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Yamuna: The Solution to Boutique Workout Aches and Pains

This body alignment practice is becoming increasingly relevant as the boutique fitness craze rages on.

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If the advent of boutique fitness classes and the subsequent success of ClassPass are indicative of anything, it’s that we’re working out a lot. This new kind of exercise obsession is even more widespread than the celebrity-led yoga boom of years past, but we’re not doing much to keep our bodies as agile and loose while squatting away at CrossFit or sprinting at running class.

Making sure your body is ready for this jelly—this jelly being all the working out, of course—is about so much more than wincing in pain while trying to touch your toes. How can you prevent injury when your exercise routine looks more and more extreme? This is where Yamuna, a body alignment practice that's becoming increasingly relevant as the boutique fitness craze rages on, comes into play.

Yamuna offers several different ways to lengthen and loosen your body: group classes on body rolling and foot fitness, one-on-one body logic treatments, and sessions that mix Yamuna fundamentals with yoga and Pilates. It's not as boutique-y as it sounds, though. There are over 2,000 practitioners worldwide, with classes in every region of the country.

This is all the brainchild of Yamuna Zake, a silver-haired teacher and healer who looks like she belongs in the latest Céline campaign as much as she does in an exercise studio. (Seriously, here she is recalling former student Lou Reed’s opinion of her striking mane.) She seems to be onto something, and with niche exercise eclipsing the good ol’ days of elliptical life, I decided to see what Yamuna could do for the discomfort that comes along with the current glut of high-intensity workouts.

Instead of focusing on muscles or fascia, Yamuna is all about bone.

I made my way to New York City’s fancy Pure Yoga to experience a group Yamuna body rolling class firsthand, grabbing the necessary armful of balls—one silver, one pearl, one gold, and two black—for the 75-minute session when I walked in.

If you’ve ever foam rolled, you may be familiar with the knot-mushing pain that comes from lying atop a dense cylinder. Yamuna, as I learned from the demonstration on the science class skeleton watching over our class, is inherently different. Instead of focusing on muscles or fascia, Yamuna is all about bone. You breathe in and sink into each ball, focusing on reaching the bone, getting into the joint, and making more space within it.

Sound confusing? That’s because it is. The Yamuna practice is the type of thing you get used to over time, but much of it is difficult for a beginner to comprehend. Odds are, if you’re anything like me, the type of exercise you do most is the one you found easiest right from the start. And not being able to figure out a small object’s position in relation to your body? Well, it can make you feel really dumb. Throughout the class, I found myself frustrated, unsure of if the ball was in the right place. Honing in on where it hurts with a foam roller can be easy, but lying pelvis-first on a ball to feel dull pain in specific parts of your abdomen tends to be less foolproof.

Sound confusing? That’s because it is.

Working the body from the bottom up, we rolled through our legs, ribcages, spines and necks in sections, breathing in as we sank into the balls. Each time, I felt longer, like I had stretched without touching my toes, but for a cardio-freak like me, the process was ssslllooowww. It was actually so relaxing that I fell asleep at the very end, for better or worse.

When it comes to alleviating fitness-induced pain, I prefer the instant gratification of a deep-tissue massage, or even the results of BDSM-level torture device The Stiff Stick, which, despite the name, is not a dildo. Even just a couple of minutes rolling over an IT band with a plastic object, and you can instantly feel better! With Yamuna, though, completing the process can take longer than an actual exercise class, which is one of its main issues: it eats up major time.

It's calming and lengthening, but squeezing an hour of movement into your day is tough enough already, and Yamuna is more of an off-day activity than a calorie-burning exercise. The instructor of my class did explain, however, that being aware of your body in this practice can inform your awareness in other classes, and oh man, is she right. I completely see how freeing up every bit of tension from head to toe can help everything from sleep to barre and back again immensely.

Being aware of your body in this practice can inform your awareness in other classes.

In the end, you have to ask yourself two essential questions: Should you do Yamuna? Yes, probably. But will you? Probably not.

Yamuna feels more like the type of thing Madonna does to stay agile and young than what I’d do with friends before weekend brunch. As someone who's inclined to burn the candle at both ends, I find recovery time to be a nuisance, gunning it at dance cardio classes until my limbs fall off. But, even now, I can tell that means I need it most.

Going to a body rolling class feels responsible, like staying in on a Saturday night to finish your taxes. It’s not something you look forward to doing, but it’s worth it in the long run. I'd almost consider Yamuna more aligned with health insurance than with exercise; it's about investing in healing your body before you actually need to do so.

Yamuna is the type of thing many of us will need in five years, when our bodies poop out from the endless cycling, jogging, and squatting we force ourselves through week after week. It can only help to fix problems before they start, right?

So yes, you should make time for this practice. Even if I won’t.

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