a zone where pain and pleasure overlap,” explains Jocelyn. “You should apply enough pressure that you feel some intensity, but it feels so good you never want it to end. This usually means that you’re fully relaxing into the stretch.” As you gain more experience, she recommends taking a peeling-the-onion approach, softening (or “sweet talking” as she likes to call it) one layer of muscle at a time. “Muscles that are very tight are usually very bad at letting go. They may need to be taught how to relax.”
How often one should roll depends on the amount of tension being felt, and it can range from every day to just a few times a week. “Take your time and have a conversation with your muscles,” instructs Jocelyn. “You will find that they are very opinionated and have a lot to say.” As for when, the day is your oyster, but Jocelyn is partial to nighttime since self-myofascial has a calming effect, and thus can help you unwind from the day and prepare for more restful sleep. From a full-body reset to soothing sore quads, here Jocelyn outlines five basic foam-rolling techniques to try during the holiday break for a blissfully untethered physique in 2019.
1. The 12-Hour Workday Reset
“Lay your back on the roller so that your entire spine is supported from your tailbone to your head. With legs bent, feet hip-width apart, open your arms so they are perpendicular to your body, resting your forearms on the floor with your palms facing up and your fingertips relaxed. This opens up your shoulders by stretching your pectoral muscles. It also calms your mind. Stay there for one to two minutes and focus on your breathing with big sighs on the exhale.”
2. The Back Pain Solution
“Laying on your side, put the roller sideways and lean your ribcage onto the roller just beneath the shoulder blade. Keep the roller in place and rock forward and back so the roller massages the entire area below your shoulder blade. This releases the latissimus dorsi, the large V-shaped back muscle.”
3. The Tight Quad Buster
“Start on your hands and knees with the roller underneath your belly. Lay down on the roller with the roller touching the front of your thighs and hold up your torso with your forearms on the floor. Move your elbows forward so the roller moves toward your knees. Do not roll over your kneecap. Stop right before the kneecap and move your arms backward so that the roller moves towards your hips. Roll back and forth.”
4. The IT Band Soother
“Start as if you were doing a side plank and lay your bottom thigh on the roller. Using your forearms to hold up your torso, move your arms so that the roller rolls from the side of your knee to the side of your hip. Go back and forth. This is usually the most intense position.”
5. The Calves De-Cramper
“Sitting on your butt and leaning back on your hands, rest your calves on the roller. Roll your legs side to side as you inch your butt closer to the roller. This will move the roller from your ankles to the top of the calves. Go back and forth until you feel your calves relax.”