Theracanes, Fascia Blasters and Not Being at War With Our Tension

A note from Carl:

This week I had two clients who came who came into my office and said something like, “I attacked that shoulder pain spot with a Theracane and it actually felt worse after.” Or “I really worked that hip with a lacrosse ball, and it felt good at the time, but I woke up the next day and it was more sore.” Have you ever done this? I know I have. I don’t so much anymore.

It is easy to be at war with our physical pain.  It’s easy to want to go after our tense areas with a battalion of foam rollers, stretches, tennis balls, thumpers. Yet there can often be unintended consequences, especially when we use them in a “search and destroy” kind of way.  Sometimes, the pain can get worse, or less obvious, but equally harmful, we perpetuate a separation where “I” am in a battle with this foreign invader of “pain.”
I love to use rollers, tennis balls, all of the above mentioned as regular self-care, but how I use them, and how I invite clients to use them has changed significantly over the years.

One of our Feldenkrais teachers, Mia Seagal, has a beautiful and challenging way of inviting people into a different relationship with language. Someone will say something normal like “My shoulder is tight” or “My lower back is tight on the left side” and Mia will invite them to repeat it back in this way:  “I’m holding in a way that tightens my shoulders” or “I am doing something that shortens and creates pain in my left low back.” Can you feel the difference? In our habitual way of speaking, (and thinking) the pain or the tension is this mysterious thing that is happening to me from outside. In the way that Mia is inviting, I’m shorteningI’m holding something– I likely have no idea how or why I’m doing it, but it is clear that it is not something or someone else who is shortening my low back. It can be delicate territory. This is not about self-blame, but rather helping us to notice what we’re doing so that we can do something differently. It can be profoundly empowering when explored without blame and with friendly curiosity.

If I aggressively try to stretch hamstrings that I’m habitually holding tight, and I don’t know how to stop shortening, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? If I have a piriformis muscle that I’m somehow holding in a spasm, and I’m trying to jam a lacrosse ball into it, how helpful will that be?

It can often be humbling when we bring attention to our quality of movement, our quality of self-touch, to see how much we crank on ourselves, how much we objectify ourselves, how aggressive we can be. The Zen teacher Cheri Huber has a great line: “If you talked to your friends the way you talk to yourself, they would have left you a long time ago.”  This line, so apt for the inner-critic, could also be applied to the way we move ourselves, touch ourselves, foam roller ourselves.

What if we could greet our tension, the spot between the shoulder-blades, our back tweaks, with the same quality of caring and connection that we would bring to a young child that is frightened? “Oh, sweetheart, what’s wrong? Can I help you?”

Here’s the deal- our bodies actually want to let go, they want to soften if the conditions allow it.  If you are wincing, or holding your breath, or are bruised afterward, it is likely not a context that supports letting go and learning to relax what you are holding.

Could you imagine using a roller, or a thumper, or a tennis ball, as a way to deepen intimacy? To deepen respect and intimate connection with a place you are holding? To deepen understanding of what you are doing?

What I find helpful in working with these tools is to apply minimal pressure or contact on “the spot” and then work from the inside with subtle movement, breath and an invitation (definitely not a demand) for anything that wants to to yield or soften.

Here is a quick 5-minute guided audio lesson I recorded that can help to ease tension in the shoulders.

I love returning to this poem from Danna Faulds- and in particular, the closing lines:

What’s needed here isn’t more prodding toward perfection, but
intimacy – seeing clearly, and
embracing what I see.

Love, not judgment, sows the
seeds of tranquility and change



Self-Observation Without Judgment
-Danna Faulds

Release the harsh and pointed inner
voice. it’s just a throwback to the past,
and holds no truth about this moment.

Let go of self-judgment, the old,
learned ways of beating yourself up
for each imagined inadequacy.

Allow the dialogue within the mind
to grow friendlier, and quiet. Shift
out of inner criticism and life
suddenly looks very different.

I can say this only because I make
the choice a hundred times a day to release the voice that refuses to
acknowledge the real me.

What’s needed here isn’t more prodding toward perfection, but
intimacy – seeing clearly, and
embracing what I see.

Love, not judgment, sows the
seeds of tranquility and change.

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.