Q&A WITH MICHELLE
What inspired you to become a YBR® practitioner?
In 2001, I was T-boned at a red light. I was 31 years old, and going through a very stressful divorce with two small children to care for. I was diagnosed with whiplash and sent on my way with prescriptions for a painkiller, a muscle relaxer, and an anti-inflammatory medication. When the pain didn’t go away and my ability to move my head and shoulders freely didn’t return, and I was becoming more depressed and anxious, they added an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. The drugs only made me feel sick, tired and unable to function. Desperate for relief, I sought every alternative I could find and afford. Massage and acupuncture helped, but the relief was temporary. I went to the chiropractor every week for months. I would feel better after an adjustment, only to wake up the next morning unable to turn my head or look up, out of money and still in pain. I had been a dancer all my life and had a steady yoga practice, suddenly I was unable to function and accomplish simple activities without pain. Fibromyalgia set in, everything in my body ached and after over a year, I was still far from being back to normal.
In 2003, a friend told me about this amazing class she had just taken called Yamuna® Body Rolling and she thought it would help me. I was curious and hopeful. I looked it up, ordered the book and a gold ball and began to explore the practice. Immediately I felt a difference. When I woke up the next morning with less pain and improved range of motion, I knew that I was onto something. I continued to work on my own and felt myself getting better and stronger every day. I was hooked. After all this time feeling helpless and out of control, YBR liberated me, empowered me and released me from my pain and daily misery. It felt like a miracle. I began taking private lessons and classes with Lauren O’Grady in Athens. I couldn’t wait to come home every day and roll. When I found myself rolling for hours every night, I knew I needed to teach and share this gift with others who were suffering and feeling like there was no solution.
In 2005, I was lucky enough to find a phase 1 YBR training with Yamuna at a small massage school in N.C. and went on to complete phase 2 many months later with Yamuna in NY. I was finally certified in 2006. I continued to work on myself. The better I felt, the more confident I felt that I could help others and couldn’t wait to share it.
One morning in 2007, I dropped my children off at school and I was noticing with overwhelming gratitude how great I felt as I sat at a yield sign waiting for a car to pass. In the very next moment, all thought was gone as my head impacted the steering wheel and I was thrust into the middle of the road. There was an explosion in my neck, back and shoulders, a ringing in my ears and a woman in my window asking me if I’m alright, telling me that I had been hit from behind, hit and run. I tell my students now that I had been given the opportunity to prove once again that YBR works, but at the time, it did not feel like a gift. I had 3 disk herniations in my cervical spine, constant nerve pain through my shoulders down to my fingers, I couldn’t turn my head or look up, and over time fibromalgia set in. Doctors offered the usual cocktail of drugs. I again sought alternative care and spent a small fortune on physical therapy that only hurt me, rather than helped. I was told without a doubt that I would need neck surgery. I believe in the innate ability of the body to heal itself when given the correct information, patience and time. It took some time, but I finally found my way back to the ball. I never had surgery, I no longer have herniated disks or chronic pain, and I know without a doubt that it’s because of YBR.
Share 3 tips on your YBR® practice that you think would be good to share with the Yamuna® community at large.
• #1. Consistency – We so often sabotage ourselves and our efforts by being passionate about a practice when we don’t feel well, but once we feel better, the practice drops away… only for the ailment to return again – leading to frustration, wasted time and energy, and looking for the next quick fix. I tell my students, if you don’t feel better yet, don’t stop rolling; if you do feel better, don’t stop rolling!
• #2. Trust – Trust gravity, the ground, the ball and the breath to hold you and release you. Trust yourself, what you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to explore the intensity in the moment. Learn to trust the messages, the natural intuition, wisdom and guidance you receive from your body when you’re on the ball. Your body will tell how long to stay, when to move on and where to go next on the ball if you listen.
• #3. In Bed with YAMUNA – Do not underestimate the subtle power of these routines! I wish we had YBR in Bed when I was recovering from my accidents. I use them all the time to help me unwind from a stressful day. I give them to my over-achieving clients who have a hard time letting go and to clients that have a hard time holding themselves up on the ball. I always suggest to my sleepless clients, try YBR in bed. It gives you something to focus on rather than worrying about not sleeping. The balls help you relax and release tension in your body and settle into your breath so you can drift back to sleep. And for clients that feel achy in the morning, it is the perfect way to help them ease into their bodies and their day.
What aspects of the YBR® work are particularly helpful for men?
Breathing, foot fitness, letting go and core strength. I love working with men and wish more men would give YBR a chance! I think YBR helps them develop a more intuitive relationship with their body. Learning how to breathe and let go into the ball, rather than pushing and forcing themselves into the ball, takes practice and awareness. When they learn to listen and respect the messages of their body, especially in the presence of pain, rather than ignoring and drowning it out, it helps them avoid job or fitness related injuries. I think they enjoy having the ability to “fix” themselves. Many men spend hours at work on their feet, standing and walking on cement in heavy boots or uncomfortable dress shoes. Male athletes invest a lot of time, money and energy into their sport. Runners look for just the right shoes, get prescribed expensive orthotics, but continue to suffer from foot, knee, hip and back pain and wonder why. When we work on the feet first, the instant relief and profound effect they experience throughout their entire body gives them hope and incentive to continue to practice. But I think my favorite story is regarding a lesson in core strength. I had a young athletic male client. He complained of back pain and anxiety. He ran, lifted weights and boxed. He considered himself to be in great shape. He loved to lift up his shirt to reveal his six-pack abs and ask me to punch him in the gut to prove how strong and tough he was. And it was true. To the appearance, he looked very strong. The first time I put him on the ball to teach him how to roll up either side of his spine, we were both shocked to watch him shake and struggle to stay on the ball. His abs were tight, but his core was weak. Breathing deeply into the ball was a challenge because of the tension in his belly. He was not happy with this discovery. With practice he was able to learn to let go and breathe and remain stable on the ball. His back pain went away and his anxiety greatly diminished.
Share with us a quote that inspires you in relation to body sustainability/YBR.
I heard this a few weeks ago and it continues to echo through me -“Knowledge is a rumor until it lives in the body.” When I looked it up I discovered that it is a variation of a Papua New Guinea Proverb “Knowledge is only a rumor until it is in the muscle.” It takes me back to when I first became aware of the power and magic of muscle memory as a young dancer. I think about how we can read all day long about the benefits of mindfulness, yoga and pranayama. We can talk about it, even teach it, but if we’re not actually embodying it, we can’t possibly experience and reap the benefits of that knowledge. With YBR’s experiential approach to the body, we have this beautiful opportunity to take what we know about musculoskeletal anatomy, alignment and structure and explore it from deep and personal perspective. You can look at an anatomy book and see where the psoas is, but to discover it with a ball, sense its origin point, melt into it and feel it unwind with a rush of sensation and emotion is to me, the most powerful illustration of how YBR invites knowledge to become alive in your own body. The body remembers, and with repetition it learns very quickly. If we feed it the information it needs to thrive and stay aligned, it will continue to function with strength and ease.
What part of the body is your favorite focus area?
This is a hard one to answer. For me it really depends on what part of my body is talking to me in the moment. When I was recovering from my accidents, the chest, sideline, neck and either side of the spine were all crucial in keeping me mobile and moving in the right direction. But now, I find that I really love the pelvic/abdominal routines. People hold a tremendous amount of tension in their bellies, so it’s not always the most fun routine in the moment. But I have witnessed and felt some pretty incredible results. Students report immediate relief from low back pain and hip pain, feeling more connected to their center and will often experience an emotional release and deeper sense of calm. Visually you can witness their legs unwinding from their hips and see their lower backs release. After all these years, I am still amazed and excited by the immediate shifts Yamuna creates in people’s bodies.
What facts or information can we share with the community in order to help promote your work and your studio?
The majority of my work is with private clients, either at my office or in their homes, where I integrate YBR, yoga, mindfulness and health coaching to create a very personal and empowering approach to wellness and sustainable self-care. I currently teach public classes at the Healing Arts Centre in Athens. I offer an on-going yoga class, YBR focus classes once a month, and a weekly Intro to YBR beginning in February. In 2017 my focus is in a lot of ways about starting over, assessing what has worked over the past several years, letting go of what isn’t working and being open to new opportunities. I would like to bring back my “Release Parties” – something I started a couple of years ago, beginning with my Psoas Release Party. People always want to join the party, even if they don’t really know what a psoas is yet! We had a lot of fun and the idea continued to grow from there. I think the students enjoyed the playfulness of the approach and having the time to socialize and process what they were feeling in their bodies. I also intend this year to take my work outside of Athens and offer YBR in studios in surrounding areas, as well as move out into the internet world. I’m always looking for opportunities to reach people that don’t yet know about YBR and don’t have anyone in their area to guide them. I am looking at creative ways to inspire curiosity, participation and community. I am in the process of developing and launching a new project called “Daily Tune-up” where, beginning in February, I will post self-care related tutorials that will include YBR and YFF, as well as pranayama, meditation, yoga and healthy lifestyle tips. In response to Yamuna’s Foot Fitness focus in February, I am offering a 2 week February Foot Fitness challenge on my Daily Tune-up Facebook page. I will be sharing live videos, and give students opportunities to ask me questions, connect with each other and share their progress. Every month I plan to run a Daily Tune-up challenge with the monthly Yamuna body focus to show how easy it is and what an impact a short daily practice can make.
For the past several years I have been invited to teach YBR to the ballet classes at the University of GA. Dance is my first love so I particularly enjoy sharing YBR with dancers. They are so in-tune with their bodies and work to refine their instrument, but they also can push their bodies beyond their limit and be set back by injuries as a result. YBR is the perfect maintenance tool for them to develop awareness and keep their bodies aligned, supple and strong. In June I will have the amazing opportunity and privilege to share YBR with the ballet community at the 2017 CORPS de Ballet International Annual Teacher Conference, hosted by Brigham Young University and Ballet West, in collaboration with the Associate Professor of Dance at UGA. We were selected to present at the conference after we submitted a proposal highlighting the experiment we did with her dancers on the effects of YBR on their turnout. The students loved it and reported positive results, saying it helped them to increase awareness, balance, range of motion and control.