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Rolling for Resilience

December 20, 2017

By Angela Kneale OTD, MA, OTR/L, NBC-HWC

We see resilience in the natural world all around us – the tree that continues to reach toward the sky despite being scarred by lightning, the tall sunflower growing from a crack in the concrete, and the spring crocus blooming from beneath the snow after a harsh winter.

As in nature, all people face challenges of physical and environmental adversities. We also encounter the inevitable psychological setbacks and inequities of life – devastating traumas, economic crises, emotional hardships, interpersonal difficulties, and significant stresses. The good news is that each of us has inherent capabilities for recovery.

In his book, Aging Well, Harvard University psychologist George Valliant describes the resilient person as resembling “a twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead, it springs back and continues growing.” Our mistakes and failures are ideally understood as intrinsic, healthy, normal and necessary parts of being human. Resilience allows us to recover, persist, flourish and thrive.

Playful Self-Care

What if nurturing one’s self and boosting resilience were as accessible and enjoyable as spending a few minutes lying and playfully rolling on a cylinder-shaped piece of foam? Addressing physical resilience in fun, motivational ways also influences other dimensions of wellbeing – including our cognitive, emotional, and spiritual resilience, which are essential for wholeness and health. Awareness is a critical first step – noticing our state of being, and then consistently practicing self-care and self-nurturing activities to enhance wellbeing.

Foam rollers are basic tools that invite playful exploration – helping us notice capabilities and imbalances, observe alignment and posture habits, experience core support, and connect body and mind. Spontaneous rolling and releasing restores and creates healthful, efficient, balanced and joyful movement and presence.

Made from materials once used only for packing and shipping, foam rollers are now available in many sizes and densities. And foam rollers have increasingly made their way into rehabilitation clinics, athletic training facilities, workout gyms and wellness centers. In The Exercise Cure, Dr. Jordan D. Metzl advises: “If you only buy one piece of exercise equipment for the rest of your life, make it a foam roller. It’s so simple and so brilliant.”

Getting Rolling

Here are a few movements selected from the book, Rolling for Resilience, to begin exploring mind-body exercise that integrates positive experiences, mindfulness, focused breathing, core strength, flexibility, balance, connection and alignment. Remember to breathe deeply and fully, releasing tightness and tension during every exhalation. Choose the amount of pressure that feels best for you, while staying mindful of your body posture and positioning.


  • Lie on the roller, with your head supported and spine aligned, knees bent, and feet on the floor hip-width apart or slightly wider.
  • Let your arms rest comfortably on the floor to the sides of the roller, palms facing the ceiling.
  • Focus on your breathing – inhaling deeply and exhaling fully for a few moments, allowing your body to lengthen and relax into the roller.

Middle Back Release

  • Sit on the floor with the roller behind you, and lean back onto the roller at the lower edge of your shoulder blades.
  • Reach wide with your elbows, holding your hands behind your head for support.

  • Keep your pelvis on the floor, and slowly extend back over the roller, opening your chest toward the ceiling.
  • Relax into the movement, feeling supported by the roller, and then ease slightly forward again.

Sacrum Rolling

  • Lie on your back with roller crosswise beneath your sacrum, pelvis tilted back, legs lifted and together, shoulders relaxed with hands holding ends of the roller.
  • Gently rotate the lower torso, allowing both knees to lower toward the roller on one side, and then slowly toward the other, relaxing and releasing the area around your sacrum.
  • Explore the weight of your pelvis sinking into the roller, releasing areas of tightness and tension.

Quadriceps Rolling

  • Place the roller under your thighs, with legs slightly apart, and upper body supported by elbows and forearms on the floor.
  • Keep your torso in one long line, and slowly roll your thighs over the roller from your hips to your knees.
  • Rotate hips out to roll inner quadriceps, and then rotate in to roll outer quadriceps regions.

Try combining Rolling for Resilience movements with your regular exercise workouts. Rolling prior to exercise relieves body tension and muscle imbalances, and promotes exercise that more effectively trains the body for balanced strength and flexibility. Roll after your workout to decrease muscle soreness and help prevent problems or injuries. Roll at the end of your workday to relieve the stress and tension from tightened or overused muscles.

Listen to your body – you are the best expert regarding what you feel and experience. Roll each region for a minute or two with slow, controlled movements. Explore a variety of angles and amounts of pressure. Imagine tight muscles and connective tissues softening and lengthening – like butter melting or taffy pulling. Focusing on exhaling completely will encourage release of body tension and maximize the benefits of rolling.

Consider Registering for Rolling for Resilience

This 3-hour experiential workshop explores the best foam roller techniques for self-massage, body alignment and core strengthening. Posture awareness exercises and dynamic movements on the roller help you connect with your body’s resilience and your capacity to thrive.

  • Playfully discover and explore how your body feels and moves
  • Enhance breathing, relieve body tension and muscle imbalances
  • Promote ease of movement, improved posture and greater flexibility
  • Restore and create healthful, efficient, balanced and joyful movement

Each participant will receive a Star Roller and Rolling for Resilience instructional book to take home after the workshop. Click here to learn more about Rolling for Resilience.


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