Undoing Physical and Emotional Pain with the Roll Model Method: A Q&A with Laurel Beversdorf

Laurel Beversdorf discovered yoga when she was studying to be an actor and her college professor told her that her posture needed work. Today, she is an international yoga educator specializing in biomechanics and self-care, an integrated Yoga Tune Up® teacher and trainer, and a senior teacher and trainer at YogaWorks in New York City. The creator of Body of Knowledge™ Anatomy and Biomechanics for the Moving Body, Laurel teaches in order to help her students reclaim and strengthen a sense of power and belonging in their bodies. In this Q&A, Laurel offers an overview of the art and science of the Roll Model Method, a simple self-care regimen using therapy balls that was created by Jill Miller, also the founder of Yoga Tune Up.

What are the overall benefits of the Roll Model Method (RMM)?

For me, the benefits from working with the RMM therapy balls have been numerous. I’ve used the therapy balls to undo some old sports-related injuries in my shoulders so that I no longer experience the nagging pinch that I used to. I’ve alleviated similar yoga-related joint aggravations around my hips, wrists, and shoulders, as well.

Probably most transformative, however, has been the soothing and calming effect that the therapy balls have on my nervous system. I started rolling on the therapy balls soon after losing my mother to cancer, after caring for her in hospice. The therapy balls were a very important tool for helping me recover from this trauma and to grieve in a way that connected me back to my body and to my breath.

Daily, the therapy balls provide me with this type of mind-body integration and connect me back to my innate ability to soothe myself through touch.

What conditions is RMM especially helpful for?

RMM is especially helpful for working with different types of chronic pain and chronic stress conditions, both physical and emotional. Its simplicity and accessibility as a tool makes it uniquely suited for regular use anywhere, anytime. This is ideal for someone who needs healthy, side effect–free ways to soothe their physical and emotional aches, pains, and suffering.

How can yoga teachers/therapists use RMM in their work?

RMM can be used as an adjunct offering, no matter what service you provide. Movement instructors can use the therapy ball work as a part of their classes and private sessions to help students improve mobility before, during, or after class. Therapists can use the therapy balls in their sessions and/or assign therapy ball work to their clients between sessions. The balls provide feedback to the body that is both therapeutic and educational, in that it helps teach the student about their body, its layers, and the patterns of tension held within them. My husband is a high school English teacher and he has shared the RMM therapy balls with his fellow teachers to help them alleviate the stresses of teaching—standing all day, as well as ushering teenagers into adulthood!

What is the scientific and anatomical understanding behind why RMM works?

The therapy balls, given their size and texture, are effective mechanical stress-transfer tools. Bodies require stimulation from mechanical stress (like touch) in order for positive tissue adaptation to occur. One of the main reasons that people are in pain, especially in today’s world, is that they simply aren’t moving enough. Their bodies are literally starving for load input that their lifestyles just aren’t giving them. The therapy balls are a simple and effective way to introduce movement manually to under-contacted regions, in order to recover movement there. Having the ability to move through a normal range of motion without pain and restriction is so important for people looking to have and maintain an active lifestyle.

Additionally, the therapy balls are, for many, a helpful tool for easing pain. Pain is neurological output from the brain that can be hard to control for some people, namely when it doesn’t directly correlate to a known or acute injury or condition. The therapy balls introduce a type of stimulation to the body, and therefore to the nervous system, that can re-pattern the pain response in a way that replaces it, temporarily or permanently, with the novel, tactile input of touch.

What do people experience when using the RMM method—is it relaxing, strenuous, challenging?

My experience as a self-massage teacher has shown me that, overwhelmingly, the therapy balls facilitate an environment of relaxation in people’s bodies. As little at five minutes of rolling can be enough to settle people way down and get them breathing and connected deeply to themselves. That being said, this work can also be challenging, specifically if a student discovers an area of their body that, whether known or unknown to them, is causing them quite a bit of discomfort. The balls are uniquely suited to contact those areas that tend to lie hidden away but that, at the same time, are preventing healthy joint movement and referring pain to other places. Hitting up against one of these hot spots can be uncomfortable, for sure. However, this method offers a plethora of effective ways to scale back the technique and depth of pressure and tailor it specifically to the individual’s needs so that they can benefit fully from the massage.

How is RMM related to yoga, if at all?

While use of the therapy balls might stray from traditional physical practices associated with yoga, at its philosophical root, yoga—both its active practice and its definition, its means and its end—teach us that the nature of reality is integration. Self-massage offers us another tool to integrate our parts to our whole. For example, unwinding tension locally with the therapy balls—say, in the shoulders—can lead to a global, whole-body feeling of presence and poise. This is because, physically as much as spiritually, everything is indeed connected on a neurological, vascular, and fascial level. The therapy balls are uniquely suited to give us a direct experience of this body integration.

Find out about programs with Laurel Beversdorf at Kripalu and learn more about her work at laurelyoga.com.

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Laurel Beversdorf, E-RYT 500, international yoga educator, is an integrated Yoga Tune Up® trainer and a senior teacher trainer at YogaWorks in New York City.

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