I Think I Just Invented a New Somatic Practice: Gaga Ball Work

June 24, 2011

Only kidding, kind of. Like all inventions, it came from necessity. Sometimes, when I work at the computer with crazed concentration, I get a burning in my upper back. So wherever I am (even at the office) I lie on a ball. It could be any ball—India rubber ball, tennis ball, soccer ball, golf ball (these last are brutal). For starters, though, it’s nice to have a soft ball, like one a child would play with.

The reason I do this is that the burning, which is localized to one point, can easily blossom into a full-fledged spasm, and then I’m on my back for a week. (This tendency has blessedly subsided over the years, thanks to the brilliance of Marika Molnar and her staff at Westside Dance Physical Therapy.)

The originator of ball work, Elaine Summers, says to lie on a ball, with the ball at the point of contact where your pain is, and drape your body over it. Meaning, try to relax all your muscles around that point and let them surrender to gravity. And then, you very slowly move those muscles and  allow the ball to travel, centimeter by centimeter, to different places on your back—or under your hip or knee or wherever the problem is. You can do this for hours, and it’s OK if you fall asleep while you’re at it.

If you do it Elaine Summers’ way, but are a little more active, and have some residue in your body from a previous Gaga session, you can find yourself moving quite a bit, and involving the whole rest of your body. (Oh, and if you’re not familiar with Gaga, read Siobhan Burke’s terrific blog about it.)

Here’s why I think it’s a good thing to do. While your body is thinking the exploratory thoughts of Gaga, it will vary the pressure you are applying to that point of pain. If the pressure is too much for you, your body will naturally let up on it and go back to it later. Second, it will activate your whole body and remind you that even though the problem part is a mess, the rest of you is dance-ready. It’s the same principle as rehab where, say, your foot is in a boot but you need to keep other parts of your body strong.

You can try Gaga Ball Work too—I won’t even charge you for it. But I warn you, don’t do it in front of anyone, cause you’ll look like a flailing mollusk or an apoplectic turtle. But it feels good. It makes ball work more fun and Gaga more healing. And it helps diffuse the burning.