NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Aching baby boomers, injured athletes and sore dancers are among those seeking relief by rubbing soccer-sized plastic globes into the places where it hurts.
Instead of hands, the Yamuna Body Rolling workout uses balls -- of various sizes, weights and densities -- to massage those creaky bones and angry joints.
In dimly-lit studios scattered over 15 countries, instructors guide students through movements designed to ease frozen shoulders and loosen stiff knees by slowly and methodically rolling out hips, torsos, sides and backs.
"The person bears weight into the balls, stimulating bone, then rolling into tendons and then muscles, working from beginning toward end of a muscle," Yamuna Zake, the body therapist and former yoga teacher who created Body Rolling, said in an interview.
"Because you use your own weight into the ball you also improve bone quality, circulation, muscle tone, and strength," she added.
Patricia Powers, a certified Body Rolling instructor in New York City, has been a practitioner since 2005.
"You gain freedom from old restrictive patterns caused by injury," she said. "You get a free flow of energy that revitalizes internal organs."
Yamuna Body Rolling is only 15 years old, but massage has been used as a medical therapy since the time of Hippocrates, around 400 B.C.
And while new-age-y terms like "free flow" may be too fuzzy for Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon whose book "Fitness After 40" focuses on healthy aging, she concurs that the deep tissue massage Body Rolling provides can deliver many benefits.
"Deep tissue massage increases blood flow, breaks up scar tissue in tendon and muscle, and stretches tendons & muscles," Wright, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview.
"It's particularly good for hip bursitis due to inflammation -- the kind runners are very familiar with," Wright, who specializes in sports medicine, explained.
The physician encourages her own patients to massage themselves using rollers made from hard foam.
Zake said she created the plastic balls because they are portable and inexpensive. Gentle, restorative, and low-impact, Body Rolling seems to appeal to the baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.
"The first generation that really bought into (the idea) that fitness would keep them younger longer is, unfortunately, the generation that has the most injuries and surgeries due to excessive repetitive stress," said Zake, herself a boomer at age 54.
The luxury resort spa Canyon Ranch, which caters to many boomers, says the Body Rolling classes offered at their Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, locations are usually packed.
"We have to turn people away," said spokesperson Meredith Miller. "That's how much it's loved."
Among serious athletes, nationally-ranked triathlete Bobi Nigro has been Body Rolling for five years. She credits it with keeping her "aligned, toned, flexible and injury-free" when she competed in the grueling Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon last year.
Zake said the U.S. Wrestling Team used Body Rolling to prevent injuries during the Olympics in China, and dancers from the major companies use it for self-help and prevention.
"As I get older, I want my body free of pain and restriction so that I can keep doing everything that I do. I believe that we don't need to accept getting stiffer and tighter as we age," Zake said.
Spoken like a true member of "My Generation."