Body By Zake

Yamuna Body Rolling as Self-Therapy

By Darren Buford

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2006.

They’re all around us: fountain-of-youth products, pills, drugs, exercise regimens, and diets. But can any antiaging strategy really improve physical fitness, range of motion, muscle tone, and posture?

Bodyworker, aromatherapist, and yoga instructor Yamuna Zake thinks so. In fact, she suggests we can prevent many of the unwelcome characteristics often associated with aging, such as rigidity and structural problems, simply by being more on the ball — literally.

Zake’s creation, Yamuna Body Rolling (YBR) is a deep-tissue self-therapy that uses dense, plastic balls to mimic both the therapeutic touch found in massage therapy and the bone stimulation found in chiropractic. When performed correctly, this progressive system of routines can unwind the body and improve alignment. But the benefits don’t stop there.

“Part of the reason I developed Body Rolling was so I could have a way to take care of my body and keep it injury-free,” Zake (pictured at left) says. “I took a ball and copied the natural order of the way I work on people with my hands.”

In 1979, during the birth of her daughter, Zake suffered a hip injury. To assist her healing, she developed a system of bodywork based on her years as a hands-on practitioner and yoga instructor. But as potent as the system was, Zake came to believe it was limited only to those who had access to a trained practitioner. Her goal was to give people a way to take care of their own bodies between massages — at home, at work, and when traveling.

Enter Yamuna Body Rolling. Once Zake began working with people, she realized there were many places where a ball got excellent leverage. “It was incredible,” she says. “So I started making up routines to keep all body parts free of restrictions, preventing and healing injuries.”

YBR works by using specially-designed balls, ranging in size from 6 inches to 10 inches, to work muscles from origin to insertion, starting at the bone attachments and rolling through muscle and skeletal chains, just as massage therapists might do with their hands during a bodywork routine.

Each ball has a defined density, elasticity, and resistance to give the best results for each client’s needs. For instance, Zake recommends most people begin on the yellow ball. This basic ball is designed large and soft for beginners and those with less flexibility. The yellow ball is also recommended for people who suffer from fibromyalgia and bone problems (such as osteoporosis, arthritis, or spinal rigidity), and can be comfortably used by those in rehabilitation from injury or surgery and those who are pregnant.

By contrast, the red ball is harder and denser so individuals who have progressed through the various YBR routines with the yellow ball can seek a deeper massage. Clients are able to better isolate individual muscles with the red ball, allowing for greater release.

While the yellow and the red are the two primary balls used in YBR, routines can also include a green ball designed for office and travel and two black balls meant for use on runners, cyclists, dancers, and climbers. The black balls can also help in mastering particularly difficult yoga asanas.

Body Rolling is an effective adjunct to massage therapy and Pilates as well, allowing individuals to free and elongate muscles and to better address core strength, respectively.

Maintaining Longevity

Before jumping into self-treatment, Zake first advises potential clients to consult with a trained YBR practitioner. These professionals can create appropriate sessions for individuals, geared to their individual needs. Practitioners are able to assess alignment, gait, and individual patterning of weight distribution into the feet. After these initial sessions have been completed, clients are free to explore and master YBR’s possibilities alone. “Once you learn it, there isn’t a lot you can’t work out in your body,” Zake says.

“This therapy is a different concept in fitness,” she continues. “Usually, you go outward with your body — lifting weights, running, bicycling — engaging from the outside, with your body pushing out. But Body Rolling is sinking into your body — going deep using your body weight to create change, to create fitness.”

Zake also suggests Body Rolling offers a unique perspective on muscle tone: “People go to the gym to get muscle tone. With YBR, you press into the muscle using your own body weight. You roll through the entire muscle from where it begins to where it ends. You free it up. But because you put direct pressure on it, it perks, you get tone. No, you’re not getting aerobics, but you are getting weight-bearing, muscle strength, and flexibility.”

Because of YBR, Zake believes her body is more defined and has a better range of motion, bone quality, muscle tone, and posture in her 50s than when she was in her 30s. “It’s not in our culture to think about longevity and what you can do for it as far as your structure goes. We’ve learned that cardiovascular and strength-building are great for fitness, but they cause breakdown in your structure due to repetitive stress. There is the downside to every fitness system. The best thing about Body Rolling is that you can continue to do everything you love, as long as you do something to undo the downside.”

To locate a Yamuna Body Rolling practitioner in your area, visit