I joke with my clients that I carry a tennis ball everywhere I go. It's mostly true.
It goes in my dance bag to dance class and rehearsal. It sits on my desk in my studio, and usually there is one in my kitchen. I put it in my carry on luggage when I travel, and have been known to use the tennis ball in airports and on airplanes, as well as long car rides.
Because it's the cheapest, most portable, effective form of massage, and it can save you from days of discomfort from carrying too much luggage, sleeping on your neck or shoulder the wrong way, or general stiffness.
Typically I use the tennis ball as a form of self-massage. Here are some ways to use it:
BOTTOM: I love massaging out the butt by lying down on the ball, or using it up against a wall.
SHOULDERS: It is also great for massaging the kinks out of the shoulder blade area against a wall. I like the spot between the spine and shoulder blades, and also the outside edge of the shoulder blades.
BACK: You can put two tennis balls in a sock and tie the end, and roll it up and down your spine.
UPPER LEGS: You can massage your thighs and IT bands (on the side of the leg), and the side of your hip. This can be pretty intense..a larger foam roller is a little nicer to start.
LOWER LEGS: You can sit on your heels (if you have healthy knees) and put a tennis ball behind your knee. Or use two at a time. I tend to prefer to use a dowel for this technique, but a tennis ball is more portable. This is uncomfortable, but awesome. It provides traction to your knees...roll it all the way down an inch at a time to your Achilles.
FEET: Another great massage technique (you can also use a dowel or a golf ball here) is to roll your foot on a tennis ball. This is an awesome way to relax at the end of the day, or loosen up before a workout. Massaging out the feet is a great way to release the fascia in your body..it actually helps loosen up the whole back side of your body, from your calves, to the hamstrings, bottom, and up your back. Do for at least 1 minute each side. You can test it out by rolling down to touch your toes before you do one side, and then again between sides and after both sides. Notice where you are tight at first, and how it changes. Sometimes the effect can be profound.
I took a yoga class this morning with Joe Taft. When I walked in to the studio with my tennis ball, I noticed the two students next to me also had tennis balls. Then I noticed a lot of people had tennis balls. Since this is something I never see in a yoga class, I asked someone next to me. She said Joe had brought in a bunch of tennis balls to use in class. I was so excited because I had been planning all week to write this post about tennis balls, and there they were in my yoga class.
In Joe's class, he had us on all fours and we used the ball behind the knee to squeeze and pulse the leg up in the air. His class focused on strengthening the butt and hamstrings so that they work more than the hip flexors, and the hip flexors have a chance to release. I love taking Joe's Anusara style class because so much of the way he teaches ties in beautifully with Pilates. I feel the same way about Deirdre Smith-Gilmer's class. Two days ago I had just finished doing a Wunda Chair workout in my studio focused on butt and hamstrings. Needless to say, I was already sore when I got to Joe's class. Now I need to massage my butt.
If you live in Asheville, there's a great way to get tennis balls, and give back too. I get 20 tennis balls at a time so I can use them in my group classes and give them to my clients. I buy them from my local pet store: Patton Avenue Pet Company. They sell used tennis balls (for dogs) that have lost their useful bounce for playing tennis. They are 50 cents each and 100% of the proceeds benefit Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, a local no-kill shelter.