Yoga Tune Up® Blog

Find Grace and Levity in Tadasana

On Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of including Tadasana beyond the scope of your daily practice. While Tadasana is instructed differently across yoga traditions, in Yoga Tune Up®, the skull is balanced over the center of the ribcage, the ribcage is centered over the pelvis, and shoulders, arms and feet are neutrally oriented.  The foundation of Tadasana is the stance: feet hip socket distance apart with all ten toes pointing directly forward. There is a slight engagement of Tubular Core, a corseting of abdominal and other torso muscles that support the spine—but not so much that you are braced as if you are picking up a heavy load.  (This is a different action from the commonly directed “draw your navel in and up.”)  You should be able to breathe easily even as your torso is supported.

Tadasana is a whole-body pose, and the stronger and more flexible you become all over, the deeper the pose gets.  Ultimately the posture is filled with grace and levity, which is why in Yoga Tune Up® we also call it Poise.

Focusing on Tadasana throughout my twin pregnancy kept my body from being adversely affected by the big load I was carrying and helped prepare me for the physical demands of motherhood.  And it’s become even more important now that I have two heavy toddlers who regularly exclaim, “Mommy ho deow!”  (Mommy hold me!)

Contract Relax breathing is very similar to Tubular Core. Learn how to do it in the video below!

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Enjoyed this article? Read Good Posture: Do You Have It?

Mountain Pose/Tadasana: A Daily Practice

At the end of 2012, I gave birth to 6 ½ lb twins – and discovered first-hand the challenges of maintaining good posture when hauling that much baby around in your abdomen!  As I grew larger during my pregnancy, my ability to move decreased and the pull of the babies on my low back challenged the well-being of my spine.  Finding Tadasana (Mountain Pose) throughout the activities of my daily life became the mainstay of my yoga and movement practice to avoid back and other pregnancy related pains.

Spinal curves facilitate movement.

Spinal curves facilitate movement and help maintain balance.

Tadasana is neutral standing posture that supports and sleeves the natural wave-like curves of the spine. The curves in your spine allow your body to maintain balance in standing and sitting, move in multiple directions and act as a shock absorber, to more evenly distribute the strain and stress placed on the spine during movement and stillness. Maintaining the integrity of these curves sounds easy on paper, but can be hard under the best of circumstances—let alone with 10+ lbs of baby dragging your lumbar spine forward.  While my situation was prolonged and somewhat unique, we all place odd loads on our body with regular frequency, pregnant or not: lifting a potted plant to move it across your patio, sliding a dresser away from the wall to retrieve something that fell behind it, carrying a large box from IKEA into your home or something as simple as supporting the weight of your own head and torso as you lean over to brush your teeth at your sink.

The benefits of good posture are many – from reduced back pain, better breathing, more efficient digestion and elimination, injury prevention and more.  However, most of us have things in our lives that interfere with good posture, be it pregnancy, structural asymmetries like scoliosis or muscular weakness and imbalances caused by occupation or habits.  The fact that our feet, the foundation of standing and Tadasana, lose mobility in most stiff-soled shoes doesn’t help, as what happens downstream affects what happens upstream in our interconnected body.  In addition, most of us spend a lot of time sitting, which shortens our hip flexors (especially the psoas, which runs from your inner upper thigh to the vertebrae of your lower back)— which can create a pull on the lower back while standing—even without a load.  We need to be able to safely support the spine in a variety of movements, but stability and the basics of a neutral spine need to come before flexibility.

I wish I could share with you an instant recipe for good posture and while there are a number of ingredients that go into spinal mobility and stability, the recipe is different for everyone because we all are unique.  For instance, I also have slight structural scoliosis that causes flattening of my upper back and neck, so some things I work on will be different from somebody with kyphosis, an exaggerated thoracic curve.

That being said, there are a few common starting points.  All of us can benefit from regularly stretching our hip flexors in lunge-type poses to combat the hours we spend sitting. Crescent Pose and Ardha Apanasana on a Block are two great moves to lengthen your hip flexors.

Additionally, there is a universal benefit from core work that addresses the deepest abdominal layers.  These tissues run in every direction, so a wide variety of movement is necessary to target them.  Three of my favorite core exercises are Coreso Leg Lifts, Jithara Parivartanasana, and the Supta Padangusthasana Series, which also is great for learning to propriocept and maintain a neutral pelvis and healthy spinal curves.  (Note for pregnant yogis: at a certain point you want to minimize certain twisting actions and generally focus more on the obliques and transverse abdominus than rectus abdominus, so these poses might be modified or eliminated.  Check with your doctor and favorite yoga/fitness teacher for more guidance about this.)  Lastly, we all need to physically mobilize areas that are stuck.  I have not found a better tool for this than regular self-massage with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.

I was in great shape after my pregnancy—strong and able to shoulder (literally) the many physical demands of motherhood.  I credit this to the yoga and movement practices I had prior to conceiving and the focus I placed throughout my pregnancy on maintaining neutral posture and that work has not stopped. I continue to practice Tadasana now, often in squatting positions, which is perfect practice for lifting 30-pound toddlers up and down from the floor or in and out of cribs and car seats—sometimes while carrying gear.  Frankly, I have found motherhood to be infinitely more challenging to my body than twin pregnancy… but that’s a blog post for another day!

Come back on Friday to learn how to improve your standing posture to facilitate a healthy, happy spine and pregnancy.


Enjoyed this article? Read If these scars could talk – Post C-Section Recovery.

Downward Dog is Not For Everyone

One of the most common yoga poses, Downward Facing Dog, can be treacherous if your shoulders are not properly prepped or your anatomy is not compatible with the shape. While there is definitely a standard human “structure,” the effects of daily living and each person’s postural habits create body blind spots (points of weakness and imbalance), so not every pose is possible for every body. Many yoga poses, while common, are so extreme that they will pull the body out of alignment because the architecture of the pose is not suitable for the person attempting the pose. If you do poses (or any exercise, for that matter) without knowing whether you should even be doing those particular poses, much less doing them with improper form and posture, you will eventually wear out your tissues and create pain.

How do you determine if your anatomical structure is suited for Downdog? Check out the video below to assess the temperament of your Downward Facing Dog and learn an alternate pose to strengthen your shoulders.

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Enjoyed this article? Read Assess The Temperament Of Your Dog Before You Master The Pose

Healthy Feet, Happy Heart

gray's bones of the foot

The foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, our feet are marvels of engineering. Their relative health and well-being impact us from head to toe, and the data from the thousands of nerve endings on the soles of our feet give vital positional information to our central nervous system. This allows our musculoskeletal system to quickly react to changes in terrain and adjust on the fly to maintain our balance and upright posture. The skin on the bottom of our foot is the only skin actually intended to bear our full body weight and foot maven Katy Bowman considers the sole of the foot a sensory organ. However, one of the most important functions of the feet and lower leg is the role they play in cardiovascular health via the skeletal muscle pump, a mechanism by which blood is returned from the lower body to the heart.

The skeletal muscle pump, also known as the venous pump, is defined as “contraction of muscle tissue surrounding a lower-limb vein (compartmented by valves), allowing venous return against gravity”. The venous pump is further divided into two types, the foot pump and the calf pump, with the deoxygenated blood (venous return) moving up the lower limb with each step at heel strike and again at toe off. Thus, with every step we take, we are reducing the load on our hard-working heart and helping it to function more efficiently. In addition, a 2004 study by Padberg, Johnston, & Sisto showed promise for lower leg exercise as a treatment for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition where the veins cannot return enough blood to the heart, which can result in swelling, pain, ulcers, and other skin changes.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Keeping your feet moving not only feels great, it also is a fantastic and easy way to keep your heart and related cardiovascular structures healthy. Taking the foot through its range of motion will help the deoxygenated blood flow back up to the heart, where it can be reoxygenated and sent on its way to nourish your tissues. To facilitate the pump action from the lower extremities, weight-bearing on the feet to both strengthen and stretch the muscles of the feet and calves is an important component, as is consistent practice. What we do every day generally has more impact on our health than what we do once in a while.

In Yoga Tune Up®, we are big proponents of self-massage to keep our bodies mobile and healthy and to prevent musculoskeletal problems before they can occur. You can use YTU therapy balls on your feet to massage and mobilize both the soft and hard tissues of the feet. This will also increase the circulation in these hard-working tissues. Jill’s book, The Roll Model, goes through wonderful foot and lower leg sequences on pages 194–214, and check out all the previous posts on feet here.

YTU also has great dynamic poses that will get your skeletal muscle pump working—along with challenging your balance, honing your proprioceptive capabilities, and increasing your dynamic stability—are monk walks (walking lunges), marching, and any movements that improve ankle range of motion.

The most important part, however, is to move, as too much sitting or standing can allow the blood to pool in the lower leg, which can ultimately lead to CVI, a condition we all want to avoid. Movement is medicine, motion is lotion, so find some activity you enjoy and let your feet support your heart health!


  • Bowman, K. (2014). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health through Natural Movement. Carlsborg, WA: Propriometrics Press.
  • Knight, J., Y. Nigam, & A. Jones. (2009). Effects of bedrest 1: Cardiovascular, respiratory, and haematological systems. Nursing Times 105:21 (early online publication).
  • Miller, J. (2014). The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body. Las Vegas: Victory Belt.
  • Mooney, J. (2009). Illustrated Dictionary of Podiatry and Foot Science. Elsevier Limited. Retrieved from
  • Padberg, P.T., M.V. Johnston, & S.A. Sisto. (2004). Structured exercise improves calf muscle pump function in chronic venous insufficiency: A randomized trial. Journal of Vascular Surgery 39(1): 79­–87. doi:
  • Riggs, K. (2013, April 15). Intrinsic muscles of the feet are too important! [blog]. Retrieved from
  • Society for Vascular Surgery. (2011, January). Chronic venous insufficiency. Vascular Web. Retrieved from


Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part IV: Pop!

Have you ever heard someone cracking their knuckles and wondered what’s causing the “popping” sound?  Hint: it has to do with your joint capsule, a fluid-filled connective tissue container that surrounds and contains your joint.  The fluid inside contains gases including oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  When you stretch of pull your joint beyond its normal range of motion, the pressure inside the joint capsule changes, creating a vacuum effect and causing a gas bubble to form and burst with a “pop”!

Another, much less amusing and more serious cause of joint popping is because something (like a torn or loose piece of knee cartilage) is caught between the joint surfaces.  When this happens, sometimes the knee can lock with a loud ‘pop’. Once a joint is stuck like this, it may need to be jostled around to free the object that is stuck – and when it is dislodged it can cause another pop.  Ew.

What you probably REALLY wanted to know though – was whether your mom was right when she said you shouldn’t crack your knuckles.  And of course she was right!  She’s always right, isn’t she? Studies have shown that knuckle cracking is related to hand swelling, lower grip strength and damage to the ligaments that surround the joint.  And if you stop to think about it, when is it ever a good idea to forcefully tug your joints beyond their natural end range? *crickets*

You never actually NEED to crack your knuckles, but you might sometimes feel like stretching your hands and fingers.  Next time you get the urge to crack your knuckles, try this Yoga Tune Up® wrist stretch instead.

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This article is part 4 of a 4-part series on interpreting sounds from the joint space. 

Enjoyed this article? Read Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part III: Crackle and Crepitus 



Nichols, Hannah.  “Why do knuckles and joints crack? Can cracking joints cause arthritis?” Medical News Today. February 3, 2015.

Everyday Mysteries.  Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress.  “What causes the noise when you crack a joint?”  Retrieved from February 3, 2015.

Matsen, Frederick A. III, MD. “Joints.” UW Medicine.

Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part III: Crackle and Crepitus

By: | Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Comments 0

Does your body make noises during movement? Each of these snap, crackles and pops has their own name and sometimes-common causes. “Crepitus” is used as a general term for body noise (including flatulence and rattling lungs) – but when the term is used in reference to your joints it describes any of the disturbing crackling, crunching and grating-type sounds that occur with movement.  It is the Latin word for rattling or creaking and has the same root as the word “creepy” – which literally means “having a creeping feeling in the flesh”.  This is where anatomy meets etymology.  Two of my favorite things!  Those disturbing noises emanating from your joints certainly are “creepy” – in the most literal sense of the word.

I often hear the sounds of others’ joints grinding, crunching and crackling when I teach movement, most notably from students’ knees and ankles.  Pretty much anytime I instruct students into a squat, I’m greeted by a compliant chorus of crackling knees.  And while some of this could be relatively harmless “popping” (see Part IV on Friday), it’s also possible that the sounds are symptomatic of something more serious –  like worn down cartilage coatings.  In this case, what you’re hearing is the sound of two rough, damaged joint surfaces grating across one another.  Cree-py!

Tendons and ligaments also surround the knee joint are another potential source of the “sounding off” that occurs when the knee is in motion during the transition from standing to squatting (for more info on this, see Part II)

Keep joints in good alignment by maintaining balance and symmetry through all of the surrounding tissues. A good way to do this is to develop a well-rounded stretching and strengthening regimen for all the muscles that surround and influence the position of the knee, including your hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors and your TFL and IT band.

Make some space in your knee joint with this easy knee stretch from Jill on the #OWNShow


Come back Friday for the last installment of this 4 part series, Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part IV: Pop!


This article is part 3 of a 4-part series on interpreting sounds from the joint space. Come back Friday to learn about synovial joints that snap!

Enjoyed this article? Read Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part I: A Synovial Joint Primer and Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part II: Snap


Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part II: Snap

By: | Friday, March 6th, 2015 | Comments 11

Do your hips snap? They shouldn’t.  Allow me to begin by apologizing to every yoga student to whom I’ve ever said “if it makes a snapping sound and it doesn’t hurt, it’s probably okay”. That was early in my teaching career. I know better now and I’d like to officially retract that statement.  The fact that your hip is snapping without pain today doesn’t mean you’re not setting yourself up for injury in the future.

It turns out that the cause of ‘Snapping Hip’ (that is actually a technical term) is usually one of three things – and NONE of them are okay:

1) Your IT Band (a long, thick band of connective tissue that runs down your lateral hip and thigh, crossing both your knee and hip joints) is snapping over a bony protrusion.  This is also known as external snapping hip.

2) Your psoas tendon (in your front hip crease) is catching on a bony prominence.  This is known as internal snapping hip.

An overly tight psoas can be heard snapping over bony prominences in the pelvis with internal snapping hip.

An overly tight psoas can be heard snapping over bony prominences in the pelvis with internal snapping hip.

In either of the above cases, the snapping sound you hear is the sound of your tendon being plucked by a bony prominence similar to the sound it makes when you pluck a tight elastic band with your finger!  That snapping sound is a giant red flag.  Your tendons should glide easily and soundlessly over the surrounding bony prominences.  The strumming sound occurs because the soft tissues of your hip are experiencing friction. Continued friction leads you down a path to heat, inflammation and conditions that end in “-itis”.  An “-itis” (meaning inflammation) is painful and unpleasant – like hip bursitis (which can be created by the IT band snapping) or hip tendonitis (in the case of your snapping psoas tendon).  So, you see, allowing your hip snap to continue is really NOT OKAY.

Another possibility is…

3) You have a labral tear, meaning that there is a loose flap of cartilage catching within your hip joint. You need to see a doctor for this.

If your snapping hip is caused by an overly tight IT band or iliopsoas, it is within your powers to reset the level of tension in these tissues using a combination of massage, stretch and strengthening work so that your hip can once again move safely, silently and smoothly.

Also, until you get it sorted out, stop doing whatever it is that makes your hip snap.

Do you have an internal hip snap? Use your Roll Model® balls to roll out the Tensor Fascia Lata and IT band and try the Bridge lifts to lengthen your psoas.


  • Bowman, Katy. Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says. Ventura: Propriometrics Press, 2014.
  • Cluett, Jonathan, M.D. “Snapping Hip Syndrome: Causes and Treatments for Snapping Hip Syndrome”. February 3, 2015.

This article is part 2 of a 4-part series on interpreting sounds from the joint space. Come back next week to learn about synovial joints that snap!

Enjoyed this article? Read Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part I: A Synovial Joint Primer

Snap, Crackle and Pop – Part I: A Synovial Joint Primer

By: | Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 | Comments 3

Do your joints make noises, such as snap crackle and pop? Before you can become a joint whisperer, you must get clear about some basic joint anatomy. So, first things first: A joint is the place where two or more bones meet. Without joints your body would be one giant immobile bone.

An illustration of the common synovial joint.

An illustration of the common synovial joint.

That said, not all joints allow for movement.  Fibrous and cartilaginous joints allow for little to no movement while synovial joints allow movement in many directions. Let’s take a closer look at synovial joints, as they are moving joints we are most often concerned (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists).  These are the joints that typically create disturbing sounds and sensations during movement – although they are certainly not the ONLY joints capable of noise.

Knowing the structures that are in and around your synovial joints provides a massive clue as to how to interpret the sounds they make.  Here is a short list of some of the structures you will find in and around synovial joints:

1) Cartilage – a layer of smooth covering on the ends of the bones that allows them to glide over each other without friction.

2) Sometimes the bones that make up a joint fit together nicely; sometimes they do not.  Luckily, your body comes already equipped with spacers, wedges, fatty pads, rings and stuffing to create a better fit and provide some cushioning.

3) Ligaments – fibrous connective tissues that act as straps to hold the bones of your joints together.

4) A bursa (a small sack filled with synovial fluid) is usually positioned between moving parts to reduce friction and keeps things sliding and gliding smoothly (keeping tendon gliding smoothly over bone, for example)

5) A ‘joint capsule’ surrounds and holds the joint together – a connective tissue container lined with a membrane that produces lubricating fluid for your joint.

6) Synovial fluid fills the space inside the joint capsule (like a water balloon) and between the cartilage surfaces. In addition to facilitating smooth, painless movement between bones, it delivers nutrients and oxygen to the cartilage.  Joint movement circulates synovial fluid and feeds the cartilage.

Sound typically arises from a joint when something moved out of position or is creating friction.  Knowing what’s inside the joint space provides important clues for deciphering the meaning of those snapping, crackling and popping sounds.

Looking for a solution to prime your joints for movement? Try these dynamic Yoga Tune Up® poses: Half Happy Baby Minivini and Pranic Bath

This article is part 1 of a 4-part series on interpreting sounds from the joint space. Come back Friday to learn about synovial joints that snap!

Enjoyed this article? Read This Joint Is Jumping – Getting Comfortable in an Unstable Body

The Road to Recovery – Regaining Strength After a C-Section

As I talked about in my previous blog, C-section births are a major surgery, and for most women there is very little guidance on recovery other than to ‘walk’.  Two and half years after my own C-section delivery, I still had little sense (proprioception) or connection to my transverse abdominis. Thankfully for me, I had the Coregeous DVD, which I had been introduced to before in order to help with my asthma. As I ventured further into the DVD, I found more positions that allowed me to recover my transverse abdominis (TvA) and regain strength and mobility in my low abdominals, diaphragm, and low back.

Now let’s get the ball rolling. (NOTE: Before attempting ANY movements below, be sure you have been cleared by your doctor to begin an exercise program) Here are some of my favorite techniques for rebuilding strength in the abdominals after major surgery.

The global shear that is created by spinning around a Coregeous ball is excellent for rehabilitating scar tissue.

The global shear that is created by spinning around a Coregeous ball is excellent for rehabilitating scar tissue.

I began my recovery with skin rolling. Using the original Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls I would lay on my back and twist a YTU Therapy Ball back and forth across the scar to help realign the collagenous fibers of the scar tissue, breaking up any unneeded adhesions in the fascia and musculature. Be sure your wound is completely healed and you are okayed by a doctor before performing this move.

Next, to delve a little deeper into the scar tissue, I would lay face down with the Coregeous ball positioned on my scar and rock my hips back and forth to warm up the tissues. You can play with how much the ball is inflated or deflated to fit your own comfort levels. As my abdominals began to feel more warmed up, I would begin to twist and turn on the ball rotating my body clockwise and counter clockwise (kind of like a helicopter). This acts to wind up the deep abdominal tissues to unravel any unwanted and unneeded adhesions.  After my abdomen was feeling warm and fuzzy I would progress to movement.

As the fibers of the TvA and diaphragm are very closely connected I would begin my movement work with Uddiyana Bandha.  Stretching and releasing the diaphragm in this fashion helps to awaken the musculature of the core.  As much as pregnancy affects the abdominals it also affects the diaphragm.  The abdominals may be stretching, but as the baby and belly grows the movement of the diaphragm becomes hindered.  This can leave a new mother with a gnarled, tangled diaphragm in need of some release, Uddiyana Bandha is the perfect exercise to stretch and untangle this major breathing muscle.

Once my diaphragm began to release, I would move onto targeting my transverse abdominis with a modified version of Coreso leg lifts (See video below).  This exercise is on the top of my list for those with abdominal problems as it is amazingly easy to modify to fit any level.  Another great movement to help new moms recover is to squat. Squatting helps with pelvic floor recovery which, alas, has deep connections to the transverse abdominis.  The benefits of squatting for new moms (and just humans in general) is a blog post all of its own. Squatting is another exercise that can be modified to fit any level of strength and flexibility. For a detailed description of modified squats check out this blog by biomechanist Katy Bowman.

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 For a more lengthened discussion on pregnancy and bringing yourself back to life post delivery check out Jill Miller’s Creative Live webinar Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby.

Enjoyed this article? Read Healthy Pelvic Floor: Moving Beyond Kegels


Back to Life after Baby

One third out of all deliveries in the United States is a C-section*. Whether it is planned or emergency, C-sections account for a great deal of births, and while the health risks from C-sections have gone down significantly, it is still a major abdominal surgery. Take a second to consider the layers of tissue, muscles, fascia and organs that are cut through during the process and after this massive surgery, the lucky new mom goes home with a completely dependent bundle of joy. A tiny bundle, which requires constant focus. The combination of feeding cycles and sleep deprivation leave little room for the new mom to figure out, or even think about, how to recover from such a big surgery.  It is because of this, that it took me two and a half years to realize the depth in which my own C-section, which resulted in a beautiful baby boy, had affected my core.

core muscles

All the layers of core musculature can be affected during c-sections and abdominal surgery.

As you would expect, returning to my practice after such a surgery was difficult, as there were various poses I could no longer inhabit without struggling uncomfortably.  I wasn’t too concerned at first – after all, my stomach had been stretched to the max and then cut open. A year later, when these same poses were still out of grasp, I gave up on them, figuring they would just never be the same for me.  My practice had evolved after the birth of my children and missing out on a few poses would not be the end of me, but I still had an inkling in the back of mind that something just wasn’t quite right.  My core just wasn’t firing like it used to.

Let’s take a step back here and talk about why that was happening.  Scares are more than skin deep and actually run all the way from the surface to the deepest layers the surgeon touched. As your body recovers from a wound its main concern is wound closure and the direction at which the fibers of new skin run means very little.  Its main concern, as it should be, is to close the wound.  It achieves this goal by throwing down collagen fibers in every way necessary, which is why a scar is different in appearance than regular skin.  As scar tissue is built, its disorganized structure can hinder the musculature and nervous tissue housed within and around it.


While my c-section brought me my baby boy, the recovery was more difficult than I imagined.

While the superficial scar is the one most apparent, there are usually multiple layers of tissues that have been cut and stitched together, leaving multiple layers of scar to be dealt with.  With a C-section specifically, skin, adipose (fat) tissue, superficial fascia, peritoneum (abdominal cavity lining), and the uterus is cut*.  While the rectus abdominis is not cut, it is often times pulled apart in order to access the deeper layers*.  I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of tissue that will need to recover!  I personally did not receive any advice on how to properly rehabilitate myself, other than to walk around as much as you can. While walking is a full body movement and a great way to recover, I did not feel back to 100% normal after my baby was born. Thankfully, I found the Coregeous DVD, which helped me reconnect with my transverse abdominis, smooth out my scar tissue, and regain my low back health.

Come back on Friday to learn which Yoga Tune Up® poses led me down the path to recovery.



Enjoyed this article? Read If these scars could talk – Post C-Section Recovery


Good Posture: Do You Have It? [Infographic]

By: | Monday, February 23rd, 2015 | Comments 9

When you have correct posture, your body efficiently resists gravity in the least stressful way on your physiological and structural systems. Posture is typically thought of as a static and statue-like position. How boring! In truth, posture is dynamic in nature, and managing it is a constant interplay between your moving body and the things you do with your body. Maintaining proper alignment while moving is a challenging balancing act. For good posture in motion, you must keep your body correctly poised within each movement to minimize the friction on your joints. In other words, activity is not pulling you out of good aligned posture— whether it’s walking, bending over to pick up the newspaper, lifting weights, running, cycling, or doing yoga.

Good standing posture looks like this:

Good Posture_final2

Excerpted from The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body by Jill Miller. Copyright © 2014 by Jill Miller. Excerpted by permission of Victory Belt Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Reset Your Shoulders with Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls

About 2 years ago, I was experiencing a lot of shoulder pain and was diagnosed with biceps tendonitis, which is a fancy way of describing inflammation of the biceps tendon. This was most likely caused by instability in my rotator cuff muscles, which allowed the head of my humerus (aka upper arm bone) to press forward into the tendon. When functioning properly, the rotator cuff muscles act to evenly hold the head of the humerus inside the shoulder socket. A vital part of my healing was using the Roll Model Therapy Balls in addition to strengthening my rotator cuff muscles to keep my humerus centered in the joint instead of compressing the soft tissue and muscles around the joint. This condition caused many layers of adhesions in my tissues that needed to be addressed before doing strengthening work so that I wasn’t reinforcing poor postural patterns in my body. For me, the Roll Model Therapy ball sequences became a reset button for my entire upper body. My favorite Roll Model Therapy sequence to unlock tension in the upper back and shoulders is the following rotator cuff release. See the video below for how to do it!


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Enjoyed this article? Read Take A Pranic Bath To Keep Shoulders Happy

Learn more about the shoulder joint and how to heal shoulder pain.

The “Good” Shoulder Jam

Do you want to soar through the air on a flying trapeze? Or maybe you have a slightly smaller ambition like being able to carry your groceries home without feeling agonizing pain or irritation in your shoulders? Whether performing daredevil stunts or day-to-day activities, your shoulders need to be organized to remain pain-free.

The glenohumeral joint (aka shoulder joint) is a shallow ball and socket joint, which gives the upper arm bone a great deal of mobility. The structure of the joint allows us to move our arms in many different ways but also comes with some downfalls. One being that the joint itself isn’t exceptionally stable – it relies on the musculature surrounding it, particularly the rotator cuff muscles, to stabilize it. If the rotator cuff muscles aren’t strong or are impeded in some way, the integrity of the entire joint is at risk. Another consideration to make when examining the health of the shoulder joint is the balance of tension and tonicity amongst the muscles that attach to the bones of the shoulder. For example, a common issue caused by modern conveniences (think hunching over a computer, cell phone use, etc.) is that the chest and anterior arm muscles become tight and stuck while the back and posterior arm muscles become overstretched and weak. This can create an uneven pull on the joint, which consequently creates poor alignment and compensatory patterns in the shoulder and rest of the body.

gray's illustration of the rotator cuff

The rotator cuff helps to stabilize the humerus within the shoulder joint.

The particular pattern I described above often results in the head of the humerus (aka upper arm bone) tilting anteriorly. When this occurs, the arm bone is not nestled neatly in the glenoid fossa of the scapula (aka shoulder joint). Instead, it presses forward into the soft tissue, muscle, tendons and ligaments that surround it. This can result in tendonitis, bursitis, impingement, and other related conditions. When “-itis” (aka inflammation) and degradation occur at the joint, the “good jam” (structures like cartilage and bursi, along with vital fluids within the joint) which act to cushion the joint start to wear down. Without this built in cushion system, bones would knock into or grind up against each other, causing deterioration of bone and other soft tissues. This protective cushioning can also be worn down by repetitive stress or an accident or injury. When this happens we run into the “bad jam,” – when bones knock into other bones, ligaments or muscles, causing potential pain and further injury.

What can we do to avoid the bad jam and keep the good jam intact? Yoga Tune Up ® system provides a multitude of ways to create stabilization in the shoulder joint, free up tension in muscles of the chest, back and shoulders and balance the tonicity of the rotator cuff muscles. Come back Friday for my favorite ways to reset and revive the shoulder joint!


Enjoyed this article? Read Get Your Infraspinatus to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Learn more about the shoulder joint and how to heal shoulder pain. 

Unravel Total Body Tension – It’s Easier Than You Think!

In my previous articles this week, I discussed how the fascial connections of the layers of the body help to make connections, but may also be attributing to pain, and not in the spot where you think. The lower back is a crossroads for the fascial system and shares direct and indirect connections to every myofascia above and below.  Here are my favorite ways to warm up and prepare the entire body for movement, and how to unravel tension in the lower back – which can be a catalyst for relieving tension throughout the entire body.

Dynamic warmups are a simple way to activate entire myofascial chains, wake up tissues and provide tension reduction.  This type of activity can be used on its own for a stress reduction break or is now commonly used as a replacement for old style pre-exercise static stretching.  Static stretching on cold muscles used to be a common “warm up” practice but risks muscle strain injury.  Instead, dynamic stretching boosts circulation to the area and excites neuro-receptors with gentle multi-joint motions that rhythmically contract and release myofascial chains, preparing for more vigorous movement and decreasing risk of injury.   To warm up low back, gentle warm ups can include:  hula hip circles and simple pelvic tilts lying on your back or standing or try Yoga Tune Up® Sidewinder

Self-massage is my favorite way to drop tension quickly and bring relief to any area.  Massage on and around the thoracolumbar fascia (situated in the lower back) can also impact more distant segments thanks to its numerous attachments.  TLF is one of our largest and most important sheets of fascia (or aponeuroses) because it is situated at an intersection of activity between muscles and bones of:  hips, pelvis, and spine including 2 of 4 abdominal muscles.  Even shoulders and breath are impacted thanks to attachments of the latissimus dorsi to TLF and a connection to the respiratory diaphragm via the internal obliques.

We know for sure is that the neuro-receptors (specialized nerve endings) respond to appropriate myofascial massage by calming the nervous system.  So, if massaging this area brings a lot of “bang for the buck,” unraveling tension in the many myofascial attachments AND you positively enhance your overall well-being; what are you waiting for?  Here is my favorite quick way to let go of stress and be a Roll Model, anytime, anywhere.  Watch below!

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“Where you think it is, it ain’t”

This famous quote from Dr. Ida Rolf was probably uttered long before she met her student, Thomas Myers.   She was known for creating the hands-on, deep tissue program known as Rolfing® and conceived of the myofascial scaffolding long before we knew much about it.  Her quote seems to reference “referred pain” which is a complex issue but basically occurs when a source of pain is somewhere other than where it is felt.   See last week’s blog, “Planes, Trains and Vectors,” for a review on fascia’s linkages and the latest buzz around self-massage research and instruction.  Rolfing®   and the concept of fascia were once seen as “alternative medicine” because there was no clinical “proof” but researchers are now delivering some compelling evidence – with more on the way.

orange fasica demonstration

Fascia provides the optimal interconnected scaffolding for your body’s many layered parts. Image courtesy of The Roll Model by Jill Miller

Aside from the Anatomy Trains view of functional lines of fascia within our body, Myers’ textbook also summarizes his overall theory of the stability of human frame as a whole, using the term “tensegrity.”  This word was originally coined by an architect and inventor named Buckminster Fuller.  Applying the idea of “tensional integrity” to the human frame suggests that our bones are suspended within a continuous fascial net of floating, but supportive tissues, producing mechanical stability.  In this type of structure, tension on one area impacts another; like cables on a suspension bridge.  Human design was previously seen from the perspective of “compression;” more like bricks stacked in gravity.  This concept proposes that myofascial “lines” carry forces from one body segment to the next during movement.

Visualize the consecutive chain of body segments that must activate when brushing long hair, or chopping wood or throwing a baseball.  The “chain” concept is not an entirely new idea, but suggesting that the transmission and deceleration of force via connectivity of continuous fascia is the newer twist.

Thanks to current laboratory researchers including Gil Hedley, we have learned in meticulous dissection studies that muscles are often embedded in the fascial sheets and cannot easily be separated, supporting this fascial “line” concept.  We have a lot more to learn about the human architecture, fascia, movement and neuro-receptors.  Fitness and movement educators always want to know about “generating force” which is what happens with muscle movement, therefore we seem to focus on measuring ball rolling “forces” on fascia.  However, science tells us that mechanical intervention on tissue (force) generates many types of changes:  chemical, structural, or neurological; so are we trying to measure the right construct in our ongoing research?  Is there something else going on that we cannot even conceive? Stay tuned for updates!!

So where does the idea of continuity within the fascia appear in different modalities?

“Kinetic chain” concepts have been around for some time.  Fascia research is still closely questioned and considered theory, but orthopedic specialists, sports medicine and physical therapists have understood and utilized the body’s “kinetic chains” in rehabilitation practice for years with positive results.  They have recognized that defined sequences of muscle coordination exist in patterns of multi-joint movements throughout a body segment, impacting each other.   A chain of joints exercised together such as the hip, knee, and ankle joints, comprise the “lower extremity kinetic chain,” as an example. While this model is utilized in standard medical practice, it sure carries similarity to the myofascial lines theory.  Is it just semantics or a case of blurred lines?

Reflexes/ Gait Patterns.  Humans have motor development milestones that occur as infants and body reflexes which are a part of healthy development and motor control.  Certain segments of the body develop neurological linkages that work in symphony with others (e.g. kinetic chain).  Most obvious is perhaps our gait (walking) pattern, where a naturally contralateral movement or “cross-crawl” of opposite arm moves with opposite leg.   Sometimes these synchronizations get confused or have signal problems and we end up with inhibited muscles that won’t contract, but we may not always realize why something feels “off”.  “Where you think it is, it ain’t.”   When the gait pattern is out of whack, an inhibited gluteus maximus on one side typically accompanies a tight low back, that is trying to “help” or compensate and there are often issues in the opposite side latissimus dorsi.  Why does this happen with a movement that an individual has successfully executed for years?   This dysfunction is seen frequently in physical therapy clinics and gyms and called kinetic chain, but also fits into the theoretical “Functional Back Line” from Myers.  Applied medicine and theory meet again.

To use our knowledge of chains and lines in daily life, consider your low back. This is a place we have all experienced myofascial connections. It is a busy area where forces are generated, absorbed (decelerated) or transferred from lower to upper body or vice versa.  Low back tension may come from the kinetic chain gait example above, or other brisk activities, or inactivity.  Since the low back is also a place where referred pain or tension occurs, it presents a challenge for medical providers.   Back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, but most of it is termed “non-specific” or “idiopathic” meaning from unknown cause.  There is speculation that fascia may be a major player in such pain.  The thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) is a multi-layered sheet of connective tissue at the low back which forms an intersection for muscles from several body segments and also shows up as a junction for most of Myers’ fascial “lines.”   The TLF is a deep, layered tendonous sheet also called an aponeurosis, which is almost constantly activated whether we are moving or standing still due to the array of muscles that attach into it from front to back, above and below and the lumbar vertebrae to which it anchors.  When a cranky muscle feeds tension into the TLF, there are ramifications for the fascia and its other muscle relations.   Hopefully the fascia researchers that will help us to guide people with back pain towards relief because currently our treatment results are impotent.

Evolving research has influenced some hands on approaches for chiropractors, physical therapists and massage practitioners.  In the workout world, we have seen a powerful wave of change towards comprehensive compound exercises; multi-joint, multiple body segment workouts.  Fortunately people are edging away from the old muscle isolation strength training model (e.g. biceps on a nautilus machine) which has little relationship for better function in daily life.   CrossFit, use of free weights and body weight exercises, TRX Suspension Training®, BOSU® for strength, and of course Pilates, Yoga and now Yoga Tune Up® offer excellent compound exercises for mobility and stability.

Come back Friday for my recommendations to unravel tension and enhance well being through movement!


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Give a Friend a #WinterTuneUp!

By: | Monday, February 9th, 2015 | Comments 0

Has winter left your fascia frozen and stiff? Help a friend beat the winter blues by giving them a #WinterTuneUp! We’re giving away three prizes on Twitter, one random winner will be chosen each week until February 15th. A winner for Week 1 and 2 has already been selected, but this week is still up for grabs!

Week 3 (Feb 9 – 15) PrizeTreat While You Train Kit: Kelly Starrett and Jill Miller take you through your entire musculoskeletal system and show you how this myofascial toolkit will help you with Performance, Recovery and Injury Prevention.

Join us on Twitter for a chance to win! Just tweet @yogatuneup + #WinterTuneUp + tag the person you want to give to. Fire up your thumbs and start tweeting!

Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Trainings	 Finishing School for Movement Educators OR Graduate School for Movement Educators


Science Meets the Body

As a research scientist and a movement professional, I have spent years walking the line between two frustrating worlds; my medical hospital coworkers and alternative/complementary medicine colleagues, both of whom found it acceptable to marginalize the others’ approaches to body work. I believe in both the proven science and in the musculoskeletal “theory” as vehicles for helping people manage their pain. Today, we all share excitement over the discoveries so far with cautious hope for answer within the future research.  However, I still see many naysayers on social media who disregard the effectiveness of myofascial work.   Primarily, it appears that the cynical questions are related to both a lack of optimism in the future of the research and an unfortunate faction of fitness instructors who are overselling myofascial work.

This is an old problem in the fitness industry, when some folks don’t do their reading or misrepresent what they can offer.   But let’s not lose focus on the good work. The truth is we have not figured out all the “hows and whys” of manipulation of myofascial tissue, but we know it helps many feel better.  Some evidence indicates blood flow and temporary joint range of motion changes —but we cannot name precisely what happens to the tissue itself to make it different.   There is however, pertinent evidence in the newly discovered array of neuro-receptors abundant in the fascia.

The Roll Model Balls improve positional awareness, calm the nervous system and decrease pain perception.

The Roll Model Balls improve positional awareness, calm the nervous system and decrease pain perception.

In Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model® classes, this is the scientific evidence on which the myofascial work is based.   By using great awareness, calm breath and focus while practicing deep palpation with therapy balls, we harness their power to calm the nervous system and allow the body to relax.  The touch and pressure of the balls also helps us to find our “blindspots” and by eliciting neuro-messaging of proprioception, we can improve our positional awareness, which helps decrease pain perception.   More noticeable improvements can be felt when practiced over time. To answer the epic questions above about what is specifically happening to each muscle fiber as a result of rolling, we will need better studies to investigate live persons using imaging and other technology.   But, let’s not get so wrapped in the science and forget that most people simply want to feel better and don’t really care about the “mechanism of action” underneath their skin.

With that in mind, even Western physicians have long worked without all the “proof” and have used both art and science in helping people.  They have long understood the importance of both “laboratory evidence” (e.g. blood panel results) as well “clinical presentation” (the vibrant person standing in front of them) and use both perspectives to guide treatment recommendations.  Well-informed movement teachers are capable of combining the most recent science with intelligent concepts from biomechanics and kinesiology for practical, prudent movement methods that get results– without misleading or overselling the science.  Even though I’m a former research scientist, I am not waiting for tomorrow’s completion of randomized controlled trials to “prove” details about tissue changes.  I can help students feel and demonstrate improvements today, even though I cannot explain all of it.

For more information on fascia and science, see Jill’s easy to understand condensed Chapter Four of The Roll Model A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body, or checkout Yoga Tune Up® Education at the Teacher Training Tab.  If you are looking for a good movement teacher who is trained properly integrated anatomy, the latest research and intelligent movement methods, see the Tab for Meet All Teachers. You have the capacity to be a self-healing organism and have all the tools with which to do it, so get rolling!


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Planes, Trains & Vectors?

By: | Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 | Comments 3

I love Steve Martin movies, but today’s article is not about his stressful travel adventures.  “Planes, trains and vectors” are, indeed, words that explain locomotion, but also apply in the world of human anatomy.  These words convey direction of movement and the connectedness of body segments.  Our musculoskeletal linkages are a hot topic among researchers from around the globe who are suddenly making exciting discoveries about the human body’s key ingredient, fascia; our connective tissue. With musculoskeletal pain recorded as the fastest growing disease statistic in the world, new information about fascia is extremely important. In a manner of speaking, this tissue is the “glue” holding us together. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and many folks have high hopes that ongoing fascia research may provide the missing pieces in solving the puzzles of body pain.


Body planes create a universal way to describe movement in the body.

“Plane,” has been standard terminology for years signifying the general direction of movement in space (Forward and back is sagittal plane, side to side is coronal plane, and rotation is the transverse plane).  “Vectors” or “force vectors” are a more complicated measurement technique borrowed from mechanical engineering, but are used in human biomechanics to quantify how forces act on joints when transferred from one body part to another to create movement (imagine the foot to arm force in a baseball pitch). These 3-dimensional concepts are customary techniques already used in science to describe movement or measure stress on our tissues.

Enter:  “Train.”  This new-er concept was coined by Tom Myers in his “Anatomy Trains” text to depict the linkage of the human body’s myofascial tissue in ‘lines’ of natural force production across body segments.  Myers’ book is helping create a long overdue shift in how experts explain movement mechanics by letting go of the old textbook focus on isolated movements of individual muscles within their end-to end attachments.

For anyone who has taken a traditional human anatomy course, you probably emphasized (and painfully memorized) individual muscles and bones by name, but never discussed fascia.  Fascia or myofascia (muscle + fascia = myofascia) is our internal scaffolding; an uninterrupted, adaptable, three-dimensional framework of gelatinous connective tissue that extends from interior to exterior, front to back and head to toe, linking muscles, bones, organs, nerves, blood vessels and other structures inside of us.  While lessons we learned about individual muscles are still true, there is much more to comprehend about how the same muscles work within this continuous web of connective tissue.   It is hard to comprehend that scientists at medical laboratories used great efforts to clean the abundance of fascia off of cadavers, and then discarded it without analysis until the past decade or so.  Ironically, in about 1900, Andrew Taylor Still MD the ‘father of osteopathic medicine,’ wrote a tremendous amount of accurate theory about fascia, but it was not truly recognized until 2012. Amazing what he was able to discern with so little equipment!

Come back on Friday to learn more about how research science can be applied to your teaching and movement practice!


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Soothe Your Scars

On Wednesday, my blog illustrated how the gnarly matrix of scar tissue can inhibit normal function and range of motion throughout the body’s multi-layered system both near and far from the scar itself. How many people do you know who suffer from pain, tightness or lack of function following any type of abdominal surgery? Not that the surgery itself is to blame, but quite possibly the aftermath of untreated scar tissue and its restrictive qualities within the abdominal cavity are at fault. Think of a mother’s frustration while trying to “get her pre-baby strength back” but her body just isn’t responding after repetitive abdominal exercises. Instead, these moms may feel discouraged with their efforts, and frustrated that new issues such as chronic neck discomfort or back pain are now part of their daily lives. Remember, that just because a scar heals beautifully on the outside, the layers beneath may still need some work.

Abdominal surgeries such as C-sections  “knead” the healing power of self- massage. Massaging your scar can resuscitate fibrous, dehydrated tissue by coaxing the fibers to break free reorganizing their arrangement and allowing for oxygenation and nutrient flow. If your scar has been neglected, you may need the additional help of a skilled massage or visceral manipulation therapist to access the deeper most adhered layers of matted down tissue within your abdominal region. You may also consider doing your own homework first, self-massage with a soft inflatable ball like the Coregeous Ball (my personal preference because of the skin’s grippy texture).

Here are just a few exercises that I am using to revitalize my own 3-year-old C-section scar.  Please keep in mind that scars may hold physical and emotional sensitivity, so proceed with compassion. Also, if you have a relatively new scar, please seek your physician’s permission to self -massage before attempting these exercises.

1)   Breathe life into your scar: place a soft inflatable ball, like the Coregeous ball, directly on your navel just above your C-section scar, preferably on a bare belly. rest your forehead down on crossed arms with legs extended ( if too intense, prop yourself up onto your forearms ). Inhale, so your abdominal layers create some tension against the pressure of the ball. Once you feel your body rise up a bit from the ball, slowly exhale, releasing the pressure and allow the ball to submerge further into your core. Repeat several times.  Depending on the healing stage of your scar, you can repeat this simply by shifting the placement of the ball below your navel, between your pelvic bones, or directly on your C-section scar.

2)   Massage your scar tissue: With the ball still placed between the pelvic bones, begin to glide and swipe your hips back and forth, in an undulating, figure eight like manner. The sticky texture of the ball will grab at several layers of your core, to encourage hydration and circulation amongst all of them. Make sure to traverse all the way across to each pelvic bone beyond the length of your scar.  Alternate your strategy by maintaining some supple tension in your lower abdomen and then relaxing it all while still in motion.

3)   Mobilize tissues in and around your scar: Pin the ball back against your navel while your are still prone in position and begin to walk your body around the ball – maintaining the ball at its original starting point. Aim to create a swirling or pinwheel like effect of your abdominal layers. Once you have taken up the slack of your center – begin with straight leg lifts, and then try tracing small circles with your leg in both directions. Rest your legs. Stretch the upper body by lifting into spinal extension. Breathe deeply as you proceed. Repeat this exercise by walking your way around the ball in the opposite direction.

These exercises are so tremendous in enhancing one’s proprioception, health and optimal function.  If you are looking for that perfect baby shower gift– give a mother some incredible self care gifts to recharge and reform her body  – consider the Yoga Tune Up® balls, Coregeous DVD and The Roll Model by Jill Miller. Happy Rolling!!!

Check out the video below for another abdominal massage technique with YTU instructor Brooke Thomas.

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If these scars could talk – Post C-Section Recovery

Scars can impact one’s social, emotional and physical well -being. They are storytellers that remind us that something happened in our lives  – good, bad, major or minor.  Scars do chatter, sometimes with clear communication but often as a distant echo. For mothers with C-sections (cesarean sections), they know that beyond the work they need to do for their new baby, a longer recovery lies ahead of them due to the incision and stitches. But little information is given to these moms regarding the scarring from C-sections and the potential long -term side effects. In fact, the scar tissue from C-sections and other abdominal surgeries can spread approximately two years post surgery, with the ability to bind tissues and organs together, creating dysfunction and discomfort. But there are self-care strategies that moms can work with to prevent these issues from escalating!

The majority of C-section recipients receive a low transverse incision above the bikini line, where the muscle density of the uterus is the thinnest. Many layers are cut through including the skin, fatty layer, and fascia (connective tissue) followed by the separation of the rectus abdominus muscles before reaching the peritoneum. This semi-permeable membrane covers all of our abdominal organs and is also cut through to access the uterus. This process will automatically set off an inflammatory response throughout the body to prevent further damage to the affected area. Fortunately, the body is resilient and acts quickly to regenerate new collagen fibers, a major component of our connective tissue, in and around the C-section incision site for repair. While these new fibers are regenerating, the uneven distribution of the collagen cells is often chaotic and jumbled in its final arrangement. If left untreated, a thicker, more dense and fibrous tissue can form known as scar tissue.

Bands of scar tissue, known as adhesions, can then form within the abdominal cavity and pelvis connecting surfaces that normally slide over one another, leaving them literally stuck together. This fibrous scar tissue lacks the same fluid, blood circulation and lymphatic flow. What follows is the inability of soft tissue and muscle fiber surfaces being able to slide and glide against one another efficiently. Without the slide and glide properties – range of motion becomes restricted. As with any restriction, the body will find a way to compensate by weakening, tightening or overworking other areas of the body. Very few mothers may consider their C-section scar a possible source of their discomfort or dysfunction in their bodies.  And why should they? This is not the information that most new mothers either receive, focus on, or have the information to connect the dots –  heck, they have a new baby who needs their full attention.  When a scar heals – it may look great aesthetically, but isn’t the true test of a healthy scar pliability of all layers beneath the surface?

According to Lynn Leech, a PT specializing in Women’s Health and Visceral Manipulation, low back, pelvic pain and frequency of urination top the list of some of the most commonly made complaints post C-section surgery – but, please note, many of these issues may not show up right away.

Lynn Leech explains, “The scar tissue adheres to all the tissues directly in front of the sacrum…There is fascia that runs from the pubic bone around the bladder, uterus and colon and attaches back to the sacrum. There is also an uterosacral ligament (a major ligament of the uterus) that can get tight from scar tissue that inhibits the sacrum from moving freely as it needs to when we bend, twist and walk. This restricted tissue mobility causes limited sacral mobility and is what leads to back pain.”

In addition, “if the scar tissue from a C-section incision in the lower abdomen is inhibiting the bladder from expanding fully…Once the bladder tries to expand it hits the scar tissue, it sends a signal up to the brain telling it you need to empty your bladder.” (Read more on scar massage here.)  And there you have it moms, the need to pee much more frequently than you recall pre-pregnancy. In addition, the scar tissue can also attach to the hip flexor/psoas muscles causing chronic tightness, back and hip pain.

Wow… deep breaths…and while these symptoms may not always be attributed to a C-section scar, it is certainly worth investigating.

Check back in on Friday for self- care strategies in caring for your C-section scar!

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If No Kegels …Then What?

By: | Friday, January 23rd, 2015 | Comments 11

On Wednesday, I discussed pelvic floor health beyond the commonly prescribed Kegel exercise.  But if not Kegels, then what exercises can you do to improve the health of the musculature at the base of the pelvis? The best place to start is attending to your pelvis – specifically, the alignment of your pelvis.

Your pelvic floor works best when your pelvis is in neutral. The neutral position refers to both points at the front of the pelvis (ASIS) and the pubic bone being in a vertical plane. Ideally,  practice this alignment of your pelvis several times a day and in as many different positions as possible – sitting in the car, squatting in the bathroom, lying on the floor, standing in the grocery checkout line, or walking in the park, to name a few.

The big issue with chronically maintaining your pelvis outside of neutral position (meaning your pelvis habitually tucks under or sways) is that you are not only affecting the skeletal tissues and all muscles that maneuver the pelvis, but any change in position will also affect the pressures placed on your internal organs. As a result, changes in position of organs will influence the pressure within the pelvis, which will completely change the loading on your pelvic floor. Before you know, you start getting those embarrassing leaks!

Besides restoring your pelvis alignment, you want to look out for training muscles at the back of the pelvic floor, namely your glutes. You gluteal muscles, the tissues attaching to the back of the sacrum (which is also the attachment of your pelvic floor muscles), need to be very strong. Unfortunately, due to our over reliance on sitting in chairs and  the constant tucking of our pelvises, the sacrum moves closer and closer towards the pubic bone, continuously weakening the posterior muscles of the pelvis. This results in no butt strength and incredibly tight pelvic floors. The moment you begin to get a ‘’little leak’’ while sneezing, you try to naturally protect yourself from embarrassment and start to ‘’tighten’’ and grip your pelvic floor – developing even more tightness!

If you don’t have strong glutes, walk around with tucked pelvis, use chairs all the time, and avoid squatting- you simply cannot have strong and pliable pelvic floor.

The Kegel itself is not bad – my issue with Kegels is that they are not understood correctly and are just a tiny piece of whole-body issue that pelvic floor disorders often stems from. As a quick fix, your Kegel treatment might be a balm – but as a long term solution, you really need to begin to ‘’think all around the pelvis’’ and invite your gluteals to give you a full architectural support for healthy functioning pelvic floor.

Try this super-effective exercise, shown in the video below, to strengthen your glutes while working on neutral pelvis at the same time.

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Healthy Pelvic Floor: Moving Beyond Kegels

Being active is an essential part of creating long-term, lasting health. But what if participating in exercises classes, running, aerobic activities or heavy weight training results in bladder leakage? Is pushing through the discomfort, feelings of embarrassment or total avoidance of the issue the real lasting solution? Is peeing your pants during exercise ever normal?

You might be surprised to know, that your ‘’wee problem’’ is much larger issue than most people understand. Current statistics clearly show that an alarming 80% of women will suffer with a pelvic floor disorder at some stage in their lives and 1 in 9 woman will have surgery to fix their pelvic issues. 2015 can be a year of change for all of us: before we start to embark on grueling exercise routines, we need to take time to understand and consider the health of our pelvic floors.

Where Does The Problem Come From?

pelvic floor anatomy

Get to know the muscles ‘down there’ for better pelvic health!

Any exercise that involves a change in intra-abdominal pressure, such as running, jumping, or lifting heavy objects can create a repetitive impact and/or stress on the area of the body known as the pelvic floor. If the pelvic floor is weakened or chronically tight, it cannot provide sufficient support to the bladder and other pelvic organs, resulting in peeing your pants while you try to burn Sunday’s lunch on a treadmill!

What Is The Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is group of muscles that run from the pubic symphysis at the front of the pelvis to the sacrum at the base of the spine. Its main purpose is to provide structural support to our internal organs, specifically the bladder, the uterus and the rectum. It also plays vital role in childbirth and helps maintain optimal intra-abdominal pressure. Healthy pelvic floor musculature supports the hips, lower back and pelvic joints and helps stabilize and support the torso and body.  Ideally, a healthy pelvic floor ‘’turns on’’ automatically to help stabilize the pelvis before we begin any movement.

A common thought is that if you are female, over the age of 40, and have had a couple of kids your pelvic floor is guaranteed to be very weak. What I have actually found in many of my clients after years of working in pelvic rehab is that their pelvic floors live in chronic state of contraction and they haven’t been able to relax their tissues for a very long time.

How Can My Pelvic Floor Be Overly Tight And Weak?

Chronic shortening of the pelvic floor muscles, either due to Kegel overtraining, poor postural habits or trauma can lead to an increase in pelvic floor tightness; resulting in myriad of pelvic floor disorders. Too much tightness in your pelvic floor can easily manifest as urge incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, cystitis or vulvadynia, to name a few.

Where Does The Kegel Fit In?

If you have a pelvic floor disorder and have looked for a solution to your discomfort, it is very likely that you have come across or been suggested to do the Kegel exercise. In fact, most women’s magazines and “fitness authorities” suggest that women do Kegels on a regular basis, and many times daily.  But most people are unfamiliar with the mechanics of the Kegel exercise and how to facilitate the “most important exercise down there”.

I have been educating women on the health of their pelvises for a long time and have yet to come across a single patient or student who would know exactly what a Kegel is and how to do it.

Common thought is that Kegels represents “cutting off the urine flow,” but more often than not, when people think they are performing Kegels, they are instead squeezing their buttocks, firming their abdominals and/or clenching their jaws.

In addition, Kegels performed excessively over long periods of time will tighten the pelvic floor and can begin to pull the sacrum inwards. Imagine constantly contracting your biceps without every stretching it – the pelvic floor is no different and excessive contractions in the form of Kegels can result in a shortening of the musculature of pelvic floor. This is the same tightness I referred to previously that contributes to weakness and incontinence when running, jumping, coughing or sneezing.

Come back on Friday for my suggestions for pelvic floor fixes that don’t require Kegels!


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The Best Remedy for Lower Back Pain

Growing up in Japan, there were no chairs in my house. The floor of my house was covered with Tatami, which is a type of flooring made of weaved straw.  We used to sit on Tatami all the time. When we visited the Buddhist Temple, we had to sit on our feet with our spines erect, in Seza, until our feet would fall asleep.

I still remember the life style changes in my childhood. Suddenly, there appeared couches and chairs in my house. The western style toilet replaced the old fashioned one. We said “Sayonara!” to Tatami and said “Hello!” to wooden floors. I embraced the changes with joy… It was so much more comfortable sitting on chairs.

Only recently, after 40 years and several disc injuries later, I started to give up my furniture and have begun to sit on the floor. I realize my back feels much better this way. Whenever I travel to Asia on 13 hour plane rides, I walk around and find a wall to perform the Yoga Tune Up® pose, Boomerang. Boomerang will help to simultaneously loosen and strengthen the QL by introducing certain movements to change your postural pattern. This action will bring awareness to your muscles to strengthen and increase your range of motion.

The best part is, you don’t need much space or time. Just a little office space or bath room wall will do—so why not spend five minutes in between work, or a long drive to try it?

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Lower back pain – Demystify your QL

Have you ever had intense pain in your lower back after a long day of driving or working at your desk? Perhaps with one side that feels worse than the other? Well, most likely your Quadratus Lumborum on that side is screaming at you in pain.

The Quadratus Lumborum, aka the QL, is a long, wide, flat, trapezoidal muscle closely resembling a flank steak. It originates from the bottom of the 12th rib and lumbar vertebrae L1~L4. It inserts on top of the iliac crest (hip bone), exists on both sides of the body, and connects the pelvis to the spine. It is functions as one of the deepest abdominal muscle and most of us don’t even know it exists! The QL plays a major role in our daily movement as both sides of the QL work together to extend our spines, and one side works independently to laterally flex the spine.

Have you ever heard that QL dysfunction is a common cause of lower back pain? Here is the reason why.

The spine and QL are negatively affected by bad posture.

The spine and QL are negatively affected by bad posture.

Imagine yourself sitting for long hours. The spine, in its ideal healthy state, has a S- shaped curve (aka Lordosis), but after sitting for a long time, the spine will change its shape to a C-shaped curve (aka Kyphosis) with the tailbone tucked under. This shape is also known as slumping. Once we stay in this slumped posture, we carry that into everyday life. Think Memory Foam. Your spine has memory, and it will try to retain the shape it is in most often. When you stay in poor posture day in and day out, your QL is affected as well results in muscle fatigue.  The sluggish muscle will then experience a decreased blood flow. Unless you learn to stretch or release it, in time, adhesions in the muscle and fascia can form. This can result in painful muscle spasms, bulged discs, or even disc herniation.

Scary thought. But the good news is, there are things you can do to alleviate pain. You can roll out your lower back with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls. For deep muscles like the QL or Psoas, I recommend using bigger balls, like Therapy Ball Plus or the ALPHA Ball, so you can achieve deeper penetration into the tissue.  Check out The Roll Model Bonus Move: Obliques, QL and Psoas.

You can also loosen/strengthen the QL by introducing certain movements to change your postural pattern. Lengthening the spine with yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog is a great thing to do. But when stretching the muscle alone doesn’t do your back justice, we need to find a way to wake up and strengthen it.

Come back on Friday for my QL fix that can be done anywhere there is a wall!


Enjoyed this article? Read Banishing Back Pain Yoga Tune Up® Style

Learn more about YTU solutions for back pain.

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Refine the Midline

On Monday, I discussed the fascial continuities of the structures of the midline and the vital role that they plays in our ability to establish integrated core strength from the ground up.

Some of my favorite YTU techniques to access, tone and refine the midline are Prasarita Lunges (especially when focused on using the “pull” of the inner legs to propel the movement side to side), Adductor Slides, bridge lifts, uddiyana bandha and of course, rolling out the feet with the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls.

Here’s how to do Prasarita Lunges – a great midline strengthening exercise!

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Enjoyed this article? Read Fix Your Posture, Fix Your Knees

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Finding Center by Mastering the Midline

By: | Wednesday, January 7th, 2015 | Comments 3

Finding “center”, or the balance, equilibrium and stability in our body that enables us to live and move in a more graceful way, is of paramount importance in our yoga practice, fitness routines, and movement through everyday life. To connect with our center, it is essential to master the midline. Simply put, the midline is the imaginary line that separates the right half and the left half of the body.

Mastering the midline might be considered as occurring both literally and figuratively, in your “core”. While your core, the musculature that mobilizes and stabilizes your spine as you sit, stand, and move about, is key to completing the puzzle, it is just one piece.

core muscles

The musculature that supports the core extends beyond the abdominals.

The muscles that comprise the core as we typically think of it include the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and internal and external obliques. These key muscles, as well as all the muscles in your body, are intricately interconnected through fascia. In fact, everything in your body, from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head, is literally woven together by this continuous, viscous, gelatinous connective tissue that behaves like the body’s own version of “knitting fabric”. Fascia permeates every organ, bone, muscle, and nerve right down to their cellular structures.

Additionally, fascia maintains spatial relationships between anatomical structures and serves as a mechanism to allocate the tension, pull, and force experienced by the body. In his book, “Anatomy Trains”, Tom Myers presents a compelling model of this interconnectivity through specific fascial “trains” or “lines” that link one area to another. He considers these lines to be a map of how stability is maintained and strain is distributed across the body.(1) In essence, all parts of the body are interrelated and action taken or force applied in one area will affect the whole.

Of all the Anatomy Trains Maps presented, of particular importance to cultivating balance and core stability is the Deep Front Line (DFL). The DFL is the fascial train that begins at the base of the foot and works its way up through inner calf, inner thigh, the pelvic floor and then splits into two branches.  One branch continues up the front of the abdomen toward the ribs and the other weaves its way up the back side of the body to conclude at the base of the skull. It’s important to note that at the abdomen, the DFL “knitting” is literally woven into other fascial sheaths that play a crucial role in encasing and supporting the structures of the body integral to the midline. For all the anatomy lovers out there, at the end of this post under footnote (2), check out the detailed anatomical version of the DFL.

Because fascia is viscous and gelatinous, our tissues respond and perform best when we provide them with ample movement and hydration. Without regular movement and manipulation (such as massage or Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball rolling), fascia will become dry, brittle and loaded with adhesions that do not allow the body to move as nature intended. The body then compensates by engaging in detrimental movement and structural holding patterns. If left unchecked, the risk of pain, injury, and musculoskeletal degeneration is inversely and more severely amplified.

If we view the body with this deeper understanding of how every stitch of fascia affects the entire knitted web, and prioritize the development of our ability to propriocept and proactively connect with the muscles along this key fascial line through movement and massage, we can improve our balance and move from our core with greater precision and awareness. Ultimately, we will master the midline and find our “center”……from the ground up.

Come back Friday for some fantastic YTU techniques to get started!



  1. Anatomy Trains, second edition 2009, churchill lovingstone elsevier,Tom Myers (pp 1-3, 181-204)
  2. The DFL starts at the inner arch of the foot with the flexor hallicus longus and flexor digitorum longus, continues up through the tibialis posterior of the inner calf, proceeds through the adductor magnus of the inner leg, and then works its way through the pelvic floor. At this point, the DFL branches into two lines, one leading up the anterior of the body and the other up the posterior side.  The anterior side of this line travels through the pelvic floor connecting with the rectus abdominus at its deepest attachment site at the pubic symphysis and continues up through the posterior abdominal fascia towards the ribs.  Included in the posterior abdominal fascia is the umbilicus, enabling the DFL to connect with several additional myofascial tissues and critical organs. The posterior side of this line travels up the anterior surface of the coccyx and sacrum to the psoas and diaphragm and continues up the anterior surface of the thoracic spine. It then proceeds to the deeper anterior neck muscles including the scalenes, longus capitis, longus colli, rectus capitis, and concludes at the occiput, the base of the skull.


Enjoyed this article? Read The Center Can Hold: Defining and Refining Balance

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Rebuilding Stability & Functional Strength

In my previous article, Confessions of a Former Sensation Junkie, I reflected on my personal experience of working to heal repetitive stress injuries through Yoga Tune Up®. It has taken years for me to realize that by doing the same movements over and over again, I had created many body blind spots and compensation patterns in my movement and posture. It’s not just enough to move — one must also move well. YTU has served as a way to unlock my potential for self-healing and has helped me to discern what kinds of movement and positioning are best for me. In the continued process of healing a shoulder injury, I have used the information and scope of this practice to gradually increase strength and stability in my shoulders and core. My favorite Yoga Tune Up® pose for building strength and stability in these areas is Megaplank with Active Serratus. This pose involves engagement of the entire body, and highlights the serratus anterior muscle, which acts to help in stabilizing the shoulders during weight bearing.

Begin practicing Megaplank with Active Serratus by watching the video below!

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Enjoyed this article? Read Top Ten Holistic Treatments for Inflammation

Get shoulder pain relief with Yoga Tune Up.

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Confessions of a Former Sensation Junkie

As the old adage goes, no pain no gain, right? This culturally pervasive idea has made its mark on virtually everything – our jobs, our personal lives, and very prominently in the way we treat and move our bodies. If you don’t wake up the morning after an intense workout barely able to move, did it even happen? And if you did wake up feeling the burn from yesterday’s efforts, did it somehow make it more worthwhile?

Photo curtsey of John Suhar

Photo curtsey of John Suhar

I used to believe it did. I spent my childhood and early adulthood playing soccer and running long distances, and I knew what it felt like to work hard and feel it the next day. I enjoyed the feeling of soreness, because it gave me validation and a sense of accomplishment. When I started yoga in 2007 I applied these same beliefs to my practice. The yoga classes I chose had to be sweaty, challenging, and feel like an incredibly intense workout or I had no interest. I also favored poses where I felt excessive stretching and sensation — pigeon, deep backbends, arm binds — you get the picture. I applied the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ to yoga, and after a few years of practicing this way developed pain and injuries, particularly in my joints. I conceivably pushed past healthy ranges of motion in my joints due to a lack of awareness, understanding, and my own forcible sense of competition. While in hindsight I wish I knew then what I know now, my personal experience has led me to investigate the how’s and why’s of injury, and has set me on a path of uncovering ways to regain joint stability and better overall function of my musculoskeletal system.

One thing to make clear — flexibility is not about being able to touch your toes or bring your head to your foot in a backbend. What many of us regard as images of flexibility are often more akin to contortion and involve expressions of hyper flexibility (pushing past a natural range of motion.) Healthy ranges of motion (ROM) vary between individuals and can be limited based on the shapes and articulation of our bones, as well as by tightness, constriction, or adhesions in the muscles and connective tissue of our bodies. Thus, the very idea of achieving poses or shapes with the body is flawed, because a healthy ROM for one body is not necessarily a healthy ROM for another body. When the body is pushed into a position that requires its joints to move past a healthy ROM, it causes stress in multiple systems of the body (musculoskeletal and nervous system to name a few). The joint stress that is incurred often comes in the form of over-stretching ligaments, whose major function is to stabilize joints. Unlike muscle, which has the ability to stretch and then return to its resting length because of its elasticity and vascularity (meaning it has a rich supply of blood), your ligaments are collagenous and avascular (poor blood supply). Once they are overstretched, they cannot easily return to a length necessary to best support the joints. This is why a sprained joint is so difficult to heal — the ligaments of the joint have become overstretched leaving the joint with a weakened support system. Therefore, instead of focusing on achieving yoga poses, we can work on facilitating a healthy joint range of motion in our joints. This is best by performing diverse and targeted movements, whilst building strength and stability in the body.

The Yoga Tune Up® system is extremely intelligent in uncovering imbalances and injuries in the body, and then providing students the tools to heal them. YTU Therapy Balls act like a magnifying glass — as you roll on different muscles and tissue they highlight, as Jill likes to say, “the issues in their tissues!” YTU therapy balls also offer an increased understanding of where different structures are located in the body, which is an integral part of the practice of self-healing and self-care. Along with therapy ball rolling, Yoga Tune Up employs corrective exercise techniques that are designed to move the body in all different planes and in all different ways. Instead of trying to fit your body into a pose, you get to customize movements and poses to your body. Thus, the focus becomes creating an integrated, stable, supportive system.

Come back on Friday, when I will share my favorite Yoga Tune Up® pose for stabilizing and strengthening the shoulders and core. For now, check out the Quickfix RX: Upper & Lower Body DVD to begin uncovering your body blind spots and treat yourself to a full body massage!


Enjoy this article? Read This Joint Is Jumping – Getting Comfortable in an Unstable Body

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Building Balanced Shoulders

The muscles on the front of the chest get overworked with repetitive pushing in poor positions.

The muscles on the front of the chest get overworked with repetitive pushing in poor positions.

In my previous post, I talked about how  yoga vinyasa focuses on load in the front muscles on the chest, specifically muscles that execute pushing.  What about the pulling muscles in the back of the shoulders and upper back?  Repeating a vinyasa/chaturanga sequence many times a class and many times a week can create a structural imbalance in the shoulder, which could lead to injury and pain down the line.  What are some things you can do to help balance things out?

-If you are someone who practices a style of yoga which might feature 25-50 chaturangas in each class, consider laying off of a few here and there, especially if you have past or current shoulder issues. I’ve restricted my chaturangas to 10 or less in a flow class and teach other ways of strengthening the anterior muscles, including reverse plank or reverse table.

-Take a magnifying glass to your chaturanga dandasana – Do your shoulders “wing” out as you lower down? Do you have restricted muscles in the front of the body that affect your posture and ability to lower down in chaturanga?

-Do some soft tissue mobilization for your front body with the Roll Model® therapy balls, focusing on the pectorals and chest.

-Get to a Yoga Tune Up® class and start mobilizing and strengthening your rotator cuff pronto! There are a huge array of different poses to strengthen theses muscles, and some of my favorites are the matador circles, dolphin plank, and bodysurfing for starter.

Here is a video from YTU teacher Brooke Thomas that is a fantastic release for your pec minor.

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Like this article? Read Get Serratus About Your Pec Minor.

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Why It’s Ok to Say No to Chaturangas

Last month I went to a yoga class which puzzled me, both with sequencing and theory. The second posture of the sequence was full wheel (a deep backbend) followed by handstand and a deep forward fold, all in a cold room in mid-October. These things were both challenging in and of themselves, but the worst of it was when the teacher said that “chaturangas in a yoga class are like clowns in a clown car-the more you can fit in, the better.” I’m afraid I don’t agree with that sentiment, and I’ve been in classes where I’ve been bullied by the teacher for not doing all the vinyasa sequences. I rarely teach it, which can leave some students perplexed, and I sequence around other ways of lowering to a belly backbend. Why? Let’s start with what chaturanga, as a yoga asana, is.


Image courtesy of Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga

Image courtesy of Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga

As a posture, it’s basically a half lowered down push up, with the sanskrit name chaturanga dandasana, or four-limbed staff pose.   It occurs in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence, and can either be followed by upward facing dog, cobra, or another backbend.  As a strengthening pose, it focuses on pecs, anterior deltoid, and triceps, areas that are usually overly tight in most people.  A combination of poor posture, excessive sitting, computer use, and other habits, may lead to restriction in the front body (pecs/chest) and weakness in the back body (rotator cuff muscles, latissimus), and repeating this posture without strengthening the opposing muscles can create an imbalance in the shoulders.  In addition, the pose is rarely taught in isolation and repeated misalignment followed by a sequence to upward dog can put undue stress on the shoulder and biceps tendons.  By emphasizing contraction in the front of the body, which is already restricted,  yoga asana often ignores the opposing shoulder and arm muscles, such as the posterior deltoids, the rhomboids, and the external rotators of your shoulder (infraspinatus, teres minor).   The combination of misalignment, speed, and repetition is a recipe for shoulder pain and injury for many, and it’s important look at how this pose is affecting you outside of the yoga space, and how your habits in life affect this pose in the yoga space.

What can you do instead? Come back on Friday for some ways to diversify your shoulder work!


Like this article? Read Assess The Temperament Of Your Dog Before You Master The Pose

Learn more about the rotator cuff and how Yoga Tune Up can help.

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Calf Relief with YTU Therapy Balls

On Wednesday I wrote about the benefits of YTU therapy ball self-massage for the running community. This hard-hitting, repetitive, high impact sport can cause muscles to tighten, shorten, form knots, and get just plain cranky. Using Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball techniques offer a primer to prep tissues for post-run or workout stretching. The Therapy Balls enable a greater sense of release and relief of self-massaged areas. Another bonus of the myofascial release is that can set the stage for enhanced performance for the next run or any activity you may do.

A favorite rolling technique of mine is the Calf & Hammie Smash (shown below) which focuses on the posterior chain of the legs. It is a very time effective technique as is targets many areas at once. It also combines different ways to roll the balls giving the legs a variety of fascial friction. The focal pressure of the balls speed up blood flow and hydration in the tissues of the legs. If you’ve been pounding the pavement or trails, this rolling exercise is for you!

Not into running? Hikers, high jumpers, high heel wearers, and anyone who uses their legs to move, can benefit from this YTU technique. Check it out here and let’s get rolling!

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If you liked this article, read YTU Keeps Marathon Knees Tuned Up.

Tight hamstrings or IT Band? Learn Quickfixes for the lower body.

Read more about how to tune up your feet and ankles.

YTU Rolling for Runners

Are you a runner looking for a more practical solution for your post-run recovery or pre-run warm up? As runners, our bodies are familiar with the high impact, hard hitting, repetitive toll that adding on miles takes, which is why I feel that the running community can positively benefit from YTU Therapy Ball use. Short distance, competitive, and ultra runners can all gain many perks from the self-message techniques performed with the YTU balls – regardless of the miles covered, your tissues need a self-care and recovery tool that is as hardworking as your body.

The running community can benefit greatly from myofascial release with YTU Therapy Balls.

The running community can benefit greatly from myofascial release with YTU Therapy Balls.

The running community has stretching on its radar – calf stretch, runner’s lunge, and hamstring lengtheners all initially come to mind, but are those muscles really primed for stretching after miles of the repetitive motions of running? Overuse of the same tissues can shorten some muscles, while overstretching others, which can cause uneven wear on joints and gripping and knots in many muscles. YTU Therapy Balls provide a tool for achieving tissue balance throughout the body so that it is better prepared to recover. By rolling out the adhesions in the soft tissues, the Therapy Balls also return length to the tissues so they are primed for more efficient stretching.

Runners are not entirely unfamiliar with myofascial release, as almost every runner has used a foam roller at some time. It’s not that the foam roller is bad, per se, but the grippy, pliable, rubbery surface of the YTU balls is much more forgiving to soft tissues than a hard, unyielding foam roller. More notably, the Therapy Balls are far more effective at penetrating the superficial layers and “digging into” fascia than a large rolling pin. For those runners who travel often, the cumbersome mass of the foam roller makes it difficult to pop in a bag during travel, lug to parks or trails, or use during post run sessions at the computer. (Yes, you can use your Therapy Balls under your feet while at your standing desk or under your hips while seated.) The biggest “ah-ha” for me was rolling my IT band with YTU Therapy Balls. With the small, spongy, malleable Therapy Balls you can create cross-friction and slide between the layers of connective tissue layers in the thick iliotibial band and its neighboring vastus lateralis muscle. The foam roller provides more of a sledgehammer approach to self-care with its solid and inflexible surface as compared to the focused precision possible with the moldable YTU balls.

Another terrific benefit of the YTU balls for runners is rolling the tissues of the upper back, shoulders and chest areas. Many runners have no idea what their favorite fitness pastime is doing to their bodies above the waist until they experience self-massage on their upper bodies. Chronically overstretched upper back muscles and internally rotated shoulders, coupled with the repetitive pumping motion of the arms makes for a supreme slate of body parts that need to be reset, reopened and restored. The YTU balls can bring any runner greater awareness to these often unattended places and offer myofascial release to these upper body areas for soothing, self-care recovery.

Check back on Friday for my favorite YTU therapy ball rolling exercises I most often share with the running community, the “Calf & Hamstring Smash.” This YTU technique is time efficient and super effective for runners and for anyone who kneads to regain balance in tissues with issues!


If you liked this article, read Shin Splints: Not Only For Runners

Get YTU Therapy Balls for on demand pain-relief.

Read more about injuries and how YTU can help.

Tune Up Your Tadasana with the XP Connection

On Wednesday I suggested Tadasana as the new resting pose for any movement practice. Tune up your Tadasana with these go-to YTU techniques!

First, bring your feet into sensational grounding by rolling out with a grippy and pliable Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball. For an example of foot rolling, read Tricks & Treats For Your “Feets”.

Follow your foot fluffing by tuning up with a YTU Tadasana variation I like to call the XP Connection.

The XP connection creates a stronger connection between the ribs and pelvis in Tadasana.

The XP connection creates a stronger connection between the ribs and pelvis in Tadasana.

To find the XP Connection, come into Tadasana (see photo A).  Find the bottom tip of the sternum, called the xyphoid process, with your fingers and the pubic symphysis, the point where the two halves of your pubic bone come together, with your other hand (see photo B).  Try moving these two bony landmarks away from each other by lifting the sternum, retracting the scapula and anterior tilting the pelvis and notice if this causes the bottom ribs jut out and the tailbone to turn out behind you.  This position turns off your abdominals and shortens the tissues on the back body, including the quadratus lumborum, longissimus, iliocostalis, and erector spinae.

Proper alignment with the XP connection will allow all of the muscles that wrap and sleeve the center to stabilize the spine, including rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominius. Release your hands while maintaining this connection.  Add a gentle external rotation of the arm bones (without rib movement) and press the back of your head into an imaginary car seat to bring the skull into alignment on top of the shoulders. This helps the commonly tense upper back muscles, trapezius and levator scapulae to soften, offering relief from daily movement patterns that can cause shoulder shrugging, slouching and pain or discomfort. Common issues seen in Tadasana, such as rib thrusting or over-emphasizing tucking the tail under are also alleviated through the balancing of the XP Connection.

Use the XP Connection everywhere, from waiting in line to checkout at the grocery store and to advanced poses in your yoga class. Once embodied, this connection can help relieve lower back discomfort and trains your core musculature to stabilize the spine while standing, which can then be progressed to movements.

Experience how Tadasana can relieve tension in front of the body and allows the extensors of the back body to hold you upright against gravity through the posterior chain. Use Tadasana to create poise in your practice and to steady your nervous system by focusing towards meditative awareness and grounding. The next time you need a break, stand in Tadasana and become a practitioner of focused relaxation and discovery.


If you liked this article, read Fix Your Posture, Fix Your Knees

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Tadasana – The New Childs Pose

Through my 14 years of hatha yoga practice, I have come to realize that I am lucky to have practiced with teachers that encouraged rest; rest during practice and a deep savasana following.  Most frequently suggested as a place to rest is Child’s Pose or Balasana, which offer students a retreat in the middle of a potentially challenging class. As a teacher of students with a wide variety of mobility and stability, I often find that the students most in need of a break are not able to get into the pose. Tight hip flexors, sore knees and inflexible ankles are a common occurrence, particularly among men, which can make Child’s Pose uncomfortable. Even with props, which can be difficult to maneuver when one is new to yoga, Child’s Pose can be challenging and not a relaxing place to visit!

Standing in Tadasana creates balance in the body and naturally tones the abdominals.

Standing in Tadasana creates balance in the body and naturally tones the abdominals.

The shape of Child’s Pose is very similar to the fetal position, which many of us sleep in each night. Additionally, we spend way too much time lingering at the computer with hips and knees flexed, ankles locked and legs crossed. When you consider the shape, sitting at a desk is very similar to an upright version of Child’s Pose. As drivers, texters and computerized beings, we now have “extension amnesia”, which has left the backside of the body (the posterior chain) of the body inactive.

In a recent interview on The Liberated Body Podcast, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist Steven Haines discussed the physical reactions of eyes darting and increased neck muscle activity when we are under stress from the environment (think sitting at your computer or behind the wheel of your car in traffic). He recommends “coming into the extensors, firing the back of the body. When we do that our throat is open, our heart is open, our belly is exposed.  This can allow parasympathetic tone to be present.”  He goes on to state that we counter these head-centric responses by grounding and feeling in our feet to “switch off all the business in the head.” Steve is a proponent of using the feet and spinal extension as a tool for relaxation response, exactly as one might in Tadasana.

In my classes, I offer students the option of Tadasana as the new resting “poise”. Most asana seek to reflect a variation of Tadasana in some way, so I find it a natural and relaxing place to visit during any fitness routine or stressful moment in the day.

Specifically, standing in Tadasana turns on the extensors of the back body to keep us lifted and elongated which in turn, relaxes the flexors of the front body from their habitually folded and slouched shape. When aligned, Tadasana requires the core muscles to stabilize the spine against gravity for a steady stance and breathing into the abdomen and ribs (abdominal thoracic breath) can be restful and calming to the nervous system.

Come back on Friday to learn how I tune up my Tadasana with Yoga Tune Up®!


If you liked this article, read Confessions Of A Chronic Rib Thruster

Read more about pain relief through posture.

Quickfix and relief from back pain with YTU.

Fluffy Buttocks 101

From The Trail Guide to the Body, “Humans are unique among mammals not only with respect to their extra-large brains, but also because of their well-padded buttocks.  No other mammal has such deposits of adipose tissue in the gluteal region, and no one seems to know why we have them.  It was thought that the buttocks gave us something to sit upon, but we really sit upon our ischial tuberosities.  And for good reason:  if we did not, the gluteus maximus and gluteal fascia would be compressed beneath us.”  Guess what, folks, it is compressed beneath us because we have such poor posture that we sit, rounded and on the glutes, instead of upright on the ischial tuberosities.    What to do?  What to do?

On Wednesday, I talked about the anatomy and mechanics of the glutes and why it is important to keep them in check. First step?

Fluffy buttocks 101:

Fluff your buttocks using Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls. Stand at a wall with any size of YTU ball and roll over your whole buttock area.  Pretend the ball is an eraser and erase the whole butt side to side, up and down, crisscross, explore outward toward the hip.  It’s your booty.  It’s your body.  Hydrate the matted down, stuck, connective tissues.   Check out The Roll Model for a butt load of ball techniques that will save you from the inside out.

So you now have a fluffy buttocks.  YAY.  Just as important is a strong buttocks.  There are many things you can do to strengthen the glutes.  This is one of the easiest and a great place to start.  Buttock lifts. (see video below)

Enjoy your newly fluffed and strengthened buttocks!
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If you liked this article, read Get That Lazy Gluteus Medius In Gear!

Hip helpers to keep your tush in tune.

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No BUTTs About It

By: | Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 | Comments 5

Remember the show Happy Days (1974-1984)? My favorite character was Arthur Fonzarelli – a super cool, James Dean-esque, handsome guy that all the ladies loved and all the men wanted to be.   Fonzi had a famous saying, “Sit on it!”   He was constantly telling people to “Sit on it!”   There was also a whole episode dedicated to him trying to say he was wrong.  He just couldn’t quite get the word out so it was more like, “wwwwrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooonnnnnnnnn. In that episode he wasn’t apologizing for telling people to sit on it, but nowadays are not happy days for our bodies because we “sit on it” way too much.   We sit on it to eat.  We sit on it to drive.  We sit on it to watch sitcoms that can’t hold a candle to Happy Days.  We sit on it to meditate.  We sit on it to tweet, IG, FB and dream.  This IT I’m speaking of is our gluteals. The three muscles that make up our gluteals are abused and underused.   It’s so very wwwrrrooonnnggg.   These muscles were designed to create a stable pelvis and keep us upright for walking. Strong gluteals also stabilize the spine for a strong, healthy back.   Let’s meet the gluteals: Lights, camera, ASSion:

Three different muscles make up the Gluteal group.

Three different muscles make up the Gluteal group.

The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles.  Depending on which anatomy book you read, it is considered one of the, or the largest, muscle in the body. Its main action is to extend, externally rotate and abduct the hip. The superficial layer of the gluteus maximus joins the tensor fascia latae and together, they insert into the iliotibial band (IT band), which attaches at the knee.  The synergists, or muscles that work together with the gluteus maximus, are your hamstrings (you know, the tight muscles on the backs of your thigh), quadratus lumborum (a heavy hitter in the epidemic of low back pain because it’s weak from so much sitting), and the adductor magnus in your inner thigh (one of a group of adductor muscles that bring your leg toward or beyond the midline of your body).  I mention these muscles because as a team they all have an affect on your pelvis.  If one member of the team is on the sideline or trying to do everything for the lazy team members, there’s bound to be trouble.  Aches and pains.  Stiffness.  Phew.  That’s just the maximus.

The gluteus medius is a fan-shaped muscle partially covered by the gluteus maximus.  This muscle is constantly working to balance the pelvis when standing and walking. Constantly working might mean constantly tired, no?  Yes.  This muscle is weak and/or tired on so many people.  Don’t take standing and walking for granted if you want to continue to do them as you age.   The anterior fibers of the gluteus medius internally rotate the hip.  Posterior fibers extend and externally rotate the hip.  Put your hand on the top of you right butt as if you were going to put your wallet in your right back pocket. Take your right leg and lift it out to the right side.  The muscle you just felt engage is your gluteus medius.  The synergists of the gluteus medius are the gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae and the pirifomis.  If these muscles are overworking, you will have a big pain in the butt.  Really.

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three gluteals.  It abducts, internally rotates and flexes the hip.  It is covered by and a synergist of the gluteus medius.   It performs the opposite actions of the gluteus maximus.  Small muscle, BIG job.

The gluteals are critical for movements as simple as walking and as complicated as backbends.  Yes, I’m going to say it.  As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I’ve heard all kinds of cues for the glutes in backbends.    The cue of relax your glutes in backbends needs to be retired.  It’s tired.  It’s old.  It doesn’t make sense.  You need to use your glutes in backbends.  You cannot extend the hip (a primary direction of movement in a backbend) without the gluteus maximus contracting.  In addition, the tendency towards external rotation is counteracted by the contraction of the gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae and adductor group. Contraction.  Not relaxation.  Squeeze a block between the thighs for backbends, yes.  Relax your glutes, NO.  No. No. No.   Stabilize the pelvis during backbends by turning your glutes ON.    If you don’t trust me, trust the people that have been studying biomechanics, body movement, science, anatomy and bodies.  Jill Miller states, “Turning off the glutes in backbends is like removing your thumb from holding onto a pen when writing a letter.  The thumb stabilizes the pen.”

Don’t do backbends? For the non-back bending population that enjoys walking or living pain free:  Biomechanist Katy Bowman, states in her book, Alignment Matters, “Get a better butt.  The main culprit of low back pain is weak butt muscles.  Gluteal muscles not only stabilize the tailbone, they help support the function of the low back muscles.  If the glutes are weak, the low back muscles have to work harder than normal, which makes them fatigued and sore.  Squats work well to strengthen the butt.”

If the word squat scares you, think chair pose.  Utkatasana or fierce mighty pose is a yogi’s version of the squat.  Get with a teacher that can guide you into a correct chair pose.  Study with body movement experts that can teach you to squat.  You will become a stronger person inside and out.

No matter what you call it: Butt, behind, ass, tuckus, tush, bootie, backside, bass, bottom, arse, badonkadonk, rear, rump, caboose, money maker, fanny, tail feather,  et cetera — the list is bottomless — bun intended –  I can’t stop!  Butt all joking aside, it is important for you to stop sitting on it so much.    Tune back in Friday for some tools to keep your tush fluffy and strong.


If you liked this article, read Piriformis: What’s Going On Back There?

Need hip pain relief? Try these Quickfix videos!

Keep reading about hips and glutes.

From Stress to Rest in 3 Minutes or Less!

By: | Friday, November 28th, 2014 | Comments 4

On Wednesday, I discussed the negative affects stress has on our breath and bodies. Did you know that your breath can help you shift your stress in as little as 3 minutes? Starting today, it is time to realize the potential of oxygen!

By doing so, you can begin soothing your nervous system, eliminating stress, boost your brain power and improve the energy in every system of your body.

It only takes 3 minutes of abdominal breathing to have more resilience, power and enhanced recovery time.


1) Lie down on your back with your knees bent, soles of the feet flat on the floor.

2) Rest your hands on your abdomen (if lying on the floor causes pain, lie in bed or on another soft surface, such as the sofa)

3) Close your eyes and become still.

4) Inhale and exhale through your nose.

5) Allow the belly to deliberately rise with each inhale and fall with each exhale. Focus on actively inhaling and passively exhaling.

6) Continue with the abdominal thoracic breath: inhaling for 4 counts, holding the breath at the top of inhale for 4 counts and exhaling for 4 counts.

7) Continue to silently breathe, using the ratio 4-4-4  for 3 minutes

Welcome to your brain powered by oxygen. This is the “nature’s high” that will immediately make you feel calmer, more restored and balanced from the inside out.

Check out the video below where I specifically share 3 major mind-body practices that will help you stay healthy, active and emotionally centred, no matter what is happening in your life.

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Learn more about stress relief with Yoga Tune Up®.

Tune down your stress with Quickfix online videos.

If you like this article, read Abdominal Breathing for Better Living

Shift Your Stress in 3 Minutes

Our world is moving faster than ever. The speed of technology, gadgets and smart phones provide a constant overload of information that puts our bodies under an incredible amount of physiological stress.

This relentless chronic stress sweeps under our skin and gets stored in our tissues, robbing us of energy, causes poor concentration and affects our breathing. The very core of our physiology is our breath and the process of respiration is the exact place where we can take back control and begin to make profound changes for our state of being.

So today, allow me introduce you to your respiration. Your breath is the single most powerful process that can either make you horribly anxious and tired, or restore your energy and make you feel calm and centered.


3 minutes of abdominal thoracic breathing can dramatically transform your nervous system from stress to rest.

When you are stressed, your nervous system automatically flips to the “sympathetic response”. This is the part of your nervous system that gives you energy to run away from danger, bringing vital force away from your organs into your muscles and increasing your breath rate. Although there is no real enemy behind your back, the constant high levels of stress will eventually make you a fast and inefficient breather.

Stressful, rapid breathing drains your battery, similar to when you have multiple apps on your iPhone – your energy runs out faster without ample time to recharge.

Stress breathing completely bypasses the main engine of breathing, the respiratory diaphragm. This pushes the burden to the accessory breathing muscles: pecs, scalenes and levator scapulae. The constant fight or flight state robs the energy from our adrenals as they continually respond to the demands of cortisol, a stress hormone. That’s why you need your 5th cup of coffee by 3pm and are too exhausted to give any more energy to your family when you finally get home. You are cranky, tired and exhausted.

Ideally, the respiratory diaphragm should contract and move downward as you inhale, resulting in a swelling of the abdomen. On exhale, it moves back into its natural resting position, causing the deflation of the abdomen. This continuous rhythmic movement creates mobility in all surrounding organs, including the heart and lungs, resulting in better digestion, elimination and overall health.  In addition, abdominal breathing triggers the relaxation response (opposite of the stress response) and is mandatory for our bodies to heal, repair and restore.

Furthermore, if you are person who suffers with chronic pain, breathing slowly for 3 minutes will start the process of diminishing your pain. Yes, you are reading correctly: you can change your pain signals just by quiet abdominal breathing. Stress changes breathing, but you can alter your stress by controlling your breath – all in the span of 3 minutes. This is not an expensive operation and you don’t need any special equipment, clothes or technology. Truly, the power of oxygen fits in for any budget. The breathing solution is so simple that we often forget its healing effects, diminishing the relaxation power that lies right in front of our nostrils.

Come back Friday for the 3 minute stress shifting technique!


Learn more about stress relief with Yoga Tune Up®.

Tune down your stress with the Quickfix online videos.

If you like this article, read Building a Coregeous EmbodyMap, Starring the Diaphragm

Breathe Easier with Yoga Tune Up

What do Louis Jackson, Kevyn McAnlis, Kelly Starrett* and twenty five million Americans all have in common? None of us can breathe….well maybe that’s being a little extreme, but we do have asthma. As mentioned in my previous blog, asthmatics suffer from chronically constricted airways, causing an over use of their secondary breathing muscles. These secondary breathing muscles are there to help when you are under attack or, more likely nowadays after a long run, but they are not meant to do the majority of breathing for you. They are there to help when the body has over exerted itself and needs to pull in more oxygen to offset the carbon dioxide being produced.  They are not meant to be a primary source of breath, a job is meant for the diaphragm and external intercostals, not the muscles of the neck and back.

I met Louis Jackson in the first week of my Yoga Tune Up® training.  During one of our breaks, I approached Louis about how he handles his asthma and he pointed me to the Coregeous®  DVD.  Along with this he suggested I practice breathing on the Coregeous® ball to help release my over worked breathing muscles.  Armed with new knowledge and excited about trying out his technique, I headed home to explore.

Laying flat on my stomach, I placed the Coregeous® ball under my sternum/ribs and began to breath deeply, with each inhale pressing my chest into the ball and with every exhale allowing the ball to sink deeper into my tissues. Now, I’m not going to lie, that first breath was a little shocking. My tired body had trouble handling the extreme stretch I received as the ball burrowed it’s way between my ribs soothing and stretching into my intercostals and upper back.  The amount of release I felt with each breath was amazing and when I finally came off the ball, my breathing had deepened and relaxed.  That was just the beginning.  I soon began researching and understanding more about my breathing habits and found ways to soothe my tired muscles.

Struggling for breath due to asthma had left me with ultra-strained secondary breathing muscles. I began practicing abdominal thoracic breathing more regularly throughout my day to help reconfigure my breathing patterns as well as working with uddiyana bandha to release and relax my diaphragm.  Much like the process created with the Coregeous ball, you can use your Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls to ease the stiff breathing muscles in the neck and upper back.  By placing the therapy ball right around the ‘back pack strap’ area of the upper back, you can lock into a large portion of your secondary breathing muscles, including the upper trapezius and levator scapulae. Placing the balls here and lifting your hips onto a block to increase the pressure if needed, begin to breathe deeply.  Play with your breath, exploring the different ways air can enter and exit your lungs taking abdominal, thoracic and clavicular breaths.  Feel free to move in any way that feels good, just be sure to keep your breath flowing and relaxed.  If you roll the balls just slightly south of here, you will hit another big breathing muscle, the serratus posterior superior.  This muscle lies deep to the rhomboids and can be quite pesky when aggravated.  Once again play with the breath and move around as you see fit. See how to do this in the video below!

One of the amazing things about Yoga Tune Up® is how it gives us the power to alleviate muscle tension as part of our daily practice.  With these simple exercises, we can unlock our secondary breathing muscles, reduce strain, and bring deep, rich, beautiful breath back into our day.  Happy breathing!

*Read more about Kelly Starrett’s journey as an Asthma Athlete and how he used Therapy Balls to rescusistate his breath and erase debilitating wrist pain in The Roll Model by Jill Miller.

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If you liked this article, read Serratus Posterior Superior, Your Unsung Breath Hero.

Learn how to breathe better with Coregeous®.

Use YTU Balls to decongest tired breathing muscles.

Asthma Explained

Asthma is a chronic obstructive lung disease affecting twenty five million children and adults in America*.  Saying that differently, one in twelve people have asthma*.  That’s a lot of people! Individuals with asthma are essentially under attack by the environment around them. Allergens, exercise, colds, flus, and stress can trigger an asthma attack on a moment’s notice.  Most asthmatics know what their triggers are and hopefully know how to handle their flare ups, but lets talk about what happens during an asthma attack.

lung pic

Asthma attacks occur when the bronchioles constrict unnecessarily, narrowing the airway and inhibiting the flow of air into and out of the lungs.

An asthma attack occurs when the smooth muscle surrounding the bronchioles (tubes in your lungs) constricts unnecessarily, narrowing the airway and inhibiting the flow of air into and out of the lungs.  Think of a water hose with a kink in it; the water doesn’t flow as easily and can even stop entirely due to the blockage. This constriction leads to labored breathing and wheezing as the afflicted individual attempts to maintain appropriate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. While asthma attacks themselves occur in episodes, those with asthma have chronic smooth muscle constriction in their lungs.  This chronic constriction leads to labored breathing throughout the day aggravating the secondary breathing muscles and leading to inappropriate breathing techniques.

During normal breathing, the inspiratory phase (inhale) utilizes the constriction of the external intercostals to expand the rib cage, which pulls the lungs out, while the constriction of the diaphragm causes pulls the lungs down. These two actions combined open the lungs and increase their volume, lowering the pressure in the lungs causing air to flow in.  This action is typically done involuntarily throughout your day, meaning that for the most part you don’t have to think about every breath you take, your body will automatically do the work for you.  Upon exhale, these primary breathing muscles will relax causing the volume of the lungs to decrease and the pressure to increase, which forces the air back out.  Lucky for us this is another action that occurs automatically allowing us the ability to think about things other than our breath.  A healthy breath cycle utilizes the primary breathing muscles, the diaphragm and external intercostals, to allow air to flow in and out, creating an abdominal thoracic breath.

As breathing becomes labored and your airways become constricted, as it does with asthma and other strenuous activity, in order to get air in you have to call in some backup. The backup help comes from your secondary breathing muscles.  These muscles act to open the clavicle and upper ribs creating a stronger vacuum.  This is known as clavicular breathing.  These secondary breathing muscles include, the upper trapezius, pectoralis minor, scalenes, sternocleidomastiod, levator scapulae, and serratus posterior superior (think upper back and neck).  This list could just go on and on, as anyone with asthma knows, there is a point during an attack where you feel as though you are using your whole body just to take a breath.

Now you may be thinking, why in the world are there muscles surrounding my airways? At what point would I want to constrict my airflow? Let me assure you, there are times, such as when you are just hanging out watching TV, or sitting at your desk at work, where you don’t need as high of a level of oxygen flow. Think rest and digest here. The smooth muscles surrounding your airways can constrict a little allowing oxygen flow to decrease as the demand for oxygen is not high. Conversely, if you are out running a marathon or chasing your kids around the park, the increased muscular work demands more oxygen consumption, which leads to a dilation, or opening, of the airways. Think fight or flight. The smooth muscles surrounding the bronchioles relax a bit allowing for a larger flow of oxygen in and out.

Asthmatics, however, have an ever-present airway constriction causing the secondary breathing muscles to become chronically over worked. The placement of these muscles around the neck and upper back make them an easy, and much needed, target for a little YTU love. Tune in Friday for my favorite rolling techniques to soothe my aching breath!



If you liked this article, read Belly Breathe The Yoga Tune Up® Way For Stress And Anxiety Relief.

Get your own Coregeous ball for better breathing at home.

Learn specialized techniques that improve your lung capacity.

Creating a Balance(d) Practice

On Wednesday, I discussed the intricacies of the vestibular system and how the entire body is involved in creating balance. If the neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to learn how to balance better, no matter how old we are, barring conditions such as trauma, disease, or genetic disorders, how do we do so?

A 1999 study (Perrin, Gauchard, Perrot, & Jeandel) established that declines in balance are influenced by level of activity and that even sedentary people could improve their ability to balance by becoming more active. “[R]ecent periods of practice have greater beneficial effects on the subject’s postural stability than [physical and sporting activity] practice only at an early age” (p. 121). However, the researchers also found that across the board, regardless of age, taking away visual data (eyes closed versus open) made for poorer results on all tests. Perrin and colleagues note that the proprioceptive input from the soles of the feet is most important for “maintaining balance under normal conditions” (p. 125).

Echoing Perrin et al.’s results, a study by Pripiata and colleagues (2003) showed that by upping the input from the soles of the feet to the nervous system via vibrating insoles, participants were able to improve their balance, regardless of age, although the elderly participants showed more significant gains.

Since vibrating insoles haven’t yet made it to market, what are our options? A 1996 study by Wolfson and colleagues evaluated balance training, strength training, and balance + strength training, followed by a course of Tai Chi, in a population of elderly people (mean age of 80). They found that “relatively healthy older persons can realize meaningful short-term gains in balance and strength . . . and can maintain those gains to a lesser extent through a low-intensity maintenance program of Tai Chi practice” (p. 505).

Interestingly, a correlation may exist between losing physical balance and losing mental balance. Wang and colleagues (2006) found that “lower levels of physical [balance] performance were associated with an increased risk of dementia and [Alzheimer’s disease” (p. 1115). Loss of postural balance also appears to be an early indicator of diminished cognitive functions and loss of grip strength a later indicator in people who were already exhibiting cognitive issues. “Cognitive ability is essential for conducting physical tasks: performing physical tasks, in return, may enhance or maintain cognitive ability” (p. 1119).

Creating a Balance(d) Practice

In Yoga Tune Up®, we emphasize that every pose is an assessment pose. I propose further that every pose is a balance-assessment pose. We can play with speeding up movements, slowing them down, or finding a still point. As I researched this subject, the role of the feet in achieving better balance fascinated me. McCredie (2007) notes in his book that as we age, we lose the sensation in our feet more quickly than we do in our hands. This makes sense given that we encase our feet in shoes every day, limiting their mobility and sensory capabilities, whereas the hands remain mobile.

Waking up the feet is a good starting point to improving our ability to balance – not just in yogasana, but in everyday life. Here are some recommendations and practice suggestions to improve your balance:

- Explore massaging the soles of your feet with the YTU Therapy Balls. Tease through the multiple layers on the bottom of your foot and find where your tension hides and where your blind spots are. Get your feet and ankles mobilized and aware so that your feet can respond to changes in terrain and body position.

- Experiment with walking (often called an act of controlled falling). Speed it up, slow it down. Figure out where in the weight shift from foot to foot that your particular body falters.

- Practice consistently for short periods of time (5 to 10 minutes, three or four times a week if possible). Or practice every time you can, for a minute or two. Intersperse balance-specific challenges into your home practice.

My favorite YTU pose that helps to build dynamic balance is Moon Rises. Learn to feel the subtle underfoot shifts as one foot supports the movements of the body above. See how to do it in the video below!

For additional suggestions for balance practice, Robin (2002) has an excellent, detailed appendix in his book on balancing, not just in standing but also in inversions (App. IV). And, of course, the Internet and your local library are also great resources.

Balance is within you and within your grasp, if you seek it.

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  1. Ahmed, S. (2011). Physiology of the body: Equilibrium and balance [Powerpoint]. Retrieved from
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Falls among older adults: An overview. Retrieved from
  3. Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is brain plasticity. About Education. Retrieved from
  4. McCredie, S. (2007). Balance: In search of the lost sense. New York: Little, Brown.
  5. Perrin, P., Gauchard, G., Perrot, C., & Jeandel, C. (1999). Effects of physical and sporting activies on balance control in elderly people. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 33, 121–126. Retrieved from
  6. Priapata, A., Niemi, J., Harry, J., Lipsitz, L., & Collins, J. (2003). Vibrating insoles and balance control in elderly people. Lancet, 362, 1123­–24. Retrieved from
  7. Rankin, L. (2010, December 18). The physiology of balance. My Group Fit. Retrieved from
  8. Robin, M. (2002). A physiological handbook for teachers of yogasana. Tucson: Fenestra.
  9. Wang, L., Larson, E., Bowen, J., & van Belle, G. (2006). Performance-based physical function and future dementia in older people. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1115–1120.
  10.  Wolfson, L., Whipple, R., Derby, C., Judge, J., King, M., Amerman, P., Schmidt., J., & Smyers, D. (1996). Balance and strength training in older adults: Intervention gains and Tai Chi maintenance. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 44, 498–506. Retrieved from

Find a YTU Teacher in your area.

Practice balance at home with YTU.

Get YTU Therapy Balls for foot massage.

The Center Can Hold: Defining and Refining Balance

By: | Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 | Comments 2

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold – William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

It’s that instant before falling out of tree pose – we’ve all been there, teetering on one foot, perhaps hopping around, negotiating with gravity — and often, eventually, losing. Or maybe in your practice it was half moon, eagle, or revolved triangle. Balance is elusive at times and often the harder we try to balance, the more likely we are to lose it.

But there is hope. Studies show that balance can be improved despite the general physical deterioration we all experience as we age. Scott McCredie (2007), a journalist who became interested in balance after seeing his father take a dangerous fall, argues that balance is more than a skill, that it is a sense just like vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, but one that has been little explored.

How Balance Works


The vestibular system in the inner ear provides information to the brain about movement and position of the body.

Our complex, many-faceted balance system is comprised of the vestibular system (the main source of our sense of balance), the somatosensory system (skin, muscles, and proprioceptors), and vision (Rankin, 2010). Each of these provide input about our relative body position to the brain via the nervous system and thus are critical to our ability to balance.

The vestibular system is located inside the skull and is intimately related to the inner ear complex. Through the vestibular system we detect movements and the position of our head. The three semicircular canals (oriented in different planes) give data on rotation and the vestibule provides data on linear motion. There are even smaller structures within the labyrinth, such as the utricle, saccule, hair cells, and otoliths (ear rocks). Each of these work together to provide our brains with moment-to-moment data that help us maintain our posture. (For an excellent overview of the anatomy of the vestibular system, see Ahmed (2011).)

While vital, the vestibular system is not the sole source for balance. The eyes play an immense role in balance by providing visual information. If you have ever closed your eyes in any balance pose, you have experienced firsthand how much you rely on vision to stay stable. The ocular nerve shares space with the labyrinth and, like a good neighbor, works with the vestibular system to make balance possible.

While the roles of the vestibular system and vision are fascinating, us yoga-inclined folk tend to be interested and engaged in a constant exploration of our somatosensory system: muscles, joints, skin, and connective tissue. Data from these structures tell the brain about our body position in three-dimensional space, including pressure, evenness of terrain, and relative joint position (e.g., most people are able to detect when they are standing on an uneven surface).

In short, balance is complicated because of the multiple input sources that need to be parsed by the brain and then communicated from the brain back to our bodies.

Developing Better Balance

Consider these frightening statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.): falls are a “leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries,” and after age 65 at least 1 in 3 adults will fall every year. In 2012, more than 2.4 million falls were treated in ERs and more than 700,000 resulted in hospitalization. Fall prevention is big business, and balance training is the new hot trend, with folks wobbling on stability balls, foam rollers, fit disks, and the like in gyms and back yards nationwide.

Luckily for us, we are blessed with neuroplasticity – our brains have the “ability to change and adapt as a result of experience” (Cherry, n.d.). As a practical matter, this means that we can learn to balance better, no matter how old we are, barring conditions such as trauma, disease, or genetic disorders. The healthy human body is amazingly adaptable, and with consistent practice we can maintain our current levels of balance and potentially increase our balance quotient.

Come back on Friday to learn how to build better balance with Yoga Tune Up®!



  1. Ahmed, S. (2011). Physiology of the body: Equilibrium and balance [Powerpoint]. Retrieved from
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Falls among older adults: An overview. Retrieved from
  3. Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is brain plasticity. About Education. Retrieved from
  4. McCredie, S. (2007). Balance: In search of the lost sense. New York: Little, Brown.
  5. Perrin, P., Gauchard, G., Perrot, C., & Jeandel, C. (1999). Effects of physical and sporting activies on balance control in elderly people. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 33, 121–126. Retrieved from
  6. Priapata, A., Niemi, J., Harry, J., Lipsitz, L., & Collins, J. (2003). Vibrating insoles and balance control in elderly people. Lancet, 362, 1123­–24. Retrieved from
  7. Rankin, L. (2010, December 18). The physiology of balance. My Group Fit. Retrieved from
  8. Robin, M. (2002). A physiological handbook for teachers of yogasana. Tucson: Fenestra.
  9. Wang, L., Larson, E., Bowen, J., & van Belle, G. (2006). Performance-based physical function and future dementia in older people. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1115–1120.
  10.  Wolfson, L., Whipple, R., Derby, C., Judge, J., King, M., Amerman, P., Schmidt., J., & Smyers, D. (1996). Balance and strength training in older adults: Intervention gains and Tai Chi maintenance. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 44, 498–506. Retrieved from


Get weekly poses to improve balance.

Improve posture daily with the At Home Program.

Learn more about yoga for beginners.

Restabilizing an Unstable Spine

In my previous post, I talk about my desire to strengthen my core as a way to bring stability to my back. The instability in my lumbar spine was caused by a handful of years of consistent spine cracking for relief. In addition to vowing to not crack my spine anymore, I started integrating Yoga Tune Up® exercises such as Salabhasana, Cobra at the Wall and Revolved Abdominal Pose to strengthen, in particular, the small yet mighty spinal muscles, the multifidi.

My favorite poses to restabilize a spine addicted to crack(ing) are Revolved Abdominal Pose and Sidewinder because they simultaneously strengthen the entire core (abdominal and low back area). When I first integrated these pose, I felt quite weak, yet it was easily adaptable to suit my level. See how to do both in the video below!

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If you liked this article, read This Joint Is Jumping – Getting Comfortable in an Unstable Body

Get the Pose of the Week for a weekly tune up!

Find a Yoga Tune Up® teacher in your area.

The Mighty Multifidi Save a Cracking Spine

For a handful of years in my late 20′s and early 30′s I was addicted to cracking my spine. Several times each day I would strongly twist my body to the right and try to crack and pop as many vertebrae as possible. The more cracks and pops I felt, the merrier I was.

The relief of cracking my spine freed up my lower back in a way that only a body worker could do for me, yet it was short-lived. The next time I’d feel stuck, which was usually a few hours later, I’d happily twist and crack again. What I didn’t know then was that the constant cracking was adding to any already present joint instability. When I found this out, I quickly snapped out of my crack and pop enjoyment. I want to be healthy for years to come, and spinal health plays a major role in my idea of health. I don’t want to end up a retired yoga teacher who hobbles around due to lower back pain!

I promptly promised myself I would re-establish stability in my spine by no longer cracking it and strengthening the muscles around the now unstable joints. Since it was my lumbar vertebrae that regularly got the twist and crack, I knew needed to work on core strength.

The multifidi run all the way down your spine.

The multifidi run all the way down your spine.

In this particular case, when I say core, I don’t mean a bronzed eight pack set of rectus abdominus. I’m referring to all the muscles that keep the middle of the body stable and protected – the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles.

In my exploration, I met the mighty multifidus muscle. Located deep in the spine, these very thin and small muscles fill the grooves on either side of the spinous processes from sacrum to skull. They take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be evenly distributed along the spine. They are responsible for supporting and stabilizing the spine.

Given their wide-ranging responsibilities, anything we do that includes bending backward   (stretching first thing in the morning), bending sideways (picking up a dropped pen), and turning to the side (whirling around to see who just called your name) recruit these super muscles. Even more astounding is that the multifidus gets activated before any action is carried out to protect the spine from injury. So before you lift your forearm to scroll down this page… Yup, the multifidi are already contracting.

So how do I keep my multifidi so mighty? Come back on Friday to read about my favorite Yoga Tune Up® exercises to strengthen the multifidus and core, keeping you (and me) healthy for a long time!


If you liked this article, read Join The De-Rotation Play Station!

Learn more about YTU solutions for back pain. 

Get YTU at home with the At Home Program.

Yoga Tune Up Secret Sauce – Revealed!

Wednesday’s blog covered a brief history of how aerobic fitness has dominated public health and general Fitness Guidelines, leading to the question:  Why has our public health information been rather silent regarding human biomechanics and “structural health” maintenance?

The answer seems to be twofold; we still don’t have a complete scientific grasp of human musculoskeletal tissue properties and also because we are in an unprecedented momentum towards motionless lifestyles.  While we have poured millions of research dollars into studying fitness of the cardiovascular system for over three decades, the remaining issue under discussion is how we can also better address the skeletal conditions we are experiencing due to many hours of sedentary, repetitive behaviors.  The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that the greatest growing disease statistic is in musculoskeletal health. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Our primary care physicians are becoming more aware that they must tread carefully to rule out serious conditions while not over-prescribing pain medications nor immediately ordering expensive, unnecessary tests with avoidable radiation exposure.   Mechanical back pain conditions are more typically of a “chronic but not serious” nature, yet our existing medical guidelines are feeble.  Our medical system is designed to expertly manage acute injury and infectious disease; not chronic “diseases of affluence” like underuse of our frame as we see with too much sitting.  But, if we wait until we have an actual injury that requires a repair, we can certainly get help.  Why must we wait until we are broken?

It is hard to believe in this day and age – that we have not figured out all parts of the human body yet, but over the past decade there have been mounting scientific discoveries in the field of human tissue health and structural medicine.  Finally!  On a world stage for the first time in 2007, Harvard University united scientists from around the world at the First International Fascia Research Congress to present brand new discoveries from human dissection labs. Many of us have seen Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci’s well-known early illustrations from their studies of human movement, as people have studied human cadavers by dissection since 3rd century B.C.

In 2001, Tom Myers and his book Anatomy Trains made a big splash in the world of biomechanics as he brought 3-Dimensions of anatomy to a whole new level.  Applying limited available dissection science proof with theory, he inferred that “fascial lines” of tension load in the body’s musculoskeletal system as a whole, not joint by joint.   Since then, scientists have discovered more about humans’ soft tissue ability to ‘remodel’ and hold shapes.  Thanks to our amazing connective tissues, over many hours of repeated positioning, we become our most practiced shape. Even for regular exercisers, repeated movement of the same workout positions brings risk of overusing some tissues, underusing others- only secondary to the fact that we execute the moves in already dysfunctional postures and movement patterns we held throughout the day at our jobs.  The dual challenge of movement and anatomy educators today is:  to continue to support public health education with the latest research on musculoskeletal science and also create fitness programs for a population who move fewer and fewer hours per day.  

Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) provides an effective fusion of evidence-based (scientifically supported) techniques including the latest research on human fascia tissues.  Effective self-care tools mobilize areas compressed from lop-sided or sedentary habits while precise movements serve to strengthen and stabilize tissues uniformly around joints.  From a scientific research perspective:


YTU balls are grippy and pliable, with just the right amount of firmness, to grab onto all of your soft tissue layers.

YTU Balls are especially effective to unglue tissues to decrease pain—Research from cadaver dissections show us that connective tissue layers underneath our skin become stuck together and dehydrated where they should be slippery and should move easily past each other. Science suggests that this can happen from an old injury, favoring use of one side, or a lack of fitness/conditioning of that body part; all of which increase joint stress.   We all experience these in our typical postural habits – so it is likely we also look like this underneath our skin!  When Jill Miller added self-massage to her programs to pry apart the stiff tissue layers, some people wanted to compare YTU therapy balls to foam rollers or other common gym tools, but they don’t do the same thing. The textures of YTU therapy balls actually fulfill scientific criteria to provide several unique benefits:

1)     The grippy surface of YTU balls catch on skin and fitted clothing to create that what scientists call ‘shear,’ a mechanical term meaning one layer (skin/soft tissue) is pulled away from underneath layers, to help free the stuck muscle and connective tissue.

2)     The combination of applying compression with the ‘shear’ action into tissues also awakens Ruffini endings (one type of nerve-ending or “mechanoreceptor” in connective tissue) creating overall relaxation in the central nervous system.

3)     YTU balls’ firmness have a gentle “give” in pliability which encourages tension release of tight tissues. Scientific evidence shows that harder tools (like lacrosse balls or some foam rollers) are less tolerable and may cause a stiffening reaction or contraction in the muscle spindles prolonging muscle tension, not resolving it.  Additionally the malleability and size of YTU balls allow access to our body’s smaller nooks and crannies and the ability to move around bony areas without bruising.

4)     YTU balls are effective for eliminating trigger points (chronic ‘knots’) that tie up a subset of fibers within a muscle, often causing local discomfort and referred pain (felt in distant areas) while subtly decreasing overall strength of that muscle. Trigger points impact a muscle’s ability to work properly which adds to deterioration at the joint.  A “mechanical intervention,” meaning some outside force, is needed to resolve these chronic knots.  Use of YTU Therapy Balls sure feels better than needles and are less expensive than a daily massage therapist.

5)     Learning how to use YTU Therapy Balls empowers students in self-care and improves awareness of one’s own body.  Instructions include a simple anatomy “tour” for proper placement of therapy balls while also helping students to locate their “blind spots” and improve the neurological connection to their own anatomy.  Underused or overused tissues tend to have “sensory amnesia” with poorly functioning nerve receptors that normally tell us ‘where we are in space’ (proprioceptors, related to balance and touch).  Decreased proprioception is common in areas of injury, tension and immobility, but YTU Balls are a great way to improve this neurological sense which also improves movement coordination.  Enhanced proprioception is known to decrease pain signals (nociception), even if temporarily. 

83_JM_Fascia_SkeletonYTU methodically uses an anatomical map to evenly stabilize and strengthen the frame – Muscle and fascia research shows our need for consistent movement and mechanical loading (weight bearing use) to maintain tissue health.  This means that congruent or equal loading in is necessary, all directions of movement, to affect every tissue surrounding the joint.  Unfortunately it is our uneven loading of our joints and tissues in modern lifestyles (e.g. in slouchy sitting, especially around shoulder and spine) that has helped to skyrocket our risk of wear and injury.  YTU’s unique therapeutic movements are fun, but also scientifically smart by systematically creating motion in all possible directions around each joint, leaving no tissue untouched.  Such complete use of our joints rarely happens in everyday activity or typical workouts.  To really ensure a healthier frame, YTU adds strengthening techniques at ends of joint movement ranges, with methods borrowed from physical therapy (isometric  contraction in closed-chain movements), adding powerful stabilization training for vital joints.

YTU provides stress reduction and self-empowerment – The central nervous system is calmed through yoga breathing and mindfulness training, coupled with improved ribcage alignment and respiratory diaphragm training.  Researchers have shown that using soft tools (YTU balls) to activate pressure-sensitive nerve endings helps to bring a global relaxation to the whole central nervous system.  Another significant finding from medical researchers is that by handing people effective tools and basic knowledge, they gain a psychological sense of empowerment which has been proven to increase healthy self-care routine compliance.

Poor musculoskeletal habits and poor ergonomics can easily become second nature, causing aggravating episodes of pain that can lead to damage of joint structures, whether you are an exerciser or a couch potato.  Fortunately, the latest research is clearly providing great information we can utilize in our own self-care at home.

Let’s not wait until we need medical attention or delays until public health “Guidelines” for Musculoskeletal Fitness are finally published.  Get rolling now!!!   Become inspired by success stories from real people who practiced self-care with Yoga Tune Up®  in Jill Miller’s new groundbreaking “how-to” book, The Roll Model, available November 4th (pre-order now on


REFERENCES include but not limited to:

  1. Efficacy of multidisciplinary pain treatment centers: a meta-analytic review  (1992). Pain (49; 2, 221–230)
  2. Technique Systems in Chiropractic.  Cooperstein & Gleberzon, Churchill Livingstone Publishing (2004)
  3. Diego, M & Field, T (2009).  Moderate Pressure Massage Elicits a Parasympathetic Nervous System Response.  International Journal of Neuroscience (119; 5, 630-638).
  4. Biomechanics Principles and Applications, Eds Bronzino and Schneck, CRC Press, 2003.
  5. Schleip, R  & Mueller, D (2012) Training principles for fascial connective tissues. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (1, 1-13)
  6. H.M. Langevin et al., (2009). Ultrasound evidence of altered lumbar connective tissue structure in human subjects with chronic low back pain, Musculoskeletal Disorders (10:151)
  7. Metzl, Jordan, MD.  Interview NPR-pilot studies:  Stretching VS Foam Rolling. Sports Medicine, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) NY, NY. (December 13, 2013)
  8. GZ MacDonald, MDH Penney, ME Mullaley, AL Cuconato, CDJ Drake, DG Behm, DC Button (2013). An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: (27, 3, 812-821).
  9. KC Healey, DL Hatfield, P Blanpied, LR Dorfman, D Riebe (2014). The Effects of Self Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (28,1, 61-68).
  10. Medical Massage & Pathophysiology of Connective Tissues, G. Lawton, American Medical Massage Association, 2000.
  11. Moseley, G, Zalucki, N., Wiech, K., (2008). Tactile discrimination, but not tactile stimulation alone reduces chronic limb pain. Pain. (137, 600-608).

Additional Reading:   Thomas Myers, Leonid Blyum, PhD, Jean Claude Guimberteau, MD


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Sitting and Other Wild and Risky Modern Habits

We are built to move. The human body is a miraculous mechanical structure of levers, pulleys, winches and tethers designed to harness the power of energy into movement. Unfortunately, we barely need to move to survive in our modern environment, so significant numbers of people have become sedentary, resulting in preventable health crises. Life in ancient cultures was very vigorous compared to today and yet, even those folks practiced exercise and movement activities beyond their daily chores.

bad-cpu-postureFast forward to the post-industrial revolution, where American lives grew cushy with modern tools to do our human “work” at jobs and around the house. The 1950s brought us Jack LaLanne, television’s first fitness personality, after many US soldiers drafted during World War II were so physically unfit they had to be placed in noncombat jobs. Around this time, researchers began to clearly identify the “components of fitness”: cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

The first fitness guidelines were created and tested in US schools in the 50s, obtaining baseline “normative” data about average fitness of our kids. Not much changed until the early 70s, when Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a retired military physician published his most famous books, Aerobics and Run for your Life. In an instant, it was as if he began the transformation of public health awareness as he shared the first clear evidence about exercise and disease prevention.

The 1970s American landscape was littered with our first real joggers (and streakers)! Unfortunately, that is when we also began our love-hate fitness relationship and obsessive focus on bodyweight and cardiovascular exercise. The jogging revolution was closely followed by the 80s dance-aerobics explosion, legwarmers and all. With this greater awareness of disease prevention, gyms and fitness classes blossomed along with crazy fads.

To help apply the science for the public health, the first standards for cardiovascular fitness were published in 1974 and remained exactly the same until the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) made slight modifications in 1995. The Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription were only modified slightly to clarify “intensity” of cardiovascular activity, but nothing was included about musculoskeletal health prevention or practices. Much of the problem is there was not enough research done yet, so the science was, and is, still behind the curve.

Today’s statistics hint that we may be paying the price for this oversight, both individually and in US health economics, as joint replacements and other orthopedic surgeries are skyrocketing and at younger ages. Perhaps hard to believe, but the ACSM did not again update the exercise Guidelines for Physical Activity & Public Health until 2007, when it finally added a recommendation for strength activities– with a small nod to musculoskeletal health!

Compared to our grandparents and parents, today we are required to sit excessively, limiting our physical movement in all parts of society, transportation and play. Researchers are only just beginning to discover the vast scope of health consequences from “improved” re-engineered modern spaces (offices, cars, public areas/ built environments) that limit human movement. Data indicates that affluent countries now spend 70% or more of their waking hours sitting. Remember—our bodies are designed to move! During the past five years, disturbing scientific evidence reveals that not only do we recognize our original risk group of people who qualify as ‘sedentary’ (“lack of moderate-to-vigorous” levels of activity) but we must adopt a new paradigm to differentiate a totally separate risk category for those who practice habitual sedentary behavior (too much sitting), hence the recent news articles titled “Sitting is the New Smoking.” What the statistics actually show is that excessive sitting behaviors are associated with our current tsunami of chronic health problems, regardless of exercise habits. This means that even those who exercise at the gym every day, but also sit many consecutive hours at work are still in a greater disease risk category than they hoped. Our lifestyle is undermining health, even with gym membership usage. Once again these studies focused on cardiovascular health, where we have already spent many millions of dollars for the last 30+ years. How is it possible that our mechanical research accomplishments have allowed us to fly to the other side of the world in hours, but we still have not learned important facts about care and feeding of a human body?

While public health information saves lives, it seems clear that we cannot count on the slow information we receive from the higher institutions and we must educate ourselves to practice our own self-care. Revolutionary self-care education efforts are indeed underway, thanks to some of the research pioneers like Jill Miller. When I took my first Yoga Tune Up® class, I loved how I felt and also valued that students were learning to care for their own musculoskeletal health and stress reduction. But what completely hooked my inner nerdy- demanding- scientist self into a silent happy dance, was the fact that Jill Miller extrapolates this work from established science, yoga, AND the most current research known yet by few!!

Tune in on Friday for a little more satire on the history of strength training plus a simplistic breakdown of how science is actually baked into the secret sauce of Yoga Tune Up®. Best. Recipe. Ever.


If you liked this article, read Sitting is the New Smoking

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Tricks & Treats For Your “Feets”

In part one of this blog, you will find some information on the nuts and bolts of your feet.  Today, you get to learn how to massage your feet every day with Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls.  See the video below.  You knead to do this.   Your whole body will thank you.  And next time you stand in tadansana with your awesome, parallel feet, say to yourself or maybe out loud and proud TADA-sana.  You and your feet deserve a TADA!

This video is a guideline to rolling five areas of the foot and you have permission to add and/or delete certain sequences.  You have permission to spend more time or less time.  You are in charge.  Once you start taking care of your feet, you will notice an overall sense of relief.  Your whole body will be more relaxed.  Pay particular attention to your calves and hamstrings before and after you roll.  I like to take a forward fold or uttanasana before and after I roll to compare.  (A half forward fold is also great.) Sometimes I even forward fold before I roll the other foot so I can see the difference between legs.  Tight calves and hamstrings play a role in lower back pain.  Take care of your feet and you will start on the path of taking care of your whole body, from the ground up.

And now:  Tricks & Treats For Your “Feets.”

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It’s Not a Huge Feat to Take Care of Your Feet

In the words of Dr. Kelly Starrett, physical therapist and author of Supple Leopard and  Ready to Run:  “In yoga, it’s called tadasana.  In life, it’s called standing.” At the base of your whole glorious self, your tadasana self, your standing self, are your FEET, unless you are standing on your head.  And please stop doing that.  It’s so 1972.   I would like to introduce you to your feet.

Stand up on your feet right now.  Do it.  No, seriously, do it.  Please stand up.  Stand vertical.  Stand tall.  Okay.  Sit back down. What I’m about to tell you might be shocking.  The foot is a very intricate structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 100 ligaments, muscles and tendons, and 250,000 sweat glands!  (kind of explains the smelly part…)  The average person takes 8,000-10,000 steps a day, but no matter how many steps you are taking a day, if your feet are not healthy, your steps are not healthy.  Poor alignment, poor movement, poor achy, hurt and mangled feet.  But you know who’s not poor?  The podiatrist.   Don’t be a part of these depressing, downright scary statistics:  The number of people with foot care problems is growing with industry revenue expecting to reach $3.2 billion in global sales by 2015. The demographic of 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – baby boomers – is a golden market for this businesses.  The number of diabetics, a major target for this business, is over 25.8 million and growing in the U.S. alone.  Take care of your feet, please.

The feet are your bony-structure foundation and have an effect on the entire body from the ground up. They are also your fascial foundation, meaning the muscles, bones, and tissues are surrounded by and interwoven with fascia that is continuous with the fascias of the body. That’s right.  Fascia is all over, ubiquitous, continuous, gelatinous, webby, gooey, and it’s the scaffolding of your whole body. If fascia in one area is stuck and hardened, your tissues and muscles are not sliding and gliding the way they should.   If you have bunions, overlapping toes, arthritis, diabetes, heel spurs, or any other of the host of possible issues with your feet, start massaging them daily!  In Chinese medicine, reflexology is used on the feet to affect the internal organs and glands throughout the body.  Circulation, blood and nerve supply and energy levels are affected by the feet.  It feels good to massage your feet and it’s so good for you too.  In Yoga Tune Up®, we roll out our feet because we know that what’s happening in the feet affects the calves, the hamstrings, and sometimes even farther up the chain.

One of the reasons I became a yogi was because I didn’t have to wear shoes.  I have a super duper uber narrow foot that makes it hard to find shoes that fit.  I wore shoes that were too short most of my life so they would stay on.  When I found yoga, an activity with no shoes required I was beyond thrilled.  When I found Yoga Tune Up®, I began to learn the anatomy of my feet and what I could do to make them stronger and more effective as my foundation, both on and off the yoga mat.

Here are a few things you can do to put your feet first: 

1.  Spend more time barefoot.  Remember being young and running around outside over grass and rocks and being barefoot?  Now we need pillows under our feet to stand and wash dishes.  And sneakers with two inches of cushion.  This is not normal.  We need to take control of healing our foundation.  Spend more time barefoot.  Work on balancing on one foot and strengthen your foundation.

2.   Get your feet up above your heart once a day for 5-10 minutes.  Lie down and put your legs up on a couch or bed or chair and breathe.  The is wonderful for circulation and tired achy feet.

3.  The alignment or position of your feet will, indeed, have an effect on your knees, hips, low back and overall health.  Which effect are you going to choose?  Positive or negative? (Hint:  Go with the positive.)  How should you align your feet?

Stand with your feet in parallel to improve knee, hip, and lower back health.

Stand with your feet in parallel to improve knee, hip, and lower back health.

Stand up.  No, seriously.  Make your feet look like downhill skis, with the outer edges parallel.  (See picture below.  I used the wood floor as a guide.)  Make these parallel feet your new everyday standing position, walking position, running position, spinning position, etc.  When standing, have your feet directly under your lungs and work at stacking your hips over your knees and your knees over your heels. If you are walking like a duck in external rotation, just return to parallel feet every time you notice.  Constantly check and return to your new positive choice!

Tune in Friday for Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball Tricks AND Treats for healthy “feets!”  And read my teacher’s book The Roll Model, for life-changing info about taking care of our own tissues.


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Articulate: Use Your Words, Wave Your Spine!

On Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of spinal articulation and why we need to break out of doing only the movements our bodies are already good at. The WAVE is one of my favorite exercises for doing just that. It feels so good to move when we pay attention to both the muscles we use all the time and the ones that never seem to come into play in our daily life and/or fitness “routine”.

My challenge as a teacher of movement is to make poses and exercises simple and enjoyable—even for folks who might not find them so simple. Sometimes I have trouble locating the right words, but I love breaking down complicated movements into bite-sized pieces. The WAVE might seem like a lot to keep track of at first, but you’ll find that it helps you explore your body’s blind spots , establish new neuromuscular connections, and become aware of how the diaphragm, TA, multifidus, and pelvic floor all interconnect.

On Wednesday, I also talked about the importance of being able to differentiate your pelvis from your spine, or your lower back/lumbar spine from your ribcage/thoracic spine. I discussed how this lack of proprioception can lead to undifferentiated global back pain for many of my students and clients. They had pain, but couldn’t articulate where the problem was.

That’s where the WAVE comes in. This exercise has helped many students strengthen and traction their spine on their own.  It’s prevented their back pain from recurring and has given them a firmer grasp on what’s doing what inside their backs.

My husband often says, “Trina, use your words!” when I get tongue-tied. So here it goes… I will attempt to explain the WAVE exercise in words. For those who are visual learners I’m also including a video. We’ll be using the YTU therapy balls, which kinesthetic learners will find helpful. Some of us like multiple ways of learning; I know that I do. I hope you catch the wave and enjoy the ride!

The Wave

1) SET POSITION with BREATH CHECK: Lie on the floor in ardha savasana/constructive rest position. Inhale and swell the belly, then the ribs, and then exhale. Repeat this breath pattern 3 more times. Noticing if there is any tension in your neck or the tops of your shoulders.

2) SELF MASSAGE: Place 1 YTU ball under your sacrum and the other one on or just slightly under your bra/bro strap. Rest and allow the balls to sink into these two areas of your body. The sustained compression will begin to soften the muscles and fascia here. On an exhale, round your lower back toward the floor slightly—use your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. On an inhale, arch your lower back using the deep low-back muscles in conjunction with the transversus and pelvic floor. Continue this pattern for 5 more breaths, getting a sense of your body in the area from below the ribs to just above your tailbone. As you exhale and round your lower back, imagine rolling a marble from your pubic bone to your belly button. As you inhale, roll the marble from your navel back to your pubic symphysis. Notice if it feels easier to arch your lower back or to round your lower back. This will give you information about any front-to-back discrepancies in the strength of your tubular core muscles. Rest.

RE-SET POSITION in ardha savasana with BREATH CHECK: Take the balls out and notice any new sensations in your lower back. Does it feel heavier? lighter? warmer? cooler?

Inhale and swell the belly, then the ribs, and then exhale. Repeat this breathe pattern 3 more times. Is there less tension in the neck and tops of the shoulders?

3) THE EXERCISE: We’ll begin with WAVE UP in Flexion. Still lying on the floor, place 1 YTU ball on your xiphoid process – that’s the bony tip at the bottom of your sternum. Place the 2nd YTU ball on your pubic symphysis between your pubic bones. A muscle called the rectus abdominus attaches at these 2 places. This is the famous “6-pack” muscle on the cover of all the fitness magazines at the grocery store. It flexes your spine. Your feet are hip-distance apart with the toes pointing forward. Place one block between your feet and the other block between your thighs. On an exhale, press your lower back into the floor and peel your spine off of the mat one vertebra at a time until the pubic bone ball is much higher than the xiphoid ball near your sternum coming into your bridge position.

4) WAVE DOWN in Extension: Embrace your inner Beyoncé and let the spine arch and lower your tailbone down to the floor.  Then sequentially roll through the sacrum, low back, and middle back, and finally return to the lifted bridge position.

Continue to wave through 5 more times repeating steps 3 and 4.

5) THE EXERCISE in Reverse: WAVE UP in Extension: Inhale and bridge up your pelvis with slightly extended spine.

6) WAVE DOWN in Flexion: Sequentially lower the upper back, middle back, lower back, sacrum, and tailbone. Continue to WAVE through 5 more times. Imagine that your spinal vertebrae are like dominos. One gets tapped and the others follow suit in a rhythmic sequential fashion.

7) RE-SET POSITION with BREATH CHECK: Inhale and swell the belly, then the ribs, and then exhale. Repeat this breathe pattern 3 more times. Is there less tension in the neck and tops of the shoulders? More movement available to you in the belly and ribs on the inhalation.

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If you want to know more about spinal articulation and the breath, check out this Yoga Tune Up® video of an exercise called “Bridge Lifts.”


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Sometimes You’re Elvis, Sometimes You’re Beyoncé: Don’t Get Stuck in the Tuck

How many hours a day do you spend in your car’s bucket seats? Slouching on the couch? Slumping at your kitchen counter’s bar stools? Hunched in front of the computer? If you’re like most people living life, it’s quite a few. The good news about all this hunching, slumping, and slouching is that your body is already really good at a two common Pilates maneuvers—tucking the pelvis and flexing the spine. On the other hand, how many hours a day do you spend arching your back and popping your ribcage forward to counteract all that hunching? Then tack on the number of hours spent practicing  backbends like upward dog, wheel, and camel pose in yoga class to reverse the slumping from the day. It all adds up to your body being able to do two things: flex the entire spine or extend the entire spine.

A lot of yoga classes start with a simple warmup called cat/cow- which involves flexing and extending the spine.  Many Pilates classes teach pelvic bridging and roll downs which involve only flexing the spine. So if you do Pilates and you start to embody that shape as your daily posture, you might be pretty good at tucking your pelvis like Elvis and rounding your spine like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Or maybe you’re really good at backbends but continually thrust your ribs like Mary Lou Retton long after your “heart opening” yoga practice has ended?

When people who are doing all the “right” exercises yet still have pain, their body blind spots are often the culprit. When I look at the kinds of movements my clients and students are doing, I sometimes find that the exercises they’re practicing a lot—because they’re so good at them—are actually reinforcing the same postural positions they hold all day long in their daily life and in their fitness routine.

Which side of the fence are you on? Are you Elvis with a tucked pelvis— really great at roll downs and roll ups in Pilates? Or are you a back-arching, booty-popping Beyoncé—a master at urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) and ustrasana (camel pose)?

Perhaps you’re good at both: you can flex your WHOLE spine or extend your WHOLE spine.  But herein lies the problem of differentiation: most people can’t flex their lumbar spine while extending their thoracic spine, and most can’t extend their lumbar spine while flexing their thoracic spine.

Challenging yourself to break out of the box of your established movement patterns can help get you out of pain and improve your posture. On Friday, I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty with an exercise I happen to love called the WAVE. It’s great because it forces people to do the opposite of what they’re good at, whether that happens to be tucking your pelvis and flexing the spine or arching your back and sticking your bum out.

Here’s what you’ll get out of the WAVE:

1. YTU ball placement is used to help locate bony landmarks in the front and the back of the torso. The breathing strategy fosters a “rest and digest” response that establishes a calm environment to explore body blind spots.

2. The wave-like pattern of movement helps establish new neuromuscular connections for students who have only experienced cat/cow pose or the traditional Pilates bridge using flexion in both directions.

3. Awareness of the interconnectedness of the diaphragm, TA, multifidus, and pelvic floor.

While a backbend may be easy for some, are you able to engage in multidirectional spinal articulation?

While a backbend may be easy for some, are you able to control your spine in every position?

One thing the WAVE is especially good for is becoming much more aware of spinal articulation, the ability to exert muscle control over a particular part of the spine while revolving back and forth through flexion and extension into what’s called undulation.  I started teaching this exercise when I noticed that many of my students had difficulty differentiating their pelvis from their spine, and their lower back/lumbar spine from their ribcage/thoracic spine. Many complained of back pain but were unable to pinpoint where it was coming from. Thanks (no thanks!) to stiffness, weakness, and/or imbalances in the spinal muscles, my students found it challenging to engage in multidirectional spinal articulation.

The lesson here is that you need to pick exercises that you aren’t good at and that may be frustrating. If an exercise is so ingrained you can do it in your sleep, then there are going to be a multitude of other types of movements that you need to do to challenge your motor control. If it is too familiar and comfortable you may be on the road to a repetitive stress injury.

With spinal articulation it’s not all or nothing—undulate a bit, and explore the spectrum from Elvis to Beyoncé and back again.

Come back Friday to see how to do the WAVE!


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Ankle Ball Buster: Regaining Mobility After a Sprain

On Wednesday, I hoped to answer the question plaguing movement professionals and those dealing with injuries: ice or no ice? R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compress, and elevate), has been standard procedure since the term was coined more than 30 years ago, but since then recent research has suggested that M.E.A.T. (move, exercise, analgesics, and treatment) may be a better option. When recovering from a sprained ankle, whether you decide to use the R.I.C.E, M.E.A.T, or a combination of the two, the next question is how to speed recovery back to full functionality and performance.

After a sprain, ankle-dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM) may be impaired, which can lead to functional limitations in your gait and possible re-injury (Denegar et al., 2002). Therapeutic exercise to restore ROM of the ankle which may be impaired after injury has been shown to speed recovery compared to immobilization (Kaminski et al., 2013). One such therapeutic exercise is to use the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to clean up the soft tissue area below your lateral malleolus. This area can develop scar tissue if not mobilized properly after an ankle sprain, potentially causing a limited ankle-dorsiflexion ROM.

Jill Miller and Dr. Kelly Starrett have a great video below about the importance of regaining range of motion in the ankle regardless if you are recovering from injury. You may be surprised at your improved range of motion from this short ankle ball buster! YouTube Preview Image

Check out Jill and Dr. Kelly’s latest project, Treat While You Train for more therapy ball techniques to clear up tension throughout the body.



1. Kaminski TW, Hertel J, Amendola N, et al. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: conservative management and preventing of ankle sprains in athletes. J Athl Train. 2013;48:528-545

2. Denegar CR, Hertel J, Fonseca J. The effect of lateral ankle sprain on dorsiflexion range of motion, posterior talar glide, and joint laxity. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2002;32(4):166–173.


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R.I.C.E or M.E.A.T: What To Do When Recovering from Injury

To ice, or not to ice? This is a question that is being discussed regularly among many athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other specialists, including Yoga Tune Up® Instructors. When I first heard about this debate my initial (totally uninformed) thought was “Why not ice?” Icing to reduce swelling and pain is a good thing, right? From my studies, I learned this is not necessarily true. Let’s take a look at an ankle sprain, a common injury for yogis and non-yogis alike, as an example of the effectiveness of icing after an injury.

Ligaments on the lateral aspect are affected in an inversion ankle sprain.

Ligaments on the lateral aspect of the ankle are affected in an inversion ankle sprain.

Typically when you sprain your ankle, you misstep in a way so that you suddenly invert your foot. This causes the ligaments on the lateral side of your ankle to be overstretched or partially torn, depending on the severity. The ligaments most commonly affected are anterior talofibular ligament, calcaneofibular ligament, and the posterior talofibular ligament (shown in the image). Symptoms can include pain, swelling due to excess fluids in the tissues, and redness. So now what do you do? Do you R.I.C.E? Or M.E.A.T?

R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compress, and elevate), was coined in 1978 and has since then been considered the best practice in treating soft tissue or ligament sprains (Mirkin, 2014). M.E.A.T. (move, exercise, analgesics, and treatment) was coined as an alternative treatment option for injuries.

While there is no sufficient research comparing the two treatments, it is clear that each result in extremely different physiological responses. As you can see in the table to the right, R.I.C.E reduces the speed of recovery due to decreased blood flow, immune response, range of motion and overall healing while M.E.A.T, increases those same responses leading to a shortened recovery time.rice-vs-meat-table

Despite these findings, don’t be quick to chuck the R.I.C.E routine out the window. It has been suggested that when dealing with a muscle injury, R.I.C.E may be beneficial in preventing compartment syndrome, an increase in pressure in the fascial sheath of muscle caused by excess swelling (Hauser, 2014). This can decrease oxygen and increases the pH balance, which may cause permanent tissue damage in the long run (Hauser, 2014).

Due to the limited circulation already present in ligaments, it is suggested that the M.E.A.T. method is a more appropriate approach when treating ligamentous injuries. Dr. Ross Hauser from Care Medical Rehabilitation Services Inc. found that “for each 10 degree Celsius change in the temperature, there is a more than two-fold increase in the cell metabolism. In other words, in order to increase cell metabolic rate by more than 100 percent, the temperature of the tissue must increase by 10 degrees.” Therefore a regimen like M.E.A.T., which increases blood flow, collagen formation, and complete healing, seems to be the way to go with ligament injuries.

So which do you pick? R.I.C.E? M.E.A.T? Both? No matter what direction you decide to go, Yoga Tune Up® is here to facilitate the healing process. Tune in on Friday for my favorite YTU techniques to improve ankle range of motion!


1. “Why Ice Delays Recovery.” Dr. Gabe Mirkin on Health Fitness and Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2014. <>.
2. “Sports Injuries- RICE: Why We Do Not Recommend It.” Dr. Ross Hauser on Caring Medical and Rehabilitation Services (2010). <>


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The Immune Response to Abdominal Massage and Deep Breathing

On Wednesday, I discussed my journey of healing my relationship with my center using a grippy pliable air-filled ball, called the Coregeous ball. Did you know that the gut area is the most abundant site in your body for lymph? Your lymph system stores the majority of your disease-fighting cells. Your lymphatic ducts and tubing create an odd, one-way highway; there is no upward movement out of the ducts and tubes other than being pressed and squeezed through motion, position, palpation or muscular contractions. Motion surrounding your lymph ducts helps propel those disease-fighting cells into your bloodstream, where they can then fight off infection.

Your abdominal lymph is loaded with immune-rich cells. The white blood cells within it have been highly sensitized by the gut’s bacterial environment and thus are the superheroes of your lymphatic system. Helping your gut lymph move north into the larger blood vessels is not the easiest proposition. You can do so by inverting your body or doing intense abdominal contractions and mobilizations, or you can use a squishy soft ball for self-massage.

Sources and More Information:

Lisa Hodge[1] shared her breakthrough studies on rats at the 2012 International Fascia Research Congress. She infected rats with lung cancers [LT1] and then created a seven-day protocol of rhythmic massage on their bellies for four minutes at a time, with a break between rounds. She found that the rats that received the abdominal massage saw a decrease in the size of their lung tumors and contracted far fewer pneumonias.

Deep, deliberate abdominal breathing while lying belly-down on top of a ball, coupled with movement, is quite similar to the actions Dr. Hodge induced on the rats’ bellies. She claims that myofascial release, or traction and release of the diaphragm, helps remove restrictions to lymphatic vessels. The mobilization of white blood cells was done through deliberate motion and made a massive difference in these animals.

Your ability to affect your own immune system is not magical thinking; it is literally in the power of your own hands. So perhaps you can skip the antibiotics; just get down and roll.

And if your desire to get thin has blown apart your self-esteem and overwhelms your thoughts day and night as mine used to, please consider finding support and professional help.

For more specifics on how to best massage your abdomen, please see my new video Treat While You Train or check out the video below.

[1] Osteopathic lymphatic pump techniques to enhance immunity and treat pneumonia. Lisa M. Hodge, PhD. International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, March 2012.

Portions of this blog are excerpted from my new book The Roll Model.

[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life]YouTube Preview Image


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This Is a Blog About Your Belly—Not About Diet, Weight Loss or Fat

I apologize for the bait and switch, but I had to get your attention somehow. This blog is about how I accidentally discovered my own immune-boosting powers deep within a gut that I hated. It’s about your inner medicine chest.

I am not a nutritionist, and I rarely give any advice on diet except “drink plenty of water.” Perhaps my own history of disordered eating is why I don’t. I can remember reading anything and everything that held the keys to weight loss and staying thin for way too many years. Those were years of tumult and inner conflict, and it wasn’t until I started truly sensing my own appetite, along with feeling my deeper feelings of craving, coping, loss and anger, that I was able to heal my feeding phobias. So I pledged to not contribute to the dietary information mayhem that is available.

Abdominal Massage and Healing What Hurts

But I do want to share with you something I learned during those years of starving and bingeing. If you’ve followed my blog for the past 6 years, you know that I am a huge fan of self-massage (in fact, I’m writing a book about it!). And my favorite area to explore is my core. I learned to reclaim my guts through abdominal massage. Unbeknownst to me, the gut massage that I experimented with in my dorm rooms during college to heal my inner pain was boosting my immune system and my sense of self-worth.

During my college years, when I was an active bulimic, I was also a dancer and yogini. I remember not really having a great sense of balance, and felt like my own core was missing. When I told my yoga teacher about not being able to sense my gut, she recommended that I lay my belly over a sandbag shaped like a hamburger bun that she had at her studio. It was exceedingly uncomfortable and brought me to tears. I knew that the discomfort I felt was in direct proportion to the trauma I was creating with bingeing and purging. I needed to address this pain on every level.


A grippy pliable air-filled ball is perfect for abdominal massage and will place less pressure on viscera than a harder tool.

Back in my own dorm room, I rolled a towel into that same shape and began my yoga practice every day with deep breathing into the intense discomfort emanating from my belly. This practice helped me find a new sense of center and, happily, it helped me heal on many physical levels as well. Over the years, I experimented with different objects to help heal my gut, and ultimately settled on a grippy pliable air-filled ball that placed less pressure on my viscera than the rolled-up towel. Lying on a soft, pliable ball while breathing into it may seem like an awkward way to fight a cold, but lodging it into your core just might be better than your mom’s chicken soup.

Come back on Friday to learn about your immune system’s response to abdominal massage and deep breathing!


[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life]


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Imitation is Limitation – the Yoga Selfie FlipSide

While I wrote about my frustrations with yogi glamor shots on Wednesday, the same photos I dislike have also brought students into my classroom. Recently, awareness has been pointed in the direction of a practice for everyone, through the #realyogiselfie project. Their current contest is not about celebrities doing yoga or a product being auctioned off to the best pretzel, it’s bringing the simple life back to the practice. Glimpses of yogis doing yoga will always inspire me, especially if they’re in savasana.

So, what do I do in my own practice to build strength, stability and stamina? I create complexity under the surface. During my 300-hr advanced teacher training, one rule of sequencing given to me was to always include Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and Extended Side Angle in each class. At the time, I appreciated the nice little nugget and followed the guideline. Now that I have had a few years distance between the advice and my current practice, I see the wisdom in those 4 simple poses.

The beauty of Warrior 1 is the back leg’s combination of strength and stretch. As the lateral edge of the back foot presses into the ground, the stretch of the peroneals on the outside of the ankle is a nice counterbalance to the flip flop loving and arch collapsing stride of most students’ posture and gait. By activating the inversion muscles of the foot and lifting the arch, you can start to strengthen the muscles of the feet. The strength that we build in our foundation will take us off the mat to enjoy other activities like running, hiking or just simply climbing stairs.

Placing a block under the front foot in Warrior 2 challenges the hamstrings and hips more than the traditional pose.

Placing a block under the front foot in Warrior 2 challenges the hamstrings and hips more than the traditional pose.

After strengthening the lower leg muscles, I like to move into Warrior 2 and bring my focus to the front leg. The deep flexion in the hip and knee require a great amount of strength in the quadriceps. To dial it up a notch and strengthen my hamstrings more, I focus on pressing the foot into the ground while maintaining the flexion of the knee. In Yoga Tune Up®, we love to create asymmetry to add an additional element of strength and awareness by placing a block under the front foot in Warrior 2 (as seen in the photo).


I continue with the theme of lower body strength as I move into an Extended Side Angle. The focus of this pose is the stretch to the latissimus dorsi. With the supporting arm placed on the thigh, I can bring my attention to the flexion and external rotation of the upper arm. If you sit at a desk all day and find yourself mimicking a vulture in front of your computer, the latissimus dorsi can be super tight. By lengthening this muscle, you’ll be freeing up tightness to increase your range of movement in the shoulders and restore healthier posture.

The last movement that I never leave out of a daily practice is a Yoga Tune Up® pose called Adductor Slides. Building strength in the inner thighs will influence the way you walk and hold yourself, not to mention it’s a good core workout as well!

Illustration ©2012 Heidi Broecking

Adductor slides strengthen the inner thighs. – Illustration ©2012 Heidi Broecking

This is how I live better in my body and I encourage you to find unique ways to express yourself on and off the mat, Remember, #ImitationIsLimitation!


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Poses of Instagram (#PosesofInstagram)

By: | Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Comments 12

Am I alone in feeling inundated by Instagram contests? From a marketing standpoint, I understand that people are drawn to visual stimuli and that pictures are a way of drawing more attention a business, but what are we actually doing? Recently, one of my local studios sponsored an Instagram contest. I found myself completely frustrated with contest poses and the lack of emphasis on healthy strength. Each pose only emphasized what looked good on the model or what would get the biggest ‘wow’ reaction. How is it that in this world of technology and innovation, imagination in how yoga can be expressed for the individual is still lacking?

Yoga selfies...what's the point?

Yoga selfies…what’s the point?

Around the same time, I was reading Carl Paoli’s book, Free+Style, and within the first chapter he told his story of limitation. While growing up, he jumped from sport to sport because he felt limited by duplication. After he mastered a skill set, he quickly became bored and would find something new to throw his energy into. If imitation is limitation that causes students to eventually walk away from a yoga practice, what is the purpose of a contest that celebrates our copycat abilities?

The pictures I see of ultra skinny, overly flexible people and their potentially injurious poses on my Instagram feed make me feel inadequate, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. I can’t touch the sole of my foot to the crown of my head (not that I’m saying I actually want to do this), but when it’s hawked online like something to attain and strive for, I can’t help but wonder who else feels inadequate or too embarrassed to come to a yoga class. In a world that already creates feelings of inadequacy, we should be retreating into our yoga practice to learn self-acceptance and self-love – not to beat up on and break ourselves striving for the ‘goal’ of a pose. I don’t want my students hurting themselves or walking away from the practice all together because their imitation of a pose felt like a limitation to their practice.

I use my personal practice and teaching to express who I am as an individual; it is my art. The times that I have ‘borrowed’ sequences or cues from another teacher have felt restrictive to my own voice and I feel the same constraint when mimicking a posture.

In Yoga Tune Up®, we learn to discover blind spots and how they can be exposed within our own movement patterns and tissue abuse/misuse. But what are the blinds spots that are created from showing only the “pretty poses”? Are we also creating “blind thoughts” by only showing yoga as a bendy, super skinny practice? I think that these “blind thoughts” can lead students to believe that there is only one yoga, one goal, and one path.

Using social media to communicate with your students is one thing, but pictures of poses that are not appropriate can alienate potential yogis. Yoga is not one size fits all and I completely understand that not every teacher is appropriate for every student. I also know that some students will be drawn to teachers because of what they think they can achieve if they practice with them. But isn’t the purpose of yoga to increase the longevity and vitality of life? If the Western “go-get-‘em” spin on yoga is leading to injuries, how does this lead to that longevity and agility? All too often I see social media announcements and proclamations that if you just practice hard enough and with the ‘right’ teacher, you too will be nailing headstands, soaring in crow, and folding into a blissful lotus. But practice isn’t the whole story – your bone structure and your tissues have a story to tell as well and perhaps they’re telling you that a complicated pose isn’t right for you.

I teach my students to live better in their bodies. I feel that living better in your body does not mean living with pain in the sacroiliac joint from overdoing a twist, tearing a biceps tendon from too many chaturangas, or straining the hamstring tendons because it’s necessary to stick your foot behind your head, all in the name of imitation. Living better in your body means embodying the practice individually; it means assessing the poses and using the practice to create healthy habits for everyday living.

Come back Friday for my tips on how I blend asana with YTU poses!


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Soften the Cell Phone Claw

In 1997, we saw the hilarious antics of Jim Carey in a movie called Liar Liar. In the movie, the comedic genius introduces us to “The Claw”, a game he plays with his son where his hand claws up and attacks his son. Little did we know that within 17 years, many people would be afflicted with the same syndrome. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the smart phone industry and cell phone use have exploded and as the tech industry grows, we become more attached and dependent on our phones.

Repetitive motions, like texting, can cause an irritation of the tendons of the thumb.

Repetitive motions like texting can cause an irritation of the tendons of the thumb.

Like any repetitive motion, texting can cause irritation to the thumb and surrounding soft tissues, but it’s not the only cause of wrist and hand pain. By holding our smartphones in a claw like position, we are starting to give ourselves de Quervain’s tendonitis (also known as blackberry thumb), named after the Swiss surgeon Fritz de Quervain. Symptoms include pain or tenderness, as well as swelling on the thumb side of the wrist. The exact cause of de Quervain Tendonitis is unknown, but many believe its inflammation caused by a repetitive strain injury.

When we hold our hand in the claw like position our thumb is held in abduction and extension for extended periods of time, which is considered to be a predisposition for the syndrome. Two thumb muscles, extensor pollicis brevis and abductor pollicis longus, are in a constant contracted state when we hold our phones for long period of time. This can strain the tendons, which run through the synovial sheaths in the wrist, which is why de Quervain’s is felt in the wrist. Our version of Jim Carey’s claw is not attacking others, but rather ourselves.

There is HOPE!

First, put your smart phone down more often…(after you finish this article, of course). Second, try to pay attention to how tight you’re gripping your phone, and loosen it a little bit. Third, get yourself a pair of Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to help roll out the tension in the soft tissues of your hand. See the video below for suggestions on how to use your YTU Balls at your desk, from YTU Teacher Sandy Byrne. Sandy’s techniques are incredibly helpful to help erase the pain of the claw.

While there are many other ways cell phone use can be harmful to hands, I hear complaints about thumbs the most. Using the YTU therapy ball techniques in the video will help with the other muscle pains you may experience in your hand from THE CLAW!

Good luck & txt U L8R! LOL YouTube Preview Image


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Treat While You TV: A must for those lazy times.

And definitely, positively, absolutely Treat While You Train.*  A must for all other times.

Whether it’s old episodes of Star Trek or new episodes of Game of Thrones, you know it happens to the best of us. We get hooked into the comfort and total relaxation of blissful television watching. Not because the programming is blissful but because we are worn out and need mindless entertainment.   But if you realized what being a couch potato is doing to you, you would get up and move.  You can still watch the shows, but treat your body like the royalty that it is.  You want your body to keep serving you late into your life, right?  You don’t want to be forced to exist in front of that boob tube (70’s slang for television) with one of those recliners that helps you get up because you can’t do it for yourself.  So take care now.

Here are some super easy, beneficial activities you can do while watching the tele (British slang for television since everything sounds better with an accent.)

1.  Get off the couch and lie down on the floor. Use a pillow under your head if your chin points up toward the ceiling.  Let your body be out of the sitting position that most people are in more than TEN HOURS A DAY.  While you are here, hug one leg in toward your chest, take 5 full breaths, and then switch sides.  If you’re feeling wild, hug both knees in at the same time.

apanasana on floor TYTU-52

Apanasana (or knee to chest) on the floor is a great way to lengthen the hip flexors after sitting.

2.  Stand up for 1 minute out of each fifteen minutes you are watching TV.  Ears should be aligned above your shoulders.  You may have to actually create a tiny double chin action to get this part.  Your head sits on top of your lungs, lungs on top of pelvis, and feet underneath all of that with all ten toes facing forward.  It may not be your best posture, but it’s better than the slump you were in on the couch.  Now do some good, old-fashioned shoulder rolls.

3.  Sit on your ischial tuberosities.  Yoga teachers often call the two bones at the base of your pelvis “sits” bones.  When you are not sitting on those, you are most likely sitting on your tailbone or your sacrum and your hamstrings are being forced into constant contraction. You wouldn’t contract your hamstrings for two hours straight on purpose so don’t watch TV in this position either.  Please.  When sitting, think again about what was mentioned in No. 2:  Head over lungs, lungs over pelvis, knees in line with hips and ankles under knees.

4.  Change your position.  Stand up.  Go up to your tiptoes.  From standing, go down to the floor.  From the floor, get on your hands and knees.  From hands and knees, get back up to standing.  Go back up to your tiptoes.  Do this three times… or thirty times.  On final standing, lift one foot off the ground and play with balance.  Feel free to have a light touch on a wall or the edge of your couch.

Sitting Hip Stretch TYTU-30

Keep your spine neutral and hinge from the hips to stretch into the piriformis.

5.  Sit at the edge of the chair or couch on your ischial tuberosities.  Use your posture guidelines from above. Bring your right ankle to the outside of your left thigh just above your knee.  Dorsiflex your ankle.  (Your foot should look like it could go into a flat shoe, not a heel.) This may be enough.  If you want more, lean forward without changing your spine.  Don’t reach with your chest or your stomach.  Just lean forward with your long spine. This is a great for one of the external rotators, especially the piriformis, a muscle that is closely related to the sciatic nerve. Take a few full belly breaths and switch sides.

Thanks for Treating While You TV.  And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

*Treat While You Train is a self-care DVD and Kit extravaganza with Jill Miller and Kelly Starrett – a must have for anyone with a body, athlete or not.


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Best YTU Poses, Bar None, for your Barre Body

On Wednesday, I discussed how to adapt a barre practice to fit any body. After any challenging athletic activity, it is always ideal to have a good post-workout routine to alleviate stiffness or soreness. With all the awesome leg work going on in barre classes, my quads, glutes, and calves have definitely needed some YTU love.  If like me, you find yourself feeling a bit sore after class, I suggest the following YTU poses to help get your body back on track.

Leg Stretch #2 at the wall is excellent for stretching the inner thighs.

Leg Stretch #2 at the wall is excellent for stretching the inner thighs.

With almost any workout I do, I love to warm up my lower body with Prasarita lunges. When done dynamically, the pose allows for a wonderful stretch and can be used to awaken the abductors and adductors of the hips, preparing them for a more intense workout. Conversely, you can take a static version of this stretch for a nice cool down stretch after an intense leg series. See how to do it in the video at the end of this post.

A closed chain version of Leg Stretch #2 and #3 are my go-to favorites to help release sore inner and outer thighs after a long series of clamshells (diamonds), an end of class exercise that is a favorite of many of my barre instructors. Leg Stretch #3 allows for a nice twist combined with a wonderful release of the outer hip muscles, which are also targeted by clamshells.

Keep the spine neutral by engaging the gluteals during this stretch.

Keep the spine neutral by engaging the gluteals during this stretch.

And finally, we can’t forget the quads. While my quadriceps have gained massive strength since I started barre, I have had to work hard to help keep them supple and mobile.  After a leg work series of carousel horses, couch stretch is one of those poses that I love to sink into at the end of a long day. I am always amazed at the difference in sensation and range of motion for the front of my thigh after only 2 minutes each side. Watch out for overextending through your lower back with this pose – be sure to keep your pelvis aligned with your ribs by contracting your glutes, even if that means your forearms remain on the ground for the stretch.

I hope this helps keep your body gliding and sliding instead of clicking and sticking! No matter what your modality, maintenance is a must and YTU has many great options to keep you at the top of your game. See you at the barre! YouTube Preview Image


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Tune Up Your Barre Class

Like many others, for many years yoga has been my haven. I came to yoga as a gentle practice after years of competitive, high-impact sports had left my body a wreck. As the years went on and I picked up the pace and frequency of my practice, the repetitive movement of my beloved vinyasa classes began to take its toll.  After I sprained both of my shoulders, I decided to take a break from my yoga practice and pursue different modalities. This pursuit brought me into my first barre class.

I was hesitant at first to head to a barre class, as I knew nothing of dance (other than what I saw on TV) and feared my unstable knees could pose a problem. I found the class to be very accessible and the instructors were highly receptive to the different needs in the room.


Thankfully, this was not what a barre class was actually like.

Much like yoga, barre provided many levels of difficulty and optional layering so the class was accessible to my, at the time, injured body.  As with any modality, as my participation frequency increased, familiar patterns of wear and tear began to arise, which led me to come up with a few ideas for tuning up before and after any barre class. As most of the barre classes I have attended focus a large portion of the class on the legs and glutes, my tune ups focus on the lower body (mostly).

I will, however, start with the commonly heard “belly button to spine” or “hollow out your core”. These phrases come up across the board of modalities and are said, I like to think, with the best of intentions. What I think we are really looking for here is a bracing, or tubularizing of the core, as we like to say in Yoga Tune Up®. Activating the entirety of the midsection (abdominals and low back) allows for a stable and happy spine during a barre practice, helping to keep the lower ribs hugged in and the pelvis in a neutral position.  This makes for a happy low back with no pain after class.  If you have problems keeping your low ribs from thrusting out as you come into various postures, practice intercostal crunches to help strengthen your ‘rib hugging’ muscles. (Read fellow YTU teacher Dagmar Khan’s article, Confessions Of A Chronic Rib Thruster, to learn more about rib thrusting and why it is not ideal for your body.)

Once you have your core engaged and properly secured, you can now focus on ensuring your lower body is aligned as well.  Most barre classes require you to frequently be externally rotated while squatting on and/or off your toes (known as plies). As you come into varying levels of external rotation with hip flexion, your hips cannot create the proper amount of torque needed to allow the soft tissues of the lower body to support you properly as you squat, which can lead to hip, knee, and back issues if not properly maintained. Squatting with extreme amounts of external rotation also requires a ton of pelvis and rib control to prevent over extension in the low back through rib thrusting and anterior tilting of the pelvis. To counteract the pelvic tilt, you may hear your instructor tell you to “tuck your tailbone” or “tuck under”, to realign the pelvis under the spinal column.

Sadly, for my body, these types of poses are simply not obtainable. Many of the externally rotated squat postures are just too much for my hips and knees, so I modify with feet flat and parallel. I have never had an instructor say anything but positive remarks about me modifying the poses to fit my needs. If a pose is not working for you don’t be afraid to adapt it to fit.  Remember, adapting a pose to fit your body is not the same as doing the ‘wrong’ pose or doing the pose incorrectly. Any athletic practice should be about finding the right positions for your body. You are always in charge of your health and your body’s needs.

Come back on Friday to learn my favorite Yoga Tune Up® poses to incorporate before or after your barre class!


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Try This YTU Therapy Ball Technique for Neck Pain Relief

We talked on Wednesday about all the different positive benefits of Therapy Ball Rolling – both on the immediate area being rolled and throughout your whole body. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here’s a video clip of Jill demonstrating an extremely down regulating series for neck pain, so if you’ve spent most of your week staring at a computer screen (like you’re doing right now!) take a few minutes, lie down, and roll! Once you’ve completed all the techniques to your satisfaction, give yourself a minute or two of quiet stillness without the balls and the block. Indulge in several deep breaths as you witness the multiple layers of both pain relief and nervous system quieting that you have given yourself. YouTube Preview Image

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Think Globally, Roll Locally For Your Body

As an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainer, whether I’m teaching a class, workshop, immersion or training, I always check to see if students are new to Yoga Tune Up®. While I’ve learned over the years to distill my description of YTU into a succinct few phrases, I know I have one tool that’s going to impress itself into the students’ bodies and psyches better than any words I can come up with: the Therapy Balls. (One question I hear a lot: “Is this the class with the balls? I need this class!”)

When we roll, pin, spin, compress and shear on the Therapy Balls, we’re effectively working on two levels at the same time: a local (point of contact) level, and a global (whole body) level. Let’s look at these two aspects individually, keeping in mind, of course, that they’re actually taking place at the same time in your body.

photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio

photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio

Locally, the Therapy Balls create all sorts of positive change in your tissues: they help pry apart adhesions, increase hydration, and relieve pain from poor movement, to name but a few. Whether you lie down with the Therapy Balls under your body, or pin the balls to a wall, you’re also talking to some specialized sensory nerves called proprioceptors that are studded throughout your fascia (and can be broken down further into categories based on the type of touch they sense: light, hard, steady, vibrating). These proprioceptors relay information to your brain that helps you embody yourself and better sense where you are in space (in Yoga Tune Up®, we call this the EmbodyMap).

Here’s what’s extra cool about developing your proprioception: researchers are finding that the better you are at proprioception, the quieter your pain signals, generated by nociceptors, become. Imagine a tug-of-war going on with the body-mapping proprioceptors on one team, and the pain-sensitive nociceptors on the other. Whichever is ‘stronger’ at signaling will win. So the more your nociceptors are signaling your brain that something hurts, the less the proprioceptors are able to function, which means an area of your body that is in chronic pain (say, I don’t know, between your shoulder blades from so much computer use?) is not going to have a good sense of where it is in space, and as a result, will be easier to injure.

Now here’s where it gets even more interesting: rolling on one area of your body has a ripple effect through your tissues, via their fascial wrappings. In other words, a local action has a global effect. If you roll the Therapy Balls on the bottom of your foot, you’ll improve the pliability of the tissues up the back of your leg and possibly even into your hip, due to the tensional fascial network that covers you. Your fascia, which for a long time was the “last one picked for the team” part of the body, is finally getting attention and for lots more fascinating (or fascia-nating) information about fascia, pre-order Jill’s new book, The Roll Model.

There’s a second global effect I want to mention, and that has to do with your nervous system. While self-myofascial release on the Therapy Balls makes a sometimes visible difference in your tissues, it makes a psychological one too. It’s extremely down regulating for the nervous system to receive so much positive sensory feedback, and as a result, you’ll shift out of stress and anxiety, and experience quietude, relaxation, softness and relief. When I teach Therapy Ball work, I always cue my students in a moment of quiet to recognize these effects as well as the more obvious physical ones. Stay tuned for Friday’s blog so you can try out some simple rolling techniques and think global, roll local for yourself!

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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).

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Piriformis – Your BFF or Frienemy From Behind?

By: | Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 | Comments 15

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 12
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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Trapezius, Our Stingray Superhero

The trapezius sometimes gets a bad reputation for being a superficial muscle that causes shoulder and neck pain. In truth, it is an amazing superhero muscle that takes on a big job with its multiple actions and heavy reputation. The trapezius, sometimes called the “traps,” is a diamond-shaped quadrilateral muscle that blankets the shoulders like a mini superhero cape or a stingray lying on your upper back.


The diamond-shaped quadrilateral trapezius covers both sides of the upper back.

The trapezius has three functional regions: the first is the upper region, which supports the neck in flexing side to side, extending, and rotating left or right on a horizontal plane. The upper fibers also help raise the scapula upwards. Next, the middle region assists in lateral upward rotation of the scapula, elevation and retraction, moving toward the midline of the body. Finally, the lower region extends the thoracic spine, depresses and retracts the scapula, and assists in raising the scapula upward, while rotating the inferior angle of the scapula to the outside (laterally).

The mighty trapezius has several origins beginning on the external occipital protuberance, medial portion of the superior nuchal line of the occiput, ligamentum nuchae and spinous processes of C-7 through T-12. It inserts on the lateral one third of the clavicle, acromion and spine of the scapula. Altogether, the trapezius actions are depression, retraction, elevation, and upward rotation of the scapula, as well as extending and rotating the head and neck.That’s a lot of responsibility!

If you are like most of us, you spend many hours a day in front of a computer screen or using your smartphone in a head forward position or shoulder to ear position that wreaks havoc on your trapezius and shoulders. Even for a superhero, it is exhausting! This repetitive movement can create a hunched over back and shoulders that shrug up to your ears and will lead to tension and pain. Read the rest of this blog post »

Silence Screaming Scalenes with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls

On Wednesday, I discussed the scalenes and how posture and habits can cause neck pain and tightness. Luckily, we can all do something about these tight little buggers. Of course, the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls are a great place to start, as you will see in Jill’s video below. Massaging the YTU balls above and below the clavicles, trying to reach deep beneath to the first and second ribs where the scalenes attach is a great place to begin. Also, massaging carefully on the lateral cervical neck will release tension as well. While Jill does not specifically mention the scalenes in the video, notice that her ball placement behind the sternocleidomastoid is right in the belly of the scalenes.  It’s not unusual for these two muscles to become a knotted gnarled mass.

Getting the scoop on the scalenes was enlightening. Now I need to get to work. Hopefully with a little YTU Therapy Ball work, some Yoga Tune Up® poses, and a conscious connection to my posture, my scalenes will stop screaming at me in no time!YouTube Preview Image

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Angina? Maybe It’s Your Scalenes Screaming At You

Poor posture can stress out your scalenes.

Poor posture can stress out your scalenes.

The last thing my massage therapist said to me was, “I never knew the scalenes could be so tight, poor thing.” My first reaction: Yay! I know what my scalenes are! All this anatomy studying has paid off! My second thought: How in the world could this have happened without me noticing? With enthusiasm and inspiration fresh from my recent Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 Teaching Training, I decided to do some research. This is what I found.

The scalenes are a group of three muscles – the anterior, middle, and posterior – located on the anterior, lateral side of the neck sandwiched between the sternocleidomastoid and the trapezius. They originate from the side of the cervical vertebrae, descend inferiorly beneath the clavicle, and attach to the first and second ribs. It’s important to note that the brachial plexis, a large bundle of nerves innervating the shoulder and upper extremity, and the subclavian artery pass through a small gap between the anterior and middle scalenes. We’ll get to why this is important in a minute.

Unilaterally, all three scalenes laterally flex the head and neck to the same side and rotate the head and neck to the opposite side. Bilaterally, the anterior scalenes flex the head and neck. When inhaling deeply, ALL the scalenes help to elevate the ribs for a deep breath. If you brace your phone between your ear and your shoulder, or you look over your shoulder to change lanes while driving, you’re using your scalenes.

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Tongue Exercises For Clean And Clear Speech

Did you know that difficulties with enunciation can be caused by a lazy tongue? The tongue is a muscle and like any other muscles, it needs a regular workout which includes stretching and strengthening. A strong and flexible tongue also helps improve one’s ability to speak a second or third language clearly. For those of us that are interested in some simple tongue exercises for clean and clear speech, here are four easy ones to try out:

1) Clockwise: Run your tongue in a full circle around the cheek walls across the front of your top and bottom teeth. Repeat 3 times.
2) Counter-clockwise: Then change the direction of circling. Repeat 3 times.
2) Go left and right: Run the tongue as rapidly as you can left and right across the upper teeth. Repeat 10 times.
4) Stick it out: Stick the tongue out as far as you can, move it left and right, and then up and down. Repeat 3 times.

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Our Tongues Need A Tune Up Too!

By: | Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 | Comments 11

The first time I was asked to do Lion’s Breath in a yoga class, I thought it was the silliest idea ever. Instead of sticking my tongue out, I “faked” it by modestly parting my lips and letting out a big sigh, inwardly rolling my eyes at the uselessness of what I was doing. In all the classes I’ve been to, with many different teachers across many yoga lineages, I’ve never been to a class where the teacher explains why we do this posture and how it improves our quality of life.

The muscles of the tongue share a fascial connection with

The muscles of the tongue share a fascial connection with the muscles of the Deep Front Line.

However, now that I know besides assisting us in digestion and speech, the tongue plays an important role in the Deep Front Fascial line identified by Thomas Myers, my rolling eyes have a different view. Did you know that this fascial line connects the tongue to our lungs, diaphragm, quadratus lumborum, psoas major, iliacus, knees, and even all the way down to our feet?  What would happen if the tongue were contracted and overworked after a day of discussing and dining?  Would it affect our breathing? Absolutely!  The next time when you’re holding Plank (or Serratus Plank) longer than you’d like to, notice what happens to your tongue.  A fun test: try to extend your tongue out while lowering down to chatturanga.  You will find it very difficult because, as a part of our integrated core, the tongue will also engage when the tubular core is engaged.

Even though not mentioned in our Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 training, these Yoga Tune Up® poses should include our unsung hero, the tongue, as an agonist: Tubular Core, Serratus Plank, and Pin the Arms of the Yogi; and as an antagonist: Cobra at the wall, Danurasana with blanket, and, last but not least, Ustrasana.  Finally, feel free to stick your tongue out at yogi friends more often to release and balance out the stress we have put on this amazingly influential and strong muscle.

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Try This YTU Hip Flexor Stretch To Banish Quad Walking!

On Wednesday we discussed the phenomenon of quad walking, when a shortened and tight hip flexor group get in the way of hip extension while walking. If you sit a lot, shortness in the front of the hip can be hard to avoid – but see what happens if you add in this hip stretch to your daily routine (or even better, get up a few times during the day to stretch it out and keep your hips supple and mobile!). YouTube Preview Image

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Are You A Quad Walker?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking“ (perhaps even from this blog), to describe the negative health effects of spending over 9 hours a day sitting – the current average daily sitting time in this country. A typical American spends more time sitting in a chair than they do sleeping at night! Too much static sitting has massive and varied consequences that range from higher cancer incidence to obesity. There’s an entire industry of ergonomic furniture designed to help us sit better (and some of us have remodeled our desks for standing use only), but there’s still a potential problem when you get up from your chair: you’ve turned into a quad walker! (Cue dramatic music…) Read the rest of this blog post »

Try This Yoga Tune Up® Pose For A Healthy Infraspinatus

On Wednesday I wrote about the perils of shoulder impingement and how an imbalanced infraspinatus can’t hold the humerus in a healthy position. Now, let’s paint a happier picture! Imagine that you have a pair of Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls in your hand. Place one on your infraspinatus muscle of both your right and left shoulders and start rolling. Now, check out this video of Yoga Tune Up® Cow Face Pose so you can Tune Up your infraspinatus to work smarter, not harder.

With the upper arm in flexion and external rotation the infraspinatus contracts, while with the lower arm in internal rotation and extension the infraspinatus lengthens. Since you are switching arms in this pose to achieve symmetry, your infraspinatus of both arms get equal opportunity to contract and lengthen.

Texting and using computers are part of every day life, so taking a break every so often to do this pose can help counteract any discomfort you may be experiencing. Enjoy this daily dose of shoulder vibrancy!YouTube Preview Image

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Get Your Infraspinatus to Work Smarter, Not Harder

The infraspinatus is one of those muscles that often gets neglected and misused, but needs great attention and care. Originating at the infraspinous fossa of the scapula and inserting at the middle facet on the greater tuberosity of the humerus, the infraspinatus does the important job of laterally rotating the arm at the shoulder while holding the humeral head in the glenoid cavity of the scapula.


Your infraspinatus needs to be both strong and supple to support healthy shoulder movement.

This important rotator cuff muscle is a prime mover (the agonist or muscle that contracts) in adduction and external rotation, which means that if there is too much adduction and external rotation, this muscle will be overworked and literally be in agony.  If there is too much abduction and internal rotation, this muscle can be overstretched and can lead to injury and overuse. So, what is the solution? “Balance” and “everything in moderation” may sound cliché, but they are mantras when it comes to keeping your infraspinatus healthy and vibrant.

Before we get into fun ways to Tune Up your infraspinatus, here’s some serious information you need to know for optimal care of this essential muscle. When the infraspinatus does its job well and externally rotates the humerus, it draws the greater tuberosity away from the acromion. This prevents a condition called impingement, which involves compression of the subacromial bursa between the greater tuberosity of the humerus and the acromion, resulting in shoulder pain.

Our electronically charged society where texting anytime, anywhere, is the thing to do, along with driving (not to mention texting while driving) and sitting endlessly at a computer, brings the shoulders in a position of prolonged internal rotation. The last time I got my hair cut at the salon, I was surprised to see so many women holding their iPhones overhead and texting while they were having their hair washed. Prolonged internal rotation while the arms shoulders are in flexion is not a happy position for the infraspinatus. Maybe if these women read this blog post they will try to care as much for their muscles as their hair.

On Friday I’ll share a Yoga Tune Up® pose that will help you build a strong and supple shoulder!

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Trapezius Trigger Point Tamer

In our tech-ready, chair-heavy modern world, the neck and upper back are a tension dumping ground for the majority of people. However, one of the most common areas of complaint lives directly under the swagging outline of the upper trapezius. Here, a convergence of many deep shoulder-to-head and neck-to-trunk musculature traverse, namely the: levator scapula, middle and posterior scalenes, and the supraspinatus.

Treating this pervasive trigger point epicenter on one’s own body is compounded by the fact that to apply the most effective vertical pressure to it, one must push top-down into the shoulder. Even most thumbs (both trained and untrained), tire quickly when scrubbing along this supraspinous gutter that runs from neck’s bottom to the head of the humerus. These approaches are generally awkward for the giver but even more importantly, the source of pain tends to continually escape into hiding along the many folds of various muscular fiber directions exposed here.

Here is a way to finally treat yourself without having to exhaust yourself. This Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball solution I call Block Dock, allows you to get the most beneficial angle of approach while laying down in a relaxed position and using your feet to push instead of your thumbs. Enjoy powering down your shoulders and unplugging neck tension at this Yoga Tune Up® docking station!YouTube Preview Image

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Try The One Neck Stretch No One Is Doing

Jill was recently on’s OWN Show to demonstrate a stretch for the platysma and scalenes, muscles on the front of the neck that get short and tight from too much “head forward” position. Here’s that same stretch which we affectionately call the “Marlon Brando” for you to try right now! And for more neck help, check out the Quick Fix for Neck videosYouTube Preview Image

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Hold Your Head High: Help For Neck Pain

Please forgive my lapse in blogging for the past few months, I was busy giving birth. Twice. First, I had a beautiful daughter named Lilah, who is now 2 months old. And secondly to my first book, The Roll Model, which will be published in September.

These “projects” have been filling my head and heart simultaneously for the past year, but I am happy to say, I can now share some of my newer ideas again!

When having two arms isn't enough, use your head as a "third limb." The pressure on my skull forced me to properly align my spine, head and neck.

When having two arms isn’t enough, use your head as a “third limb.” The pressure on my skull forced me to properly align my spine, head and neck.

The first idea hit me hard on the head (relatively speaking) yesterday. I picked up a 15-pound bag of dog food for my puppy (oh yes, I also “birthed” a puppy recently too!) while out running errands on foot. I was carrying Lilah in her carrier, and had very few options in terms of how to walk the quarter mile back home carrying the sack of food without squashing Lilah. So I hoisted the bag of food on top of my head and voila!

The puppy food had just enough yield to slightly conform to the shape of my head, which made balancing it relatively easy. The bag of food was not light — 15 pounds is not like wearing a beret — and my neck and spinal muscles had to do quite a bit of dynamic stabilizing in order for that bag to not fall. They also had to inform me of their position so that  I could avoid overloading one area of my neck over another. By the time I got home, my core felt worked out and my posture felt better than ever. Read the rest of this blog post »

Assess The Temperament Of Your Dog Before You Master The Pose

In my early twenties, I was a yoga dipped pretzel junkie. I wanted to explore what directions of movement my body could do, and thought it felt just fine at the time. Whether I should do them or not, in body weighted inversions or not, never came into my mind. I was all about the “show” and would return to the pose throughout the day to get the same sensation of stretch or elation. I wasn’t aware of any problems of the repetitive excessive mobility or questioned whether I should focus on one pose more than another. I was unaware that yoga asanas were originally designed by the yogis as an individual prescription of specific poses to improve one’s health. My favorites were Downward Facing Dog, Shoulder Stand and other arm balances that could amuse, but would eventually cause instability when combined with my daily habits.

College was physically, mentally and emotionally stressful. With too much time at the ol’ word processor, bad habits started to creep into my postural muscles and my leg muscles shortened like deflated accordions. What once felt good in my yoga practice started to make me feel like I really didn’t know what was going on and began to question the temperament of my Downward Facing Dog pose. Was I supposed to compromise my back to stretch my hamstrings, gain shoulder strength but lean more towards strengthening internal rotation from too much typing?  I love Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up® pose, Dolphin Supinate. Training your Dolphin before training your Dog makes great sense. By influencing the strength of the external rotators (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) and shoulder depressors (serratus anterior and lower fibers of trapezius), the shoulder will be stable and keep the biceps tendon happy and free. In order to keep the variety of students’ shoulders (many coming straight off a computer or smart phone) stable and behaved in Downward Facing Dog Pose, I first teach Dolphin Supinate.YouTube Preview Image

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I Am The Master Of My Shoulder Flexion

My shoulders are excited.  They are like little untrained puppies that sneak up, attempting to lick my face.  My sankalpa, “I am the master of my shoulder flexion,” continues to remind the naughty shoulders about obedience and how to stay down.  There’s so much activity that happens out in the front of our world.  My computer, smart phone, driving, child toting, fitness and yoga distractions continue to invite elevation and internal rotation bad habits. The shoulders anticipate the excitement and perceive their forward position will keep them involved and happy, yet the full potential for proper mobility is stifled and their longevity suffer.

In high school, I played volleyball, and I irritated my right shoulder biceps tendon from repeated improper body mechanics while reaching to hit the ball.  20 plus years later, my irritated biceps tendon is like a cranky old dog that wants so badly to join in a game of fetch.  Excited, aggressive and unstable, the pinched biceps tendon is as painful as a dog bite. That’s until I found YTU “harness training.”  Read the rest of this blog post »

Put Your Best Barefoot Forward

Ah, it’s almost summer time, and during the warmer months of the year we tend to go barefoot more often. That’s good news for the bones, muscles and tendons in our feet because, being shoeless, they’ll get the chance to spread and feel the ground beneath them!

In my last blog post I wrote about the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) and how it plays a major role in the gripping action of the toes. A thin muscle that begins at the tibia, it thickens as it extends down the length of the calf. The FDL then passes through the ankle and reaches the sole of the foot where it splits into four tendons, each connecting to one of the 2nd through 5th toes. If your toes have been constricted in tight fitting shoes, the muscles and tendons that support them need flexibility and strengthening exercises to awaken them so they are ready for barefoot walking. Likewise, it’s important to invest dedicated time in spreading the metatarsals of the feet as they are often also compressed in cramped toe boxes of shoes.

In preparation for putting your best barefoot forward, roll Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls on the bottom of the feet to revive the FDL and activate the other muscles surrounding it. Using a back-and-forth stripping action, roll the balls from the heel to the ball of the foot. This encourages widening of the metatarsals and much needed increase in blood flow to the plantar fascia area, which runs along the underside of the FDL.

Now primed for movement, practice the Yoga Tune Up® Toe Separation Exercise that Jill Miller demonstrates below to articulate the bones and joints in your metatarsals and phalanges. These are also terrific techniques for flip-flop feet as the gripping muscles of all five toes will be especially happy with this restorative attention.YouTube Preview Image

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Wearing Flip-Flops is Just a Big Flop, Especially for the Flexor Digitorum Longus

Want to get a grip? Then grab a pair of the most popular kind of minimalist shoes, flip-flops, and put them on your feet. Now walk, and feel the flexors of your ankles and toes grip, literally. Meet your flexor digitorum longus. Entombed deep to the gastrocnemius and soleus in the lower leg, the flexor digitorum longus flexes the second through fifth toes, inverts the foot, and aids in plantar flexion of the ankle.

If the FDL is constantly working to keep your flip flop on your foot, it can get irritated quickly.

If the FDL is constantly working to keep your flip flop on your foot, it can get irritated quickly.

Originating in the middle of the posterior surface of the tibia and traveling down the leg inserting in the distal phalanges of the second through fifth toes, the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) is one of three ankle and toes flexors. Along with the tibialis posterior and the flexor halluces longus (FHL), the other foot flexors, this narrow muscle is a primary player in tiptoeing, navigating rocky trails and picking up small objects off the floor with the toes. Read the rest of this blog post »

Relieve Pain and Tension with Temporalis Massage

Learn how to relieve tension in your temporalis muscle using Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls.  In this video I show you several self-massage techniques to down regulate and relieve tension and pain! 


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YTU Therapy Balls: An Alternative to Excedrin and Botox

Picture the “before” person in an ad for a headache pain reliever: brows furrowed, eyes squinting, fingers massaging temples.

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

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

Headache pain manifests in different areas, but the archetypal muscle that sufferers massage for relief is the temporalis, a wide, fan-­‐shaped muscle located on both sides of the skull. The temporalis originates at the temporal line of the temporal bones (and the temporal fossa and fascia) and passes underneath the cheekbones, attaching to the back part of the mandible (jaw). It is a muscle of mastication (chewing), and its job is to close your jaw and to retract it. If you place your fingers at the top of your temple and press your teeth together you will feel it contract.

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Yoga Tune Up® Your Fingers!

I recently wrote a blog on the extensor digitorum, the muscle that creates extension for the medial digits in the hands. When this muscle is ignored, it can cause issues in your tissues. Your wrist, hand, and digits can become tight with trigger points, especially since these parts of our body live in an internally rotated world. Our hands and fingers have become comfortable in the ‘claw’ position rather than fully extending which is what they need after sitting at a computer keyboard, or using a mouse.

In this video below, Jill Miller is doing a Yoga Tune Up® exercise called Piano Fingers. She is extending each digit one at a time to strengthen and lengthen the digits, giving the digits purpose so they can work independently without relying on other muscle groups to do the work for them.

Here is the exercise: Standing or sitting, palms face up. Extend your fingers like you are giving the sky or ceiling a high five. Then flex (bend) each finger in towards your palm, pinky, ring, middle, index, thumb. Repeat. Then you will reverse this exercise by starting with extending your fingers, thumb, index, middle, ring and pinky finger. Repeat. See if you can get some pace in the exercise. If you do a lot of work on your hands it is good to get articulation through each finger.YouTube Preview Image

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Have You Heard? The Bird Is The Word!

Too much extension of your extensor digitorum can lead to trigger points and muscle pain.

Too much extension of your extensor digitorum can lead to trigger points and muscle pain.

“The bird bird bird, bird is the word,” is a very bad earworm of a song. However, in Western culture, “the finger” (as in giving someone the finger or the bird, also known as the finger wave, the middle finger, flipping someone off, flipping the bird, shooting the bird, the rude finger or the one finger salute) is an obscene hand gesture, often a sign of extreme or moderate contempt. It is performed by showing the back of a closed fist that has only the middle finger engaged, and I seriously doubt when you activate in this gesture you think, “oh, this is my extensor digitorum, and it provides an extension for the medial digits in the hands, and it originates from the lateral epicondyle of the humerus and then segregates down into four sections so that my fingers may move inter-independently and spread them each apart while I simultaneously give the bird.”

Extending the finger(s) is considered a symbol of contempt, at least here. In Ancient Rome, well, I’ll let you do the digging for their interpretation, but for now this finger motion can and will cause contempt in the forearm and can create trigger points. These can send pain down your entire forearm to the back of your hand, and then your finger(s) may feel overworked, leaving you with chronic pain in your hand or tennis elbow if activities are not balanced with stretching, massage, and relaxation exercises. Stretching the flexors of the forearm, wrist and fingers can be easy: for example, extend your wrists and turn your fingers towards your body, placing palms down on the floor (not to be done if you have wrist issues) then gently put weight on the hands and hold for a few breaths. After that, slowly lift the heel of the hand away from the floor, feeling for stretch through the posterior side of the arm and fingers.

So if the bird is your word while you drive anxiously through LA traffic, take note, the bird isn’t the word for this sometimes overused extensor digitorum.



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Your Lats Are Back In Action

Hey, it’s your buddy “lats” here again, and I’m happy to report I just completed my first video where I have a starring role! Check out this Yoga Tune Up® video called Locust Minivini. Yep, that’s me around minute 4.48. I’m the one helping to keep her arms extended and adducted towards the body so that the lovely Jill Miller can strengthen her back without impinging her lumbar spine as she rocks back and forth. My mom would be so proud!YouTube Preview Image

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C’mon, Put Your Back Into It: The Latissimus Dorsi Story

By: | Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 | Comments 10

Hi! I am your latissimus dorsi muscle, the broadest muscle in your entire back. My Latin name reveals my roots: latissimus meaning broadest, and dorsum meaning back. But, like most of my body builder friends, you can call me “lats” for short.

Your lats are involved in more movements than you might think.

Your lats are involved in more movements than you might think.

So what do I do for a living? My day job entails extending the shoulders, adducting the shoulders and medially rotating the shoulders at the glenohumeral joints. My work is no small feat considering how many bodies use me to pull their arms back or raise their arms overhead (like a cheerleader creating a “V” shape with her arms- V for Victory!).

I also do some work on the side. You may have heard of me in such synergistic roles as “Half Moon” or “Gate Pose.” No? Well, they are bit parts where during yoga postures I am called to laterally flex or arch the spine to one side.  And children love me in my “Pull up on the Monkey Bars at the School Playground” action.   Those are lesser roles, but given that I bypass the scapulothoracic joints and attach directly to the spine, I influence the movement of the scapulae. In other words, without me, the whole process of pulling down your arms, or waving your arms during your favorite Zumba class would just go awry.

So the next time you are admiring your back in all its glory, remember it’s your good buddy “lats” that plays the leading role.

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Get Some Levity For Your Levator Scapula

“So how can I get my levator to stop screaming mutiny, and maybe even be the happy worker bee it was meant to be?” you ask. Well, it may partly depend on why it’s tight. If it’s tight because you’ve been texting all day, with your chin buried in your chest, then the muscles are already overstretched, and stretching and lengthening them even more isn’t the best idea. But rolling, shearing, and lubricating is!

One of my favorite Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball moves for this is Jill’s awesome freeform with Dr. Kelly Starrett (shown in the video clip below) that gets the levator and all its cohorts! If instead, the muscle is tight and actually short from showing off that 20lb Gucci bag, and that shoulder nearly reaches your ear, then lengthening it can be helpful, so turn your  YTU roll-a-thon into a pin-n-stretch fest. Adding some PNF moves to either of these is a dynamite way to interrupt a muscle stuck in a cycle of spasm.

So next time your Levator Scapula is threatening to walk off the job – before you call in the big guns to negotiate a settlement – consider that you may just be asking it to do work it’s barely qualified for. And before it establishes a picket line, see if a visit to the YTU Therapy Ball Spa and Resort might coax it back to its happy place.YouTube Preview Image

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Elevate My What?

Levator scapula. When I first heard of this muscle in massage school, 14 years ago, I felt a little “ah ha” moment course through me and it quickly became my favorite muscle. First of all, I thought the name was so cool, in that cool way Latin has of stating the obvious: Levator  – to elevate; the Scapula – a digging implement; heck yeah, the scapula makes a perfect pre-made little shovel. Actually when I heard “levator scapula” I think I identified most with the image of a rather tired and sticky freight elevator; rusty cables groaning as it worked to hoist its heavy load to the top floor (of my upper cervicals). A goal it constantly tried to reach, but in fact would never obtain. I thought: If only I could get it to stop slamming its load upward again and again, and maybe even lubricate those gritty cables!

Fourteen years later, I’m still working on it! Despite all that moaning and groaning, my levator (for short) is a tireless worker. It will try and try until worn to a pulp… and usually locked in spasm. I see this all too often with my bodywork clients too. A spasming levator is one of the primary, acute conditions that brings clients in for some ‘emergency’ bodywork, or to many a doctor for other pain relief. Once called the “crick in the neck” muscle, and often diagnosed simply as “stiff neck,” an unhappy levator is all too common. But you can do a LOT to reduce your pain before it starts, or gets any worse!

How do you know if it’s your levator that’s screaming at you? First let’s find it, then find out what it does. Reach one arm across your upper chest and grab the top of your shoulder, a couple inches away from the base of your neck, so your thumb is nestled against your neck. You should have the very top of your shoulder, plus a couple inches posterior, under your hand. Feel that gnarly knot zinging under your fingers? That knot that everybody has, and most everybody wants massaged while they sit at their desk or watch TV? That knot my fellow stiff-neck friends, is actually where your levator scapula attaches to the top-medial angle of your upside-down-triangle-shaped scapula. Now it’s actually covered over by the trapezius here, so it’s a little hard to really get a hold of in the way we wish we could. And if you tried to follow it up your neck, you’d quickly loose track as it dives under the splenius capitis and sternocleidomastoid, before it separates into four strands and connects into the transverse processes (side of) your cervical vertebra 1-4 – another place where clients often plead, “please massage me here.”

The levator scapula, aka the "please massage me here" muscle.

The levator scapula, aka the “please massage me here” muscle.

“Why does it travel so?” you ask. Good question! Every muscle has a job of course, and it is important to realize at this point, the levator scapula may actually be MIS-named! What?! That cool name, all for naught! Yes, although it assists in many shoulder actions, according to Rolfer®, anatomist and fascial expert Tom Meyers, it seems the levator scapula’s primary objective is to help stabilize the cervical spine, together with about 12 other muscles. The levator’s job is to prevent the head from going forward, using a stabilized scapula as the base (yet another reason to engage your serratus anterior and stabilize our scapula, friends!). If the scapula isn’t stabilized, as the head falls forward, the scapula, and more of the shoulder girdle will start to get pulled up and forward with it, as it looses the tug-of-war with our ~12 pound head and the power of gravity! The more forward leaning we do, the more this poor muscle gets overstretched, while simultaneously in chronic contraction to support its heavy load. A similar strain is placed on the muscle if we ask those four little anchors on the topside to hoist that heavy bone toward our head, a.k.a. freight elevator (think: carrying a purse or backpack on one shoulder, squeezing a phone up to our ear, or just constant shoulder shrugging); or if we chronically turn our head to one side (hey you, face-down-sleeper who often wakes with that “crick in the neck,” or what about you, with the poorly setup work station that has your monitor off to one side). The more these battles rage on, the more discomfort we’re in.

Typically, we notice pain right at that knot you felt before, or up the neck. But since the levator travels from scapula to neck, and since neighboring muscles and fascia can continue its pain referral pattern beyond the muscle itself, there maybe areas beyond that muscle that are feeling the pain, like in the rhomboids, or onto the humerus.

Read my follow up blog on Friday for some great Yoga Tune Up® therapy for your levator scapula!

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De-Rotation: Look Ma, No Arms!

On Wednesday, I described how I modified the YTU Revolved Abdominal Pose to help my rotational imbalances. Are you ready to try it? Here’s how, plus a video clip:

  1. THE EXERCISE: Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees, so your shins form a “table top.” Place 2 yoga bricks, flat side facing up, on either side of you at hip height. If this is too difficult, place the bricks with the thin side facing up to bring the ground up higher and decrease the range of motion. Place the 3rd brick between your upper inner thighs. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor (the area below the bra/bro strap)—if you’re having trouble, bring your thighs closer to your chest. Point your arms up to the ceiling, palms facing each other.
  2. ROTATE in Neutral: On an inhale, let your knees and thighs land on the block on your right side. This is the easy part. Then, on an exhale, engage your TA, PF, Multifidus, Rectus, and Obliques to stabilize your spine. (In other words, don’t arch or round your back—just keep its natural curve and allow the muscles that stabilize your spine to do the work.) On an inhale, maintain that connection you’ve created, and on your next exhale, DE-ROTATE and return the legs back to table top.
  3. Repeat on the other side, and continue the exercise for only as long as you’re able to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine—that is, as long as you can keep going without hiking up your hips or otherwise “cheating.” This exercise asks your body to do something it never does: rotate against gravity, so it should be challenging.YouTube Preview Image

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Join The De-Rotation Play Station!

Daily life has a way of getting us out of whack. No matter how balanced we try to be in our bodies, we’re almost always favoring one side or another. I’m going to tell you about an exercise I began to teach and practice when I noticed huge muscular imbalances during rotation in my own body and in my clients’ bodies. It is a variation of a Yoga Tune Up® exercise called Revolved Abdominal Pose. But first, I’ll tell you how I knew I needed to get to the bottom of the problem: I was having lower back pain only on the right side, and every time I would get out of the driver’s side of the car, my SI joint would click.

I began to think more about my daily habits. For example, every time I backed out of the driveway or a parking spot, I did an extreme rotation of my spine to the right. I even caught myself soaping up my left butt cheek with my right hand by rotating ALL the way around to the right to do it! Read the rest of this blog post »

Reverse Tension with the Reverse Crucifix

Untangle and decompress the highly overcharged upper back and shoulders with Yoga Tune Up®’s Reverse Crucifix pose featured in the video clip below.  This pose takes care of stretching and releasing tension in not only the teres minor and deltoids, both discussed in the previous blog, but it also stretches and relieves tension from the trapezius, rhomboids, the infraspinatus and literally every upper back and shoulder muscle.

To add on to the benefits of the Reverse Crucifix, consider adding in a Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball sequence to relieve the teres minor, a hot spot for tension.  You can use one Therapy Ball, a pair in a tote or an Alpha Ball to do the work.

Standing against the wall, start on one side at a time and place the ball(s) in the region of the teres minor. To find this area, take one hand and cross your chest and thread it underneath your armpit all the way to the beginnings of your back.   Where your fingertips/palm roughly land is in the region we want to target.  For a better idea of placement, visit this page.

Press your back against the wall to pin the ball and have the body at a slight angle.  First sustain compression allowing the body to mold over the ball.  Once you acclimate and take few deep breaths, bend your knees and move your body to allow the ball(s) to circle around the area.  After you take several rotations, find an area that is tender and sustain pressure here.  End with a small chug up and down by bending the knees and moving the ball up one inch and then down an inch from the targeted area.  Be sure to keep breathing as you roll out and take the time to stand still and notice the difference between the shoulders before you move onto the other side.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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