Yoga Tune Up® Blog

Coaching Your Nervous System and Stress to Curtail Chronic Pain

On Wednesday, I discussed pain messaging and how chronic pain signals can be a result of a overly sensitive nervous system rather than tissue damage.

Here are my top 3 recommendations on how to quiet an overcharged nervous system:

1) POWER NAP – In our super-fast, over stimulated world, our nervous systems are unable to process the amount of data we are constantly bombarded with. Taking an afternoon nap is like pressing the reset button in your brain. In the time of information overload, we need to be able to shut off and restore ourselves on a daily basis. After short 20-minute nap you’ll experience greater calmness, clarity of thought, enhanced sense of well being and possibly a decrease in your pain sensation.

2) SLEEP WELL – A good night’s sleep is paramount for restoring your nervous system and creating an environment of healing. However, people with chronic pain conditions often struggle to sleep well and rest properly throughout the night. Napping and practicing deep abdominal breathing throughout the day are very important, but you also need to take care of your sleeping environment.
Your bedroom should be clear of any digital distractions (phone, TV, laptop) and truly become an oasis of rest. Sleep in a well-ventilated, dark and quiet room. Make sleep a routine by having a regular sleeping time. Regardless of the day, go to bed and try to wake up at the same time each day.
In addition, your thoughts about sleep are also very important. Negative thoughts, dread about going to bed, or fear around inability to fall asleep will very likely create a self-fulfilling prophecy and further lead to insomnia. Trust that you will fall asleep easy and rest well all throughout the night.

3) 5 MINUTE BREATHING SOLUTION – Deep abdominal breathing is one of the fastest ways to turn off the “stress response” and begin to trigger the relaxation response. For best results, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe through your nose. The 5 Minute Breathing Solution  is one of the best tools to invest more resilience into your nervous system. Check out the video below for the 5 Minute Breathing Solution.

Soothing your nervous system and restoring your brain’s messages to your aching body is a process. There is no “quickfix,” or a single pill that will instantly get rid of pain without side effects. Therefore, learning to understand the relationship between pain and your nervous system, learning what therapeutic protocols are most effective and practicing self-care approaches will help move you towards managing, and eventually resolving, chronic pain.

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Is Pain Just In Your Head?

All of us have had experience with pain at some point in our lives, whether we had an injury, experienced a bad fall or suffer with occasional back spasms. For many of us, we feel immediate pain following the incident, but it begins to lessen as healing takes over before finally disappearing completely as we return to normal (usually somewhere between 3-6 months). While we feel frustrated when injury happens, we know it will pass soon. But what about when it doesn’t? This is the reality of many people with chronic pain.

What is pain?

Pain is a protective mechanism, a sort of public service announcement from your brain about a credible threat. If we did not experience pain, we could be potentially exposed to dangerous physical situations for damaging lengths of time. In the case of the pain of a burn, the message is simple: “Fire is super-duper dangerous! Don’t mess with it!” But does the message really need to be as loud as it is? Does it have to last for days, weeks, months or even years? Any type of pain, acute or chronic, is perceived in the nervous system. The pain sensation begins when the brain “decides” that the pain sensations are actually needed.

Therefore, tissue damage does not necessarily equal pain. A strained hamstring or sprained ligament does not create the pain you feel, the nervous system does. If the nervous system feels “safe” and decides pain is not needed, you might be carrying injuries without even knowing about them.

How can the nervous system get it so wrong?

Often times, patients with chronic pain conditions will perceive the simple touch of a feather on their skin to be excruciatingly painful. These same patients tend to be on high dosages of pain medications or steroids just to get through their day. The nervous system has a tremendous amount of plasticity (also known as “neuroplasticity”), which means it is constantly restructuring and adapting to experiences.

Which brings us to the important concept of nociception, which is defined as “the neural processes of encoding and processing noxious stimuli.” It is the afferent activity produced in the peripheral and central nervous system by stimuli that have the potential to damage tissue. This activity is initiated by nociceptors, (also called pain receptors), that can detect mechanical, thermal or chemical changes above a set threshold. Nociceptors are specific nerves which relay danger signals to the spinal cord and brain. Once the message reaches the skull, it is ultimately up to the brain to produce the output (a “what am I going to do with this “danger”? message”).

Many treatments focus on damaged tissue, such as physical therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments. They are all very valuable in terms of treating tissues & joints – but may not change the actual perception of pain in the brain. Therefore, we need to change the paradigm and begin to shift our focus towards taking care of our superbly sensitized nervous system instead of the only local tissue damage (that may or may not be there).

Come back on Friday to learn how to calm your nervous system and break the cycle of chronic pain!


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Pacify a Troublesome Piriformis

On Wednesday, we learned about the piriformis and how embodying this muscle could make the difference for pain free hips. Did you know that every day the piriformis is multi-tasking? It is responsible for lifting the leg away from the midline of your body while the hips are in flexion (like when you step out of your car or when you’re sitting on a motorcycle or riding a horse) and it is a lateral rotator of your hips. We use it when we walk and shift weight from one foot to another. It is also used to maintain balance, stabilizing the sacrum and sacroiliac (SI joints) and in sports that involve lifting and rotating the thighs, which is almost all of them!  Runners and cyclists need to give extra love to their piriformis due to the repetitive contraction and release use of this muscle. Another thing to watch out for is your body alignment. Many of us have a habit of standing or walking with one or both feet pointing out (external hip rotation) which can chronically shorten, tighten and weaken the piriformis. With all this responsibility it’s no wonder the piriformis can get a little grumpy!

Keep yours happy by giving it a little attention and love with the same two Yoga Tune Up®  gems I shared at the retreat. Half Happy Baby mini-vini and the YTU Therapy Ball work for Piriformis and SI joint release (While the therapy ball video demonstrates with the Classic Therapy Balls, you can use a Therapy Ball PLUS or ALPHA for gentler massage work on the floor as in the video or on the wall for more control of the intensity and depth of pressure).

Check out the video below for piriformis pacification with Half Happy Baby Mini-Vini! YouTube Preview Image

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Piriformis – Your BFF or Frienemy From Behind?

By: | Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 | Comments 8

After teaching a Yoga Tune Up ® class at our retreat this summer, I received a wonderful e-mail note from one of our attendees that read, “Thank you for teaching me the ALPHA ball rolling techniques to release over twenty years of awful, limiting hip and glute pain. The weekend positively changed my physical and mental health and inspired me to continue yoga practice!” I was delighted and grateful, but not surprised. Yoga Tune Up® works on so many levels! One of the main areas we therapeutically rolled out that day was the piriformis. It’s definitely a muscle I believe we should all get to know a little better to maintain a pain free, “do what we love to do” life!

The piriformis is one of the 'deep six' lateral rotators of the hip.

The piriformis is one of the ‘deep six’ lateral rotators of the hip.

Meet your piriformis, a hidden gem under your gluteus maximus that works uber-hard for you every single day but gets very little attention until you make it crabby by mis-use, over-use and under appreciation. The piriformis is one of your deep six lateral hip rotators. It attaches to the front surface of your sacrum (inside of the pelvic bowl) and inserts onto the greater trochanter on the outside of the femur (thigh bone). The piriformis is joined by a band of fascia that stretches across the sacrum and acts as a stabilizer for the sacrum and sacroiliac (SI) joints. It is the only hip rotator whose location overlies the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body, and in 15-22% of the population, the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis. If the muscle becomes excessively tight or spasms, it puts the big squeeze on the sciatic nerve. This can cause burning pain, numbness and tingling down your leg or foot, as well as wreaking havoc in all kinds of other uncomfortable ways through its fascial connections up your torso and lower limbs ie: low back pain, pelvic pain, knee pain and/or a deep pain in the buttock and hips. If it gets really grumpy, you might get an unwelcome gift of sciatica or piriformis syndrome. Gifts that nobody wants to receive!

On Friday, learn what your piriformis does for you and more importantly what you can do for it to maintain healthy happy hips.

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Temper Down the Temporalis

Relieve jaw and head tension with a Yoga Tune Up® Therapy ball on your temple.

Relieve jaw and head tension with a Yoga Tune Up® Therapy ball on your temple.

In my article on Wednesday, I described the temporalis muscle and how daily activities, such as talking and chewing can create tension for the jaw and temple. An easy way to discover if your temporalis is over worked and tender is to grab a block or a book and head to the floor. With the block on the floor, place a Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball in-between your temple and the block.  Maintain compression and check in with your breath. You can further explore temporalis tension by closing and opening your mouth.  Relieve tension in the area by gently nodding your head no, then yes and lastly move your head so the ball is orbiting around the area.  Feel free to pause anywhere that is extra sensitive to maintain pressure and take deep belly breaths as you do. This can also be done at the wall if the floor is too intense.

Make sure to treat both sides and take your time unwinding the area.  This is a great tool to use before a big meeting, after a stressful situation or before bed to soothe the temporalis. Besides getting to the root of any stress that might cause the temporalis to contract, it’s always a good thing to address the muscle tension before it becomes painful!

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Talking, Chewing And Tension – How Do They Relate?

Talking, chewing and tension all have something in common – the temporalis muscle, which is located on the temporal aspect (the side) of the cranium. The temporalis is a broad, fan-shaped muscle that covers much of the temporal bone.

the temporalis is one of the major muscles of mastication, as well as a potential source of headaches.

Talking, chewing and stress can aggravate the temporalis.

There are four muscles that help you eat and talk, known as the mastication group. The lateral pterygoid is in charge of lowering your jaw allowing the mouth to open, or depress the mandible. The masseter, medial pterygoid and temporalis close the mouth, or elevate the jaw/mandible.

Reflect on how many hours a day you talk, eat and clench (including sleep). When we overwork any muscle for whatever reason, whether it’s a busy day at work with a lot of presentations, teaching several yoga classes back to back, or in stressful situations, our muscles fatigue from continually having to contract. One of the many reasons why clenching teeth is so detrimental is that this action causes the temporalis to be in a chronic state of contraction. We all know stress isn’t great on the body or the mind but add the masseter and the temporalis to the list as these are some of the first muscles to contract during a stressful situation.

It wouldn’t be surprising to find a tight temporalis if you experience frequent headaches or pain in various regions of your head. Pain associated with an aggravated temporalis can be disguised as pain at the side of the head in front, above or behind the ear, pain in the eyebrow area, cheek, incisor and molar teeth, in the upper teeth when biting down or teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold temperatures.

If any of this information is hitting home, relieving the temporalis might be something to explore in addition to paying attention to pain patterns you experience during stressful times. When you take the time to observe your tendencies of muscle tension in the face, seize the opportunity and cultivate deep, abdominal breaths. Give your nervous system a chance to down-regulate and release all tight muscles in your body – not just the ones that help you talk and chew.

Come back on Friday to learn how to pacify a tense temporalis!

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Create Harmony in Your Shoulders

In my previous blog on Wednesday, we learned that the subclavius muscle acts as a pivotal point in conjunction with pectoralis minor and teres minor to facilitate shoulder movement . But how do you know if your subclavius is in need of some TLC?

The obvious symptoms may include tenderness or pain below the collarbone, in the upper arm or pain down the forearm into the thumb, forefinger and middle finger. Also, tightness or a restricted feeling of circulation in the arm and hand may be present.

Other common examples that illustrate how the subclavius may be overtaxed are the repetitive forward positions cell phones and computers put our shoulders, arms, thoracic and cervical spines in on a daily basis. Lifting heavy objects with the arms out in front of the body and sleeping on your side with the arm above the head may also tighten the subclavius, leading to a shortened or spasm induced state of the muscle. This can eventually restrict shoulder extension, external rotation and abduction.

So how do you maintain a healthy subclavius?

Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls are the perfect self-care product for myofascial release of the subclavius. The Classic size Therapy Balls can work their grip and grab magic along the contours of the collarbone because of their unique size and rubber texture. Applying pressure manually to the area under the collarbone is a great introduction to the subclavius. You can simply roll a therapy ball back and worth with the desired amount of pressure along the collarbone landscape. Also, pinning the therapy ball in place and spinning it clockwise and counterclockwise at different points along the length of the collarbone fluffs up the tissue nicely and enhances circulation. You may have to proceed gingerly at first as this can be a sensitive area, but you will feel your efforts immediately as breathing may feel less restricted.

In addition, you can also try the Yoga Tune Up® exercise Open Sesame in the video clip below. This is a deep chest and shoulder stretch exercise that will work efficiently to target, nourish and awaken muscles that impact shoulder health.

When assessing shoulder girdle function and movement, make sure you look beyond the point of restriction and/or pain to the other pivotal muscles to make sure all are in harmony with one another. Once the smaller stabilizers are doing their job, the larger movers such as the trapezius, latissiums, and pectoralis major can do their jobs as intended – instead of overworking to compensate for the smaller muscles. Getting to know your subclavius could be the difference you knead for pain-free shoulders!


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Who Needs a “Sub”? A Look at the Subclavius

By: | Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Comments 3

Beneath the clavicle, lies a small, rather demure muscle often left out of discussion when it comes to overall shoulder health. The subclavius, triangular in shape, is like a distant relative – it has its connection to the pectoral family and surrounding shoulder muscles, but its level of participation in the family affairs seems a bit ambiguous. “Sub” meaning under and “clavius” referring to the clavicle, the muscle name cleverly reflects its precise location within the chest cavity. This secondary muscle may seem to have little impact on shoulder health, but as you read further, the integrative role of the subclavius is quite impressive.

greys subclavius

The subclavius is just as integral to shoulder health as the larger shoulder muscles.

The subclavius originates high on the front of the chest, at the first rib and junction of the costal cartilage. It extends up a little posteriorly along the underside of the clavicle and inserts specifically to a groove on the inferior surface, middle one-third section of the clavicle known as the subclavian groove. In humans, this muscle is not only challenging to see, but it is also very difficult to isolate. But in four legged animals, such as a horse, the subclavius is larger and much more defined as it stabilizes the clavicle and shoulder girdle. This stability allows the animal to power from one move to the next, place to place.

So what does the subclavius muscle do and how does it integrate within the shoulder girdle?

Let’s first consider the primary objective of the shoulder girdle and our challenges with it. In the article, “Pivotal Places: Help for Problem Shoulders, “by Tom Meyers, he explains that, “the human shoulder was designed primarily for mobility and not stability…various problems such as hypermobility, friction and displacement are common problems. In addition, even slight displacements of the pelvis, lumbars, ribs, spine, neck or head may have a deleterious effect on shoulder function, especially when multiplied over months or years.” Meyers also discusses that there are three major points in the shoulder where certain muscles act as “pivots” in facilitating shoulder movement. The imbalances between these pivotal muscles can often lead to trigger points, faulty shoulder patterns and general dysfunction. These three crucial “pivotal muscles” are the subclavius, pectoralis minor, and teres minor, which I now visualize as the “Bermuda triangle” of the shoulder girdle.

Check back on Friday to learn how our daily habits may impact the subclavius and learn valuable self-care strategies to maintain healthy shoulder function.

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Recalibrating Your Driver Seat for a Pain Free Commute

On Wednesday, we looked at the changes in automobile and furniture design that have altered how we sit and can be contributing factors to neck and low back pain. Today, we will discuss how to position your car seat to improve your seated posture.

In changing your car seat setup, the first thing to look at is the driver’s seat.  Is the angle of the bucket seat adjustable?  How much lower is the back of the seat than the front? If you’re curious, have someone take a profile picture of you in the driver seat and see what’s really happening with your posture.


Improve your posture in the car with these simple steps!

Then, look at your own posture.  Is your spine rounding forward into flexion? Is your head forward of the rest of your torso? If you feel like you can’t easily sit on your sit bones, try folding up a towel to raise the back of the bucket seat.

From there, take a look at spinal alignment above the pelvis.  Your spine should not be in complete contact with the backrest of the seat, otherwise you are most likely rounding in your spine.  There should be natural space between your lumbar curve and the seat, which can be difficult to maintain while driving.

Also, try to adjust the reclining angle of the seat to support an upright spine and head centered over your pelvis rather than angled back.   If your neck and cervical spine are making contact with the seat or rest, your head is most likely pushing forward or behind the torso. While there are already musculoskeletal issues resulting from your head forward position, the most precarious issue in a car is the risk of whiplash.  Misaligned head rests and head forward position increase the distance that your head bounces back in case of collision, and a weak neck and poor daily head alignment increases your risk for injury.  (read more about whiplash and collisions here)

Check out Jill Miller’s video below from America Now on better sitting posture on airplanes, which pose a similar problem to sitting in cars.  While you may not be able to stretch while you drive, you can certainly stretch as a passenger!

Enjoy your summer road trips pain free and help expand your bodily awareness in your daily activities with Yoga Tune Up®!


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How Do You Sit When You Drive?

By: | Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 | Comments 11
The Original Model-T (image courtesy of

The Original Ford Model T
(image courtesy of

For many of us, summer is a time for adventure, travel, and road trips, but unless you have Fred Flintstone’s car, you end up sitting passively in your car for many hours.  Car seats have evolved strangely since the early twentieth century – the early Model T  featured upright seating and ample leg room, but as time passed, cars moved lower to the ground and added bucket seats, which were created as both a space-safer and a way to keep passengers in place (as opposed to the bench seat).

Basically, the bucket seat makes it almost impossible to sit well on your sit bones in your car.  The seat is sloped, with the front of the seat higher than the back, which typically forces riders into tucked tail (posterior pelvic tilt), rounded spine (spinal flexion), and head forward position, which can pose many bodily issues.  In addition, drivers often create pelvic asymmetry by ignoring the left foot rest, and instead allow their left leg to do as it pleases, for better or worse.

So what came first, the poor posture or the poor seating?  Read the rest of this blog post »

Fido Knows Best: Simple Poses to Relieve Shoulder Tension

Consider a dog or cat after it has taken a nap on the floor – as soon as it stands up, it stretches and shakes out the entire body often with a yawn or deep sigh. The stretch isn’t just for show, it is freeing itself of the fibrous webbing that began settling in the tissue as it was napping.
When did we lose this simple intelligence? More importantly, what can we do to help ourselves find our way back to freedom of movement? What if it became common place to stand up from your desk after sitting for a while and start jumping up and down shaking, yawning and stretching?

That would be a great day for the human race! Until then, Yoga Tune Up® has a few amazing poses that will help strengthen, stretch and relax the traps!

Try these Yoga Tune Up® poses to alleviate trapezius tension:

To warm up: Shoulder Circles, when you elevate and scrunch your shoulders up into your neck you will squeeze out the upper traps, as you retract the shoulders blades and glide the scapula together your wring out the middle trapezius, and depressing while drawing the scapula together will iron out the lower trapezius.

To strengthen: Megaplank with Active Serratus, with forearms parallel to the floor, joint stack elbows directly under shoulders to use your bone structure as scaffolding. Your tubular core is engaged, along with the serratus and a host of other muscles the traps will be active and strengthened. See the video below for instructions on how to do this shoulder and core strengthener.

To warm down: Reversed Crucifix, laying face down on your mat cross your left arm under your chest and follow that with the right arm crossed on top. Press hands palms down into the ground, and scoot your body a little forward, so your chin can rest on your arms or your chin clears your arms toward the mat. This will be a dramatic stretch for your upper traps as well as the rhomboids, deltoids and most upper body muscles!YouTube Preview Image

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.


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