Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

A serious way to work the body

Studio owner discusses her exercise technique

By Aileen Torres

At fifty years old, Yamuna Zake is strikingly physically fit. Her body is lean and her muscles highly toned in a sleek manner. She exudes a serene strength as a teacher of her eponymous Body Rolling classes at her studio on Perry St., which also bears her name.

Watching Zake lead her students through a series of movements based on her self-styled Body Logic, a type of physical therapy she created more than two decades ago and continues to hone, the weak spot in her own body is undetectable. Nevertheless, it’s there, and if she ever neglects to perform the type of exercises she teaches others to do, the pain returns.

It was triggered twenty-five years ago, when Zake’s left hip gave way three days after she gave birth to her daughter, Yael. She had torn muscles around her hip during delivery and had consulted various doctors, but none of their treatments worked. “After going to a chiropractor for three months, three times a week, he said I would be better,” recounted Zake. But when she left his office one day, her leg dislocated just as she stepped off the curb of the sidewalk.

“I went home, and I said, I’m gonna figure this out. I looked in the mirror, and this whole leg was just hanging. Suddenly, I realized that I had never looked at my leg. The chiropractor hadn’t looked at my leg. The orthopedist hadn’t looked at my leg. No one looked at how bad the alignment was.”

Zake became determined to fix her leg herself. She had been practicing yoga since she was 14—at the time she gave birth to Yael, Zake owned one of the first three yoga centers in New York City, according to her—so she already had a history of working with her body. She began to do postures to try to solve the structural problem none of her doctors had been able to pinpoint precisely. “The only muscles that were holding me together were my outside [leg] muscles, so I decided if I stretch those, they were so tight that they would cause these to have to work,” said Zake, standing up and pointing to the inside of her left thigh. “So, that’s what I did. And in two weeks, my leg was stable.”

After Zake was able to stabilize her leg and hip, she began to use the knowledge she had gained to work with her yoga students at the time. She soon quit teaching yoga to focus on working one-on-one with people to help them discover how to solve their individual difficulties with certain postures. That was the beginning of her transition from teaching and practicing yoga to developing her own system of physical therapy that would eventually become Yamuna Body Logic, which then gave birth to the Yamuna Body Rolling technique, designed to tone the body by stretching and elongating the muscles through the strategic use of rubber balls of various sizes.

Much of Body Rolling is based on yoga, explained Zake, and Body Logic is a hands-on therapy based on the principles of anatomy and physiology, which Zake had studied because she had aspired to be a doctor at one point when she was younger. She quickly developed a full-time practice using her own brand of therapy, and her reputation grew as her former yoga students recommended her to their friends who were suffering from problems with their own bodies.

Zake’s Body Logic therapy is “a system where we work on any kind of structural problems, ranging from herniated discs to sciatica to sprained ankles to knee problems to dislocated shoulders to rotator cuff problems to neck problems. You name it,” she said.

There are now more than 800 people in the U.S. certified in Body Rolling. Zake opened up her flagship studio on a quiet street in the West Village this past December, and she continues to teach classes and perform hands-on therapy with individuals to cater to their particular needs. Her students and clients range from people who simply want to try a new low-impact workout to elite athletes and ballerinas.

At the core of Yamuna Body Rolling and Body Logic is “freeing the body, removing all the physical restrictions so that [you tap] into pure energy. You keep freeing it and freeing it and freeing it so that your body is really at ease. And that’s the philosophy of body rolling,” said Zake. “That’s the philosophy of yoga. It’s union of body, mind and spirit.”

Some classes at the Yamuna Studio combine Body Rolling with yoga and some combine Body Rolling with Pilates, so people who are novices can be introduced to different types of movement, all with the same physical goals.

The fundamental principles of Body Rolling include weight bearing, or the use of one’s body weight to elongate muscles and release tension. The technique is also designed to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility. For instance, in contrast to working out at the gym, say, running intensely on a treadmill, Body Rolling focuses more attention to working with the natural order of the body, its anatomy and physiology, to repair structural damage and strengthen the body. “This is all based on therapeutics first,” said Zake. “It just so happens to keep your body in great shape.”

“This work is about helping people to get to their personal best, whatever their restrictions are, whatever’s causing their pain.” Her ultimate goal is to empower people to take care of their own bodies, which is particularly important for serious athletes and ballerinas, explained Zake, because from a young age, they push their body without realizing what structural problems they may be creating that will eventually manifest as injuries. Even people who just pound the treadmill at the gym do not always realize the damage they may be causing through incorrect alignment as they run.

“Part of what this work does is it’s a major organ stimulation,” said Zake of her methods. “When that ball’s in your belly, you’re stimulating your entire digestive tract. When you’re rolling on your spine, you’re stimulating all the nerve roots of your spine. Every pair of nerve roots corresponds to organs in your system, so that you’re turning your body. It’s like acupuncture. You’re increasing circulation. So, this is a powerful healing system.”

Zake has published two books on Body Rolling and is at work on a third, which will feature techniques on how to work on hands and feet. Those interested in sampling her foot exercises can attend the 15-minute Foot Fitness segment taught prior to certain classes at her studio, which also houses several rooms designated for hands-on work with individual clients. Beginning in 2006, the Yamuna Studio will offer seminars and workshops as well.

Yamuna Studio, 132 Perry St., 212-633-2143.

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