Do-it-yourself massage technique Yamuna body rolling comes to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 January, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 January, 2015, 9:02pm

When the body is tired and aching, what's worse than not being able to get a massage is getting a lousy one. I've been disappointed and frustrated by inept masseuses whose treatments are as effective as wiping my beaten-up body with a rag.

So, when I heard about Yamuna body rolling, a DIY massage technique that's recently made its way from New York to Hong Kong, I was eager to give it a shot.

The technique essentially involves rolling on a specialised rubber ball and using one's weight and deep breathing to release tension from various parts of the body, including the neck, back, legs - and even the face.

It's the brainchild of Yamuna Zake, a 60-year-old New Yorker who developed body rolling from the "Body Logic" bodywork system which she created in 1979.

It has since expanded to include 450 certified practitioners in 30 countries. Body rolling debuted in this city last November when Zake was invited by Flex Studio to hold three workshops on her technique.

"What my work does, first and foremost, is bring back the logical order in your body," says Zake.

Body rolling, she says, improves circulation, alignment of bones and muscles, and bone quality; it heals and prevents injuries; and Zake even claims, lifts and aligns the bones of the face, much like aesthetic treatments such as Botox. It's also said to increase range of motion, muscle tone, flexibility and organ function.

More than 30 years ago, Zake was dealing with physical injuries that would not heal despite orthopaedics, chiropractics, acupuncture and other therapies. She found her own solution in Body Logic.

But she realised she could only reach a certain number of people with her hands-on method. "I wondered how I could make [Body Logic] something people could use to heal themselves," says Zake. Body rolling started in New York City's West Village.

What my work does, first and foremost, is bring back the logical order in your body
Yamuna Zake

There are four balls of varying size and firmness, which cost between HK$220 and HK$250 each. They're more forgiving than other popular self-massage tools such as the foam roller, massage stick and trigger ball.

Zake's technique can be used to treat the common aches and pains of the office worker: lower back ache from sitting for hours, tight shoulders and neck from computer use, and, increasingly, hand and wrist injuries from the use of tech gadgets.

Studies have shown that massage therapy, in general, is beneficial. It improves blood flow and alleviates muscle soreness after exercise, according to a 2014 study by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers who used conventional Swedish massage techniques on healthy sedentary adult subjects.

A 2012 study by McMaster University researchers in Canada claimed that a brief 10-minute massage helps reduce muscle inflammation after 70 minutes of intense exercise. Massage is said by some to lead to mitochondrial creation. Mitochondria supply energy to cells and ultimately the entire body, among other things.

But can body rolling replace a hands-on massage?

"There's nothing like the human touch, of course, and trained hands," Zake says. "But for me, I'd rather work on myself than have most people out there touch me. The more you educate and train your body, the less you can just let anyone give you a massage. I'm all for touch therapies - but it has to be by someone who's really good."

Michelle Ricaille, a Flex Studio yoga instructor who demonstrates some body rolling exercises (right), was certified in the technique 12 years ago when she studied with Zake in New York. After, while living in Chicago, she was a personal trainer to the FBI and would use body rolling on the officers. "After 10 minutes of working on their hamstrings, they could touch their toes," says Ricaille.

I tried the same exercise on my tight hamstrings and the release of tension, muscle elongation and increased flexibility was apparent after just five minutes of rolling. That's way more effective than most massages I've had. Whether the effects are long-lasting, however, remains to be seen. 

Flex Studio will launch Yamuna body rolling classes next week. A 90-minute session is HK$260.