A few weeks ago I attended a yoga class taught by Susan Morton, Founder, Director, & Master Teacher at The Yoga & Meditation Center of Montclair, that incorporated a unique and effective technique called Yamuna Body Rolling. Developed by Yamuna Zake, the approach uses various sized balls used in specific ways that open and massage the body and bring it into alignment. The Yamuna classes can be taught independently of yoga or the use of the balls can be incorporated into a yoga class (as it was at the session I attended). Yoga and Yamuna, explains Susan, “are mutually supportive.” It’s amazing how the balls can be used to further enhance the asanas.
A word about the center, which has been in existence (though at various locations in Montclair) since 1976 and is the oldest school of yoga in northern New Jersey. (It is now located at The New Jersey Center for Healthy Living at 292 Bloomfield Ave.) The class I attended, in fact, has been in session for 36 years! Yes, you read that right. Some of the practitioners have been coming for three decades or more, and some have just joined the class. “We’ve been through a lot together!” one student commented.
Another unique aspect of this center is its philosophy of individual attention to students. Class sizes are limited to 15—not because of room size; the facility is spacious and inviting—but because the teachers’ goal is to identify their students' needs and provide individual attention. “We’ve resisted the trend toward larger class sizes,” says Susan, “and our teachers get to know their students really well. Our teachers are very experienced and work in depth with the students.”
Even though there’s a core group of Yamuna aficionados, as a newcomer to the class I felt welcomed as well as fascinated by the Yamuna balls. We began by using the “foot wakers,” which believe me, really wake up the feet. You also walk a lot more evenly after a few minutes on them. One woman even exclaimed that since she’d been using the balls her bunions are totally disappearing! Other benefits of the Yamuna system include: stimulates bone, re-educates muscle, relieves stress, creates space in joints and spine, increases circulation, and frees body restrictions. (Read more about the benefits here.)
After we concentrated on our feet we progressed to other parts of the body, using larger, softer balls; Susan gave specific instructions as we positioned ourselves on them and moved around. But how does this relate to yoga? “The balls lengthen the muscles and release the fascia, really making the yoga postures more accessible. The balls free the body from normal habitual patterns of restriction that prevent people from experiencing the postures more fully,” Susan explains.
I noticed this in particular with the restorative Setu Bhandha pose we did toward the end of the class, with a Yamuna ball between our shoulders. “The ball can penetrate and get into the muscles and joints much more deeply than a block,” Susan observes. With the ball, this already heavenly pose felt like pure bliss.
I was interested to learn that there are several teachers at the center who are certified Yamuna Body Rolling Instructors, including Master Teacher Susan Wilson, who has been practicing yoga for 30 years and teaching for more than 20. Jackie Cozzolino is even offering a spring workshop called “Save Your Face: Yamuna Face Ball Massage.” Now that sounds like something I’d like to try! The center offers classes in Hatha yoga, and Meditation, in addition to Yamuna Body Rolling.
Susan, a petite, energetic, and clearly beloved teacher gathered lots of hugs that day (she had just returned after a brief hiatus due to an injury sustained while traveling abroad). She’s been practicing and teaching yoga for nearly 40 years. One look at her bio on the website makes you realize the amazing treasure trove of wisdom and experience that this center holds; check it out if you haven’t already, but be sure to call in advance and reserve your spot.