Yoga Tune Up® Blog

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

You Are The Teres Minor To My Humerus

By: | Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Comments 6

Most of us have heard of the term rotator cuff before, but the truth is, there’s no actual cuff in any region of the shoulder.  The “rotator cuff” is a group of four muscles that includes the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.  Teres minor, the smallest of the muscles, is the junior co-worker to the infraspinatus and they can be found right next to each other.  The teres minor originates on the upper two-thirds of the lateral edge of the dorsal surface of the scapula and inserts to the back of the greater tubercle of humerus – the capsule of the shoulder joint.

Your teres minor can be surprisingly tight and inhibiting healthy shoulder range of motion.

Your teres minor can be surprisingly tight and inhibiting healthy shoulder range of motion.

The teres minor and the infraspinatus are king and queen of keeping the shoulder joint from upward dislocation and facilitate external rotation of the humerus.  As someone who often had dislocated shoulders growing up and continually deals with tender deltoids I wasn’t surprised when a recent body worker (masseuse) was flabbergasted by the amount of trigger points located in my teres minors.  The muscle is petite in size and isn’t at the top of our list of distressed muscles that need our attention.  With that said, trigger points in the devious muscle can be masked as shoulder bursitis, the symptom being deep pain in the shoulder, and can also make the deltoids feel sore.  As of recently, I’ve been treating my deltoid, but neglecting the source of the problem – the teres minor.

There is an upswing to all of this.  The teres minor is relatively easy to access and relieve with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.  It can also increase the flexion and external rotation of the shoulder joint once you release this cramped muscle, which can come in handy when you snuggle into that comfy sweatshirt from college, wrangle into that cute new jacket or grasp for the heavy pot that is stored on top of your refrigerator.  Get rolling!

Awaken The Diaphragm With YTU Bridge Lifts

While practicing Bridge Lifts with Jill in this video, focus on the coordination of the respiratory diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm. See if you can actively draw the pelvic diaphragm up as your hips release down to the ground at the end of your exhalation. Notice if you can deepen your breath, full inhalations and full exhalations, to strengthen, stretch and sync your diaphragms. Explore the relationship of the breath to the pelvic floor in other Yoga Tune Up® Poses, try Tubular Core, Tune Up Tadasana and Uddiyana Bandha.YouTube Preview Image

Save Your Scalenes With This YTU Pose

The Yoga Tune Up® pose When No Means Yes shows how to release the scalenes (and other rotators of the neck) by putting them on a PNF pattern. In this exercise, your left-side scalenes turn your head to the right. Then your right-side scalenes attempt to turn your head back to the left while your hand resists the action. You’ll feel the right side of your neck working. On release you’ll likely experience a lovely freed up, floaty sensation in your neck. Just don’t jut your head forward to watch Jill’s demo!

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Scalenes On The Scale: Taking The Measure Of Three Small Muscles

By: | Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Comments 12

Freeze. Are you jutting your head forward to read this text? If so, are you also slouching, a position that collapses the front of your rib cage and forces you into a belly breathing pattern? If so, your scalenes aren’t terribly happy with you.

Your scalenes may well be working overtime.

The scalenes are a group of three muscles, three on the right and three on the left. Their primary job is to move your head and neck but they also help with inhalation. Scalenus anterior originates on the transverse processes of C3-C6 and inserts on the first rib. Scalenus medius originates on the transverse processes of C2-C7 and inserts on the first rib behind its anterior brother. Scalenus posterior originates on the transverse processes of C5-C7 and inserts on the second rib.

As mentioned, the scalenes’ primary function is to move the head and neck. On unilateral contraction they laterally flex the cervical spine ipsilaterally and contralaterally rotate the cervical spine. In other words, the right scalenes tip your right ear toward your right shoulder and turn your head to the left. The scalenes get a workout in any yoga pose where the trunk inclines or curves to the side. So when you practice trikonasana, triangle pose, on the right side, your left scalenes prevent your head from drooping toward the floor and your right scalenes help turn your head to look at the ceiling. On bilateral contraction, the scalenes flex the cervical spine, bowing your chin into your chest. They function in this capacity, for example, when you initiate a traditional abdominal curl-up by nodding your chin toward your neck. Here’s what many anatomy books don’t mention: on bilateral contraction the anterior and medial scalenes also extend the cervical spine—not by tilting your head back, but by translating forward the vertebrae on which they originate, à la jutting your head forward to see a computer screen. Given the prevalence of computing in contemporary society, the scalenes work overtime in this role.

If the neck remains fixed, the scalenes help to elevate the first two ribs, making them accessory muscles of inhalation. Let’s say you’re slumped forward reading this article. (And I’ll confess that this is my posture as I write—exacerbated by the fact that my computer is sitting on a knee-height café table.) When you stoop, movement of your rib cage is constrained by the closure across the front of the chest. Because the big strong diaphragm now can’t effectively expand the rib cage on inhalation, the accessories—including the scalenes—start jumping up and down shouting, “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” like a bunch of excited eight-year-olds volunteering to bang the erasers. (Do classrooms still use chalkboards?) But since the scalenes’ insertion points on the rib cage are largely immobilized by your slouch, the scalenes here are about as effective in assisting respiration as the aforementioned eight-year-olds would be in trying to tug the chalkboard off the wall. In this scenario, the scalenes (and other accessories of inhalation) become hypertonic.

A lot of neck pain is breath- and posture-related. If a student complains of neck pain, it’s worth asking how they spend their day outside of the asana room. Activities like computing or cradling a phone between shoulder and ear ask a lot of the scalenes (and other neck muscles). Sometimes we can best serve students by attuning their awareness to how they hold themselves while going about their day-to-day activities. And, of course, honing sustained attentiveness is one of the primary skills to be derived from a yoga practice.

The Diaphragm: The Ripple Maker

The diaphragm is not an obscure muscle, but a central, totally essential muscle. The focus of this inquiry is the relationship of the diaphragm to the pelvic floor. The diaphragm moves in concert with the 16 muscles of the pelvic floor; like a piston moving up and down in unison. Thus the muscle which gives us oxygen, existing between the heart and lungs above and the liver, stomach, and intestines below, influences the tone of our pelvic floor and affects both elimination and reproduction.

Learn to ride the wave of the diaphragm and its connections to all its surrounding muscles.

Learn to ride the wave of the diaphragm and its connections to all its surrounding muscles.

How we breathe, the health of our diaphragm, affects how we connect to and tone our pelvic floor muscles. The dance of the diaphragm is that as the diaphragm lifts, relaxing, on an exhalation, the pelvic floor also lifts, but it lifts via a contraction. Similarly when we inhale we contract the diaphragm, pressing it down, and the pelvic floor also moves down passively, a release of the pelvic floor muscles.

As the top and bottom of our abdominal cylinder move, the abdominal or core muscles also are engaged. As we inhale, the transversus abdominis, multifidi, and pelvic floor release and broaden, and with the exhalation they all three contract; their activation is in sync with the pelvic floor muscles.

Thus we have a muscular barrel with the respiratory diaphragm above, the pelvic floor below, the abdominal muscles in the front and sides and the tails of the respiratory diaphragm connecting into the quadratus lumborum and psoas in the posterior.

Your breath is a powerful pathway into your pelvic floor, and abdominal cavity! The breath is far grosser than the subtle movement of the pelvic floor; practice toning your respiratory diaphragm and your powerful core muscles, you will feel your pelvic floor catch the ripples and benefit tremendously.

Try Asymmetrical Uttanasana To Release Your Iliocostalis

If you have noticed that your back pain or hip pain is now travelling north, you need to catch the myofascial train. First, hit up the superficial back line with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls. Start from the soles of your feet and then work the balls up the back of the calves, hamstrings, gluteals, lower back, quadratus lumborum, up along the erector spinae all the way up to the occipital bone at the base of the skull. This will help release any trigger points along the line.

Then start a simple sequence to stretch out the iliocostalis. Start on the floor with Leg Stretch #1 to release into the hamstrings and lower back, make sure you do both legs; then come to standing and do Boomerang at the wall. This will be awesome for fully lengthening the iliocostalis and other erectors, as well as providing an incredible stretch for the outer hip, quadratus lumborum and other superficial back muscles. Then finish it off with asymmetrical uttanasana (in the video below and as part of the Quick Fix for Hips video) to lengthen through the entire superficial back line. The twist will give you that extra bit of oh and ah as your iliocostalis lengthens and releases.

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Working with this simple sequence should start to not only alleviate the hip and lower back discomfort but also free up the calves, hamstrings and upper body to start creating healthier movement patterns for the legs and shoulder, in a balanced and integrated way.

Say Hello To Your Iliocostalis

The erector spinae play a significant role in the development of a stronger, healthier person. Your erector spinae are the layers of muscle that run along both sides of your spine from your lower back all the way to your head. To more clearly define what our “core” consists of, your spinal erectors are a major player in a strong core. They aid in extension of our back, lateral flexion, and rotation. Simply put, our spinal erectors help us keep our backs straight during a dead lift in weight training or hold us steady in handstand in yoga.

The iliocostalis is part of the erector spinae group of muscles along the spine.

The erector spinae group is made up of three main muscles, the spinalis most medially next to the spine, the longissimus in the center the main muscles of the erector group, and iliocostalis is located laterally. When these muscles are tight or overused you are likely to feel discomfort in your back, ilium or sacrum.

What I have found working with a number of students with chronic hip and lower back pain, is after a while, the corresponding shoulder also destabilizes. So I have been looking to find what is connecting it all together.

The main attachment of the iliocostalis is to the ilium and ribs. Because of its lateral position, a tight iliocostalis can hitch your hip up, or bring the ribcage down toward the hip. If this movement becomes a long term dysfunction, the contracted iliocostalis may start to cause issues further up the line showing up in the shoulder or even the neck.

The thoracolumbar fascia also covers the erector spinae. This webbing covers the deep muscles of the back of your torso. According to Tom Myers (author of Anatomy Trains) this makes up the superficial back line. Now this is where it gets interesting.

The superficial back line consists of a line of fascia that starts at the plantar surface (bottom) of the foot and then it travels up the entire posterior (back) side of the body, moving up over the head and finishes at the brow bone. The function of this line is to extend the body. It brings the body into an erect an upright position and gives it strength.

However, if there is dysfunction somewhere along the fascia line with the pelvis, it will have implications and referrals to other parts of the body such as your shoulder. Using Myers’ theory, we see the correlation between the hip and shoulder through the connecting tissues of the iliocostalis and fascia.

Take Care Of Deep Neck Muscles With Yoga Tune Up®

In addition to the trigger point massage I described in my last post, add to your self-care by using your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls on your mastoid process to massage the origin of the digastric. Then move the Therapy Balls to your upper trapezius to help melt away contributing factors.  Add in daily stretches such as the Yoga Tune Up® pose When No Means Yes (in the clip below):

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Other Yoga Tune Up® poses that will help keep your head on top of your spine and reduce postural contributing factors are Blockhead to engage the neck extensors, Pranic Bath to stretch the anterior deltoid and pectoralis minor, and 3x Cobra at the Wall to engage the posterior neck and back muscles, open up the thoracic spine and chest. In addition, Standing Diaphragm Based Backbend will further open your thoracic spine, countering the forward head position that we find ourselves in everyday when we sit at a computer or a car.

Don’t Be So Superficial When Looking For Neck Pain

Many times when dealing with pain, where we feel the pain is not actually the source of the pain. It can be referred pain from a neighboring muscle. Think you have pain from the sternocleidomastoid muscle? Look deeper; the posterior belly of the digastric muscle refers pain to the upper part of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the throat and under the chin.

The digastric originates from the mastoid process, deep to the infamous sternocleidomastoid, the splenius capitis and the longissimus capitis. It consists of two fleshy bellies properly called the posterior belly and anterior belly, which are united by an intermediate rounded tendon. This tendon passes through a tendinous pulley attached to the hyoid bone. The two bellies of the digastric muscle have different embryological origins, and are supplied by different cranial nerves. The action of the digastric muscle is to depress the mandible when the hyoid bone is fixed and to retract and elevate the hyoid bone when the mandible is fixed. If you were experiencing pain at the mastoid process, your logical conclusion would be the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Think again: it could be coming from the posterior belly of the digastric muscle. The upper portions of the sternocleidomastoid muscle will be tender to the touch a result of trigger points from the posterior belly of the digastric muscle. The digastric develops these trigger points due to the association of other mastication muscles resulting from issues such as craniomandibular syndrome, mouth breathing due to allergies and sinus issue. The digastric can also cause a deep ear pain described as being in front of or below the ear that is not caused by an ear infection. Other then pain, another indicator the digastric maybe your culprit is difficulty swallowing.

Below is a blurb and image regarding the trigger points of the digastric. “Start with your fingers in the soft part of the flesh underneath the jaw and in front of its corner, just anterior to the upper part of the sternocleidomastoid. From here run your fingers along the front border of the SCM up toward your earlobe, feeling for the very tender spots. Sustained pressure may reproduce the referred pain symptoms. (1)” To help release the posterior belly of the digastric you can use two fingers to press and massage just below the corner of the mandible (where the x is in the above drawing). Press gently inward toward the back of your throat. If you feel your tonsils, stay above them.

Check back on Friday for some Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball massage tips for your digastric!


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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