My new favorite yoga prop is yellow, fuzzy and bounces. It goes from lively to dead pretty fast, but for our purposes that’s just fine. A tennis ball's primary purpose in life may be submitting to repeated thwacking over (or into) a net by racket wielding aficionados, but, given the chance, they have another purpose even higher than a world-class lob.
Yin yoga enthusiasts learn the benefits of gently stretching connective tissue, the framework of fibers that form the support structure for the body’s tissues and organs. The rationale that supports the value of stretching connective tissue, particularly around the joints, is the same as that for muscles: mild, sensibly-delivered stress makes connective tissue stronger. And whether we’re talking house, relationship or body, strong framework is good.
However, connective tissue doesn’t respond well to rhythmic contraction like muscles do. It’s the patiently held posture that does the trick, allowing the tissue to slowly respond and eventually begin to release.
Here’s where the tennis ball comes in. Before you begin your next yoga practice, or anytime you feel tight, sore or underloved, try these three moves:
Love - Foot: From seated (on a chair) or standing (on a mat or other non-slippery surface), step on the tennis ball and roll it around beneath one foot, pausing at any spot that says “ooo-aaah”. Gently press into the ooo-ahh spot for 15 to 30 seconds, then release, switch feet and repeat.
Love - Glute: From sitting in a chair, place the ball underneath one glute or the other. Schooch around until you find a you-know-what spot then lean into to it, exhale and smile stupidly for 15 to 30 seconds.
Love - Back: Position the tennis ball between your back and a wall, anywhere from between the shoulders to on or above the glutes, then start channeling your inner bear scratching its back against a tree. When you come across the by now familiar “ooo-ahh” spot, pause, press, exhale, release.
And that’s it. Game. Set. Match. You win.