How to Massage Your Waist with a Foam Roller
A great foam roller is equivalent to a deep tissue massage, says structural integrative specialist and goop expert Lauren Roxburgh. Fascia—the connective tissue in our bodies that wraps our muscles and, at worst, may knot together to impede movement, slump posture, and cause pain—can be manipulated by using a foam roller.
“The good news is that while you need to do a bit of work, it is possible to bring back length and space in your core” Roxburgh says. Below, she walks us through the virtues of foam rolling and gives us a series of exercises that are easy to do at home.
“When the body begins to work appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”
—Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D; founder of the Structural Integration method and acknowledged as the first to understand the role of fascia in human health.
Why do some of us experience shortening in our waists?
MThere are myriad factors, including poor diet, stress, hormonal imbalances, emotional eating, lack of adequate rest, and not moving our bodies enough—but the role of gravity and the impact of posture on our connective tissue are important, too. Over time, gravity and the weight of our upper body can cause the space between the ribs and the hips to get squished and compressed, which in turn contributes to a shortening and thickening of the waist. When more space is available for movement, breath, and circulation in this vital area, not only does the entire waist shrink and the midsection lengthen, and people stand taller.
The waist tends to be neglected in our everyday lives: We spend a lot of time sitting, slouching, driving, and working on computers (or texting). During my structural integration training, we analyzed the way people in different cultures walk. Not surprisingly, those of us in the West tend to walk—excuse the term—as if we have a stick up our asses. We’re rigid, tight, anxious, and inflexible and carry the stresses of our daily lives in our gait. Conversely, many people in African and South American cultures tend to walk with a more relaxed movement: Their hips swing, their torsos twist side to side, their heads are held high, and they have a more graceful presence overall. What this style of walking also means is that they are effectively doing core work in the muscles and fascia of their torsos with every step, toning the core while also helping to unwind tension and release stress.
What is fascia’s role in this shortening?
Fascia is critical because it actually helps to create the shape of our bodies. Fascia is like a very thin wetsuit just under the skin that wraps around individual muscle and keeps everything in place. It’s that thin, white, stringy layer you see on a chicken breast when you’re cooking.
When it’s healthy, fascia is like clear saran wrap. But injuries, stress, bad posture, emotional behavioral patterns, and poor body maintenance can cause fascia to get tight, dense, short, and plasticized.
The good news is that fascia is malleable and can be revitalized.
What are these roller exercises actually doing to your underlying structure?
The foam roller acts as a tool for myo-fascial release. The roller gets into the fascia in much the same way that a deep-tissue massage does.
The roller also helps us tap into our intrinsic and core muscles—or, as I like to call them, the “skinny-buff muscles.” When incorporated with Pilates-inspired movements, the foam roller essentially destabilizes us. In order to balance, we have to “turn on” those core and intrinsic muscles that can be difficult to activate in most gym exercises or cardio workouts. The great thing about this program is that it can be an add-on to other workouts you love. You can take it on the road or do it at night before bed. It takes just a few minutes, allowing you to work smarter and not necessarily harder.
#1: Standing Side Bends
- Stand up tall with your feet hipbone width apart.
- Reach your arms up, shoulder width apart.
- Inhale to reach up and over to the right.
- Exhale to reach up and over to the left.
Repeat five times on each side.
#2: Windmill Twist
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Place the roller behind your shoulders, wrapping your biceps around the roller.
- Inhale to twist your body to one side, and exhale to twist to the other.
Repeat 5 times on each side.
#1: Upper Back Roll
- Lying on the floor, place the roller under your back at your bra line and lean your middle back over the roller.
- Take your hands behind your head to support your head and neck. Using your feet to drive the move, inhale as you roll and massage up the upper back and shoulder blades.
- Exhale as you roll and massage down the spine to the bottom of your ribs (be careful NOT to roll back and fourth on the lower back because it can create too much pressure/force on your discs and vertebra).
Repeat 8 times.
#2: Under-Armpit/Lymph Massage
- Lie down on the foam roller—it should be perpendicular to your body. You should be slightly twisted toward the right side of your upper back, right armpit, and ribs. Bend your knees 90-degrees, and place your feet flat on the floor.
- From this position, roll from your armpit about four inches down towards your waist and back again—drive the roller by pressing your feet, for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides; repeat, using the same deep breathing as you do so.
Repeat 8 times on each side.
#3: Diaphragm Roller Release
- Lying on your back, bring the roller to the bottom of your shoulder blades at your bra line with your hands behind your head, fingers gently interlaced to support your neck. Place your feet parallel and hip width distance apart and keep your tush down on the mat.
- Inhale as you arch your thoracic (or mid- to upper-) back over the roller. Keep you hands behind your head while stretching the front of your neck to release any tension.
- Exhale and curl back up, squeezing and flattening all the air out of your stomach, organs, and lungs to clear out the carbon dioxide, making room for fresh oxygen to fill the lungs. This also helps clear any tension and stress in the gut by ringing out the organs like a wet towel, while flattening the abdominal muscles.
Repeat 8 to 10 times.
#4: Diaphragm Release with Organ Twist
- Do the same as Step #3, just add a twist of the knees and head in opposition to lengthen and lean out the waist.
Repeat 3 times on each side.
#5: Snow Angel Shoulder Massage
- Lying on your back, place the roller under you in parallel, supporting your entire spine from head to tailbone.
- Place your arms out to the side, with the palms of your hands up to open and expand the chest.
- Do “Snow Angels” with your arms and shoulder blades reaching your arms out to the side and up toward your ears while expanding the chest, arms, and neck. This will massage your shoulder blades as you move.
Repeat 8 to 10 times on each side.
To Tone, Strengthen, Re-Shape and Lengthen
#1: Slinky Spine
- Inhale as you reach your arms up, then exhale while you curl your chin to your chest and round your spine down and pull your belly in. Place your fingertips down to the roller while in a rounded spine.
- Inhale as you start rolling the roller away from you. It will roll up your forearms, and then lengthen into an extended or arched spine (going from flexion to extension). Reach your sit bones up wide to lengthen and decompress the spine, shoulders, neck, and waist.
- Exhale to start curling your tailbone under, rounding your spine, and scooping your belly as you roll the roller back towards you until you are in an upside down letter U shape.
Repeat 8 times.
#2: Inverted Waist Shrinker
- Place the roller under your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine).
- Place your upper back and shoulders to the mat, keeping your waist elevated in a bridge position. Lift your legs to about a 90-degree angle so they’re pointing up to the ceiling.
- Place your hands on either side of the outer edge of the roller to make sure it doesn’t slip. The roller should remain stable throughout this exercise.
- Inhale as you begin lowering your legs down in front of you. Bring them down as low as you can without sensation or arching in your lower back and/or shoulders.
- As you exhale, use your deep lower belly to draw your legs back up toward the sky about 90 degrees. Your spine should remain stable and neutral for the duration of this exercise.
Repeat 8 to 10 times.
#3: Rolling Swan
- Lay face down on the mat and place the roller right below your elbow joints with your thumbs up.
- Reach your heels away from your heart to feel oppositional energy and decompress your spine.
- Make sure your glutes are relaxed so you don’t jam your low back while you roll up.
- With the roller under your forearms, inhale to start rolling the roller towards you, extending the spine while pulling your belly in and UP. Roll the shoulders back to tone the arms and help realign your posture.
- Be sure to pull your abs up and in to support your back and elongate the front of your body.
- Exhale as you slowly resist on the way down.
Repeat 8 times.
- Lie down on your side with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Place the roller under your bottom leg, just above the anklebone.
- Place your bottom elbow directly under your shoulder, with your forearm flat on the ground.
- Press down into your lower leg and forearm, lifting your side body (or “hourglass”) off the ground, taking care to keep the roller stable. You will want to continue to keep the roller stable throughout this entire exercise.
- Inhale and sweep your top arm up toward the sky. With this motion, you should feel the entire lateral line of your body engage to hold you up/defy gravity.
- As you exhale, rotate your torso and top arm down toward the ground, while keeping your body propped up in space.
Repeat 8 to 10 times on each side.
#5: Shell Curl
- Place the roller just below the knee joints.
- Place your hands shoulder width apart and make sure your shoulders are directly over your wrists. Stabilize your shoulders, and imagine there is a skewer through your shoulder joints: You will skewer around the joint but you will not rock back and forth.
- Place your spine into a slight extension to elongate your belly muscles, inhale, and then start rolling the roller toward you while rounding your spine into flexion in the shape of a nautilus shell. Take a full exhale to pull the roller all the way in while your hips lift, your belly is scooped, and your tummy is sucking in.
- Squeeze all the CO2 out at the very end to release toxins and draw the waist in like a vacuum seal suction to tone and shrink the belly.
- Exhale and slowly resist the roller as your legs back down into the full extension position.
Repeat 8 times.