As massage therapists, we often focus all of our attention on taking care of clients while forgetting about our body’s needs. We get such a good feeling from helping people that we wind up working extra hours, so we can keep that feeling going.

It’s easy to fall into this pattern, and it feels so right—until certain parts of your body start to ache. You push on, ignoring the symptoms, because your clients need you—until one day the discomfort is so severe that you have to stop and rest.

The fear of not being able to do what you love is devastating. And fear of losing your financial security takes your nervous system to new heights of arousal, making it particularly difficult to heal.

Maintain Your Own Body, MASSAGE MagazineInjury prevention

It was more than 25 years ago that I first confronted the question of how to keep doing my work without getting injured. I was treating more than 40 clients a week, and I had a three-month waiting list. I was so high from helping all these people that at first I didn’t care if I needed to clay both my thumbs every weekend to get rid of the inflammation, so I could begin fresh on Monday.

But after six months, I realized if I didn’t figure out a new way to work, I’d lose all function in my thumbs. I saved them by using my elbows instead—but I still wasn’t ready to take a hard look at what other parts of my body might be subject to injury. I just dove deeper into my work, seeing more people.

One day I realized my clients needed more than just me fixing their body problems. If they didn’t understand how the injury occurred in the first place, they were likely to revert to the same postural pattern that caused it, and their problem would recur. They needed a practice they could do at home to maintain the improvements created in the therapy session. I set out to create a method of self-care an ordinary client could use, and in the process learned I needed it as well.

I’ve always used my body as my laboratory, so I started assessing my posture, alignment, range of motion, overall flexibility and the impact of my work. I realized I sustain a great deal of impact into my elbows, shoulders and right hip, leg and foot. Since I’m predominantly right-sided, all the muscles on that side are stronger and more contracted.

It’s impossible for both sides of the body to be exactly the same, since we use each side so differently, but my goal was to keep both sides in harmony. That would give me ease of movement and freedom from discomfort, enabling me to continue working.

Play ball

What I needed was a way to work on myself with some type of prop or tool that replaced my hands. I came up with the idea of using a ball. I could press my body weight into it, and it would have some give. That was how I created Yamuna® Body Rolling. I wound up developing balls of varying densities and weights, between 4 and 9 inches in diameter.

The balls function to stretch muscles, freeing restrictions in all parts of the body, increase blood flow and promote healing. You begin by using the ball to apply pressure that stimulates bone, initiating release of all the tendons attached to it. You then roll out the muscles from origin to insertion. The ball exerts traction that tones and elongates muscles, improving alignment. It frees muscles from each other, from bone and from connective tissue, increasing circulation and range of motion.

Yamuna Body Rolling decompresses nerve roots, freeing the flow of energy to revitalize internal organs and the nervous system. Direct stimulation of the nerve roots also soothes the nervous system.

If you don’t maintain range of motion in the joints you use most in your work, they’ll become compressed. In a compressed joint, the bone wears away cartilage, and the tendons develop microfiber tears. The eventual result is inflammation and arthritic conditions. Any joint subject to repetitive overuse is vulnerable.

Yamuna Body Rolling enables you to prevent such injury. First, you assess what parts of your body are overused, and how. Then you analyze what’s needed to reverse the effects of that overuse and how to adjust your work pattern, so it doesn’t create repetitive stress. I teach my clients to do a simple version of this problem-solving, but a massage therapist’s knowledge of anatomy makes it possible to work even more specifically with any joint.

Self-assessment checklist

Which parts of your body are beginning to lose range of motion and/or feeling discomfort?

  • Look at bone and muscle alignment in those areas. Which muscles are being overused? Which aren’t working at all? How are they pulling the bones out of alignment? If a joint isn’t tracking correctly, observe how it lines up with the joints below and above. Joint misalignment (e.g., hip-knee-ankle) is a major contributor to breakdown.
  • Observe your overall posture. What postural imbalances may be contributing to the joint problem?
  • Observe your work pattern. What movements do you continually repeat that can affect the problem areas? How does repetitive stress from your work combine with your overall posture to affect the involved joints? Which bones are receiving the impact?

Undoing the effects of this overuse requires giving joints what they need to maintain optimal function:

  • The bones of the joint must be correctly aligned.
  • There must be sufficient intra-articular space to allow maximum range of motion.
  • The muscles must support full movement of the bones, which means they must all be in balance (i.e., have their full length).
  • Healthy bone quality must be restored by stimulating bone to improve circulation.

Yamuna Body Rolling aligns bones and works muscles along the lines of correct alignment so that bones and muscles work together. This creates maximum efficiency in the joint.

Assessing the shoulder

Take, for example, the shoulder: an area, especially for massage therapists, that sustains considerable impact.

First, look at shoulder-joint alignment in relation to the rest of your body.

Observe the alignment of the clavicle, humerus and scapula. The humerus should hang straight down from the joint. The scapula should sit on the back ribs, not rotate forward.

Do the muscles that support the shoulder work correctly? Most massage therapists keep their arms in front of their body as they work. Over time, this position contracts the pectoralis muscles, which are key for stabilizing and preventing overwork of the trapezius, serratus anterior and shoulder girdle.

Free the shoulder

The two basic Yamuna Body Rolling routines described below will free the shoulder joint, releasing repetitive stress patterns, as well as prevent problems from developing in the first place.

Massage therapist Mary Schroeder of Miami, Florida, uses the ball at the end of each day, and sometimes in the morning as well if she wakes up stiff.

“My work causes buildup of tension and fatigue in my shoulder and neck,” Schroeder says. “The Yamuna Body Rolling shoulder routines clear that pressure and tension out of my shoulder joints, leaving me relaxed and flexible. Releasing the shoulders also keeps my wrists and neck healthy.”

For the work on the front of the body, we use a larger-sized, 9-inch ball. For work on the back, we can use either the larger ball or a smaller one, which allows us to work in more detail.

Maintain Your Own Body, MASSAGE MagazineRoutine 1: Front-body lengthening

When you work bent over a massage table, the front of the body contracts and the shoulders come forward. So we begin by using the ball to lift and lengthen the muscles of the front of the body, rolling from the pubic bone up the rib cage. This work lifts the sternum and rib cage.

Next, we roll out the pectoralis muscles on each side, from the sternum along the lower edge of the clavicle, into the shoulder joint and out to the humerus. Then we work the biceps halfway to the elbow. This work enables the front of the body to support the shoulder.

Last, we work the back of the shoulder joint. Starting with the ball at the side of the spine at T2-T4, we roll toward the posterior shoulder joint, spreading the ribs laterally toward the joint and the scapula away from the spine. Finally, we roll out from the joint along the triceps.

More advanced routines enable you to work specific muscles in more detail.

Maintain Your Own Body, MASSAGE MagazineRoutine 2: Pit release

Here’s an effective, enjoyable way to get your work out of your body at the end of the day.

Lie at the edge of a bed, letting your arm dangle over the edge, hanging directly down from the shoulder. Wedge a ball between the edge of the bed and your armpit. Stay there for 3 to 5 minutes, relaxing. The ball takes pressure out of the joint and increases intra-articular space, giving you a wonderful release.

As massage therapists, we know we overuse certain joints, subjecting them to repetitive stress and possible injury. It’s our responsibility to our clients and ourselves to practice self-care.

“I don’t think I’d be able to work without taking care of my body with the ball,” comments Elizabeth Demmel, a massage therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Every day, my body gives me different information about what it needs.”

Demmel’s found that her hips and pelvis often become misaligned on the left side, due to contraction of the psoas and iliacus.

“I can place the ball there, breathe into that region, and really stretch it out. It’s uncomfortable, but effective,” she says. “Other times, I may think the problem is in my lower back, but when I put the ball in the front of the torso, I feel discomfort there and realize that’s where it’s coming from. Yamuna Body Rolling is a real tool to analyze and find those ‘aha!’ places.”

If you’re experiencing repetitive stress in any joints, consider how your work patterns may contribute to it. Investigating how you can change your work pattern to support your joints, instead of causing breakdown, will benefit you and your clients.

Note: This article was featured in the February 2011 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

Yamuna Zake, MASSAGE MagazineYamuna Zake has created five bodywork systems: Yamuna® Body Logic, her original hands-on treatment; the Yamuna Body Rolling Table Treatment; Yamuna Body Rolling self-therapy; Yamuna® Foot Fitness; and the Yamuna® Save Your Face self-therapy and hands-on treatment. She developed professional trainings for practitioners of these systems and authored two books about Yamuna Body Rolling self-therapy. She owns the flagship Yamuna Studio in New York City and conducts trainings around the world. Contact her at