Whether it’s a shit work-from-home setup, long hours of crafting, or simply “phone neck,” modern life can really do a number on our bodies. Discovering exercise biologist and mobility coach Alexandra Ellis on TikTok (@aewellness)— and her therapy-ball-based self-massage techniques—is one of the best gifts the Internet has given me. “Rolling,” as she calls it, lets you dig into your sorest spots, relieving tension, improving blood flow, releasing fascia—the connective tissue that basically holds everything in our body together— and getting more “ooey and gooey” on the inside. “You get the benefits and relaxation of a massage without having to drive somewhere and listen to pan flute music, if that’s not your deal,” Ellis says. To really allow your nervous system to respond, roll each spot at least two-and-a-half minutes. And while a little pain is sort of the point, “it shouldn’t be so intense that you can’t breathe or talk,” Ellis says. I started with tennis balls, which work fine, but springing for the real-deal balls is totally worth it ($21, aewellness.com). Here, Ellis shares six exercises that hurt so good.
Lie on the floor and place one ball on either side of your spine (the balls will be touching), just under the collar of your T-shirt. Interlace your hands behind your head. With your knees bent, lift your hips slightly, then use your feet to drag your body so the balls roll up and down your upper back, from your collar to your bra strap. When you find a spot that feels extra good, lower your head and hips to the floor and gently rock side to side.
Oftentimes, releasing tension in your chest will help ease pain in your neck and shoulders while improving posture, too. Stand in a doorway and sandwich one ball between the door jamb and your body, right below your collarbone. Move your body so that the ball drags in a line from your sternum out to the front of your shoulder and then back again. When you hit a spot that could use some extra love, move your arm around to amplify the stretch internally.
Lie on the floor and place one ball underneath each butt cheek, smack dab in the center. Sweep hips side to side to massage the gluteus maximus. (If the balls start to separate, just set them back toward one another.) You can increase the intensity by crossing one foot over the opposite thigh.
Lie on the floor, place balls vertically on your lower back, and roll over them back and forth so they massage your muscles all the way from the left side to the right. (Just be mindful as you roll across the spine, especially if you’re using harder balls.)
This move is great for anyone who works with their hands (typing counts!). Using a tabletop, place a ball between the surface and on the meaty part of your upper lower arm, just under your elbow. Drag your arm so the ball rolls from elbow to wrist and back again. When you hit a spot that could use extra attention, begin circling your wrist and opening and closing your fist.
Place a yoga block under your head. Place two balls between the base of your skull and the block (this works best if the balls are contained in a bag). Hang out and breathe, or gently nod your head yes and no.
Illustration by Charlotte Fu
This article originally appeared in BUST’s Spring 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!