Yoga Tune Up® Blog


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 affect 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.

 

Resources

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!

Resources

1. “Why Ice Delays Recovery.” Dr. Gabe Mirkin on Health Fitness and Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2014. <http://drmirkin.com/fitness/why-ice-delays-recovery.html>.
2. “Sports Injuries- RICE: Why We Do Not Recommend It.” Dr. Ross Hauser on Caring Medical and Rehabilitation Services (2010). <http://www.caringmedical.com/symptoms/meatvsrice.asp>

 

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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.

jill-abdominal-massage

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 9

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.

1024px-Ballet_barre

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.

YouTube Preview Image

 

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Is Pain Just In Your Head?

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

What is pain?

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

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

How can the nervous system get it so wrong?

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

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

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

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

 

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Pacify a Troublesome Piriformis

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

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

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

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Piriformis – Your BFF or Frienemy From Behind?

By: | Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 | Comments 14

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.

before-after-car-stack

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 www.thehenryford.org)

The Original Ford Model T
(image courtesy of www.thehenryford.org)

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.

Trapezius_Gray409

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.

infraspinatus

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 oprah.com’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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You Are The Teres Minor To My Humerus

By: | Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Comments 14

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!

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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

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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 14

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

1.)  http://www.gustrength.com/muscles:digastric-location-actions-and-trigger-points

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Awake And Engage Your Pelvic Floor With Yoga Tune Up®

Some great Yoga Tune Up® poses to reconnect to your pubococcygeal muscles by awakening and engaging, as well as stretching and releasing them are:

Adductor slides—to contract the pelvic floor, along with the inner thighs.

Squat at the wall with arms up—this is a great way to put intentional pressure on the pelvic floor and strengthen it (this is also a great place to play with engaging and releasing the pubococcygeus and other pelvic floor muscles).

Half Happy Baby—this is a great way to create pull on the pelvic floor by extending one hip and bringing the other into deep flexion (shown in the first part of the video clip below):

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Most importantly, get on your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls! You can massage the pubococcygeus and the other pelvic floor muscles to bring circulation to them and gently release them. For instruction on how to do this gently and well, check out Jill’s webinar!

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To Kegel Or Not To Kegel

As a pregnant woman, prenatal yoga teacher, and birth doula, I spend a lot more time than most people thinking about pelvic floors. Imagine my disappointment when I started to scour the internet for more information about one of the pelvic floor muscles—the pubococcygeus—and found a few dry medical encyclopedia entries, a bunch of articles about Kegels, and not much else.

The pelvic floor benefits from all types of strengthening and stretching, not just Kegel exercises.

All men and women have the pubococcygeal muscles, often referred to as the PC muscle. They’re part of the three levator ani muscles, which, along with the coccygeus, make up that sling of muscles that are the pelvic floor and support the pelvic organs like a hammock. The pubococcygei are two muscles that originate at the posterior side of the pubic bone and insert at the back of the pelvis into the anococcygeal raphe (a rigid fibrous median) just in front of the coccyx; they wrap around either side of the urethral and anal sphincters, as well as around the vaginal sphincter in women. I’ll focus specifically on these muscles as they pertain to the female pelvic floor here, but it’s important to remember that they exist in males and can be equally tight or underused.

Pelvic floor muscles become a topic of much discussion for women particularly around childbirth. Many women are instructed to do Kegels (a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, specifically the pubococcygeal muscles), sometimes hundreds daily, in preparation for childbirth, in an effort to strengthen them. In fact, a much more apt preparation for childbirth would be to learn to relax these muscles on demand. Hypertonicity in the pelvic floor can actually impede the process of childbirth. Although many women have learned that they’ll need to actively engage these muscles in the pushing stage of delivery, in fact they need to learn how to let them release to let the baby out. Women who have a very lax pubococcygeus and be experiencing incontinence may indeed need to strengthen these muscles via this very concentrated contraction, but it’s not always a beneficial action to imprint into these muscles leading up to delivery.

Post-childbirth, it’s true that all the muscles of the pelvic floor may be overstretched, and it’s perhaps then that it makes sense to revisit the Kegel, to put that muscular sling back together so that it can adequately support the organs of the pelvis. However, as Katy Bowman points out in Jill’s recent pregnancy webinar, Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby: Dispelling Myths of Pre-Natal Exercise, Diet and Self-Care, it’s good to question why we need Kegels in the first place. Hundreds and thousands of years ago, women weren’t doing Kegels post-birth to put their pelvic floors back together, but they also weren’t sitting all day long, weakening their pubococcygeal muscles along with all the other muscles of the pelvic floor. Perhaps a better approach is to incorporate regular movement into our days both before and after childbirth to engage and stretch these tissues without assuming that isolated contractions of one small muscle can really create pelvic health.

Tune in on Friday for some Yoga Tune Up® exercises targeted for your pubococcygeal muscles!

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Try This Yoga Tune Up® Stretch For Your Forearm And Wrist

How do I take care of my flexor digitorum superficialis? So glad you asked! I use this stretch and the Therapy Balls for self-massage with my teams:

  • From table top, spin the shoulder into external rotation and continue that until the fingers are pointing toward your knees. Gently pressing more weight into the palms until you feel the stretch along the forearm. (See Jill’s demonstration of this in the video below – her version also stretches through the muscles of the palm).
  • Let’s get rolling: Use a Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball in one hand and using pressure, roll it from wrist to elbow on the inside part of your forearm. You may even notice a involuntary curling of the fingers when drawing the ball from wrist to elbow and a release/ extension of the fingers when dragging it from elbow to wrist.
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Glory Days – Don’t Let Them Pass Your Forearms By

By: | Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 | Comments 6

Whenever I hear The Boss’s song, Glory Days, I immediately start picturing my athlete yogis in my mind (perhaps not the most common reaction to a song, but it’s mine). Among them, there is a common thread: they all want to continue playing and keep the Glory Day reflections at bay.

While many traditional coaches focus on the bigger picture of the body, smaller yet extremely important muscles may be overlooked. The flexor digitorum superficialis, an extrinsic flexor muscle at the proximal interphalangeal joints of the second through fifth fingers is one of those. Wait – what does that mean? Take a moment to reflect how many movements you do where your fingers or wrist are flexing and extending in a given day. It’s a lot! Your flexor digitorum superficialis is the MVP in that movement. Read the rest of this blog post »



Liberate Your Lower Back With Boomerang Pose

I took up smoking, I mean sitting, when I entered grad school and my lower back was not happy. For the most part I am aware of my posture as I sit creating a healthy pelvic tilt and trying not to hunch over. However, as I recently discovered, sitting for long periods of time can create lower back pain even with good posture. With the hip flexors contracting, the QL works overtime to stabilize the lumbar spine. Adding insult to injury, the longer I sat, the more fatigued I became, inevitably allowing my upper spine to hunch over the keyboard, thus shifting my weight forward and putting even more stress on my QL.

The YTU pose boomerang has helped me find relief in my lower back. Since my QL overworks as it contracts to stabilize my lumbar spine, I use boomerang to stretch my QL and encourage greater blood flow into the area. Further, I find that adding breath awareness and igniting my tubular core increases the benefits tenfold. This pose is also beneficial for those who sit with less postural integrity and instead over stretch the QL. As boomerang stretches one side of the lower back it compresses the other and this compression facilitates muscle toning with increased circulation. Whether you need stretching or toning to achieve lower back health, boomerang delivers.

P.S. If you sit in an office and would rather not lie on the floor for boomerang, take it to the wall – MAGICAL!

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Sitting Is The New Smoking

As far as your QL is concerned, sitting really is the new smoking.

Considering the analogy “Sitting is the new smoking” the quadratus lumborum (QL) can be thought of as the ‘lungs’ of the lower back. Yes, I am suggesting that sitting negatively affects the QL just as smoking negatively affects the lungs and both can create dis-ease/disease in the body. The QL sits deep in the back waist, a flat sheet of muscle, one on each side, attaching to the posterior iliac crest and inserting at the lumbar vertebrae and the 12th rib. When bilaterally contracted the QL extends the lumbar spine and when one side is contracted it acts to laterally flex the spine or if the upper body is stabilized it will elevate one hip. The latter action gives the QL the nickname “hip hiker” this action lifts one side of the pelvis when stepping over a log or simply creating space for one leg to swing ahead of the other when walking. The QL plays an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine, an area that is highly susceptible to pain and discomfort. The strength and flexibility of these muscles is vital in maintaining a healthy spine.

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Posture For Pregnancy And Beyond

By: | Friday, February 21st, 2014 | Comments 10

At 25 weeks, my bump had not yet “popped.”

As I enter my eighth month of pregnancy, I am happy to report that I follow my own message and have had zero pain — well, except for when I dislocated my pinky toe during my 16th week! But even with an agonizingly painful toe, I managed to not create a compensation posture in my pelvis or back to make matters worse. I followed my own basic rules of posture and sprinkled in the wisdom of my peers and — knock on wood — the experiment is going great so far!

Standing posture

Let’s start with the perfect pregnancy posture for standing. This will help you avoid back pain now and other issues in the future:

1. Place feet hip-socket-width apart, toes pointed forward (like you’re wearing skis).

2. Keep your buttock muscles turned on 20 percent to stabilize your pelvis (and get a little lift to boot).

3. Angle the bottom of your ribcage down like a bony periscope targeting in on your pelvis (not thrusting forward or slouching backward).

4. Center your skull over your chest, with the back of your head pressing into an imaginary head-rest.

5. Your shoulders should not be floating forward or behind the ribcage (thus distorting the spine). Instead, keep them positioned directly under the ears and down.

29 weeks! My baby-moon in Cancun and Baby Carriage is on full display.

Believe it or not, standing well builds a lot of foundational strength in your body, and is the basis of all of your movement and exercise. As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, your posture follows you like a shadow, and you certainly don’t want to have a “creepy” shadow while you’re carrying precious cargo. Take your strong posture into whichever exercise practice you prefer and be mindful of staying connected to the relationship of your skull, torso, low back and pelvis to maintain optimal stability.

To be continued …

I will happily be sharing my full journey with you in later blogs, along with additional pregnancy tips that have kept me healthy, strong and centered throughout my pregnancy. But for now, I need to take a nap!

[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

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The Perfect Posture for a Pain-Free Pregnancy

Over my career I have worked with thousands of postpartum women who are chasing after the body they had pre-pregnancy. After one, two or several kids, a laundry list of body complaints plagues them:

  • Diastasis recti – a soft-tissue split that occurs down the middle of the rectus and does not reconnect
  • Clicking or painful SI (sacro-iliac) joints
  • Peeing while sneezing, aka, “Snissing”
  • Low back pain
  • A feeling of disconnect from the core

This bundle of joy can cause a bundle of agony if you don’t have correct posture!

This is just a short list of some of the common after-effects of child-bearing. I know from my students’ own stories that my Yoga Tune Up® approach has helped them to awaken their bodies, heal birth traumas and bring a greater sense of body peace than they had pre-pregnancy. I developed my approach through years of experimentation, study and listening to my students and experts. But I had not yet been through the rite of passage of pregnancy myself. Until now. I am expecting in late February!

Your Inner Baby Carriage

I set out to find these answers myself last November, and created a two-day webinar entitled Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby: Dispelling Myths of Pre-Natal Exercise, Diet and Self-Care on CreativeLive. Being pregnant, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my own knowledge along with that of my favorite pre- and post-natal movement educators with expertise on the subject:

  • Dr Kelly Starrett DPT and his wife Juliet, founders of Moblitywod
  • Katy Bowman, author, biomechanic and creator of Aligned and Well
  • Esther Gokhale, author, back pain specialist and creator of the Gokhale Method
  • Dr. Eden Fromberg, osteopathic Obstetrics/Gynecologist and owner ofLila Yoga NYC
  • Sarah Fragoso, author and creator of EveryDay Paleo

My lovely in-studio audience at varying stages of expecting and post-pregnancy.

This team of experts and myself each presented their area of expertise over a jaw-dropping 10 hours of informative content. I was thrilled to be able to share pain-erasing self-massage strategies using my Yoga Tune Up® Balls. I also shared hip and pelvic exercises for women at every stage of gestation or recovery. I was also proud to share an anatomy lecture on “The Inner Baby Carriage,” which included an array of breathing strategies such as a variation on the Diaphragm Vacuum that helps to promote a responsively versatile torso and core for better breath. The secret ingredient that each of these experts reiterated is: how you hold yourself now — during your pregnancy — dramatically affects the state of your post-baby body. They all emphasized standing well, sitting well, sleeping well (and of course feeding well) during pregnancy to minimize the challenge of carrying 25-50 extra pounds as baby grows larger and changes your body’s carriage. Your inner baby carriage will dictate much of your resiliency when you start carrying your baby outside of your body for the next nine months. :)

Check back in for Friday’s post for all my tips on your perfect pregnancy posture!

[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

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So You’ve Been Ignoring Your Gluteus Medius

Now that you have a new found knowledge of just how important your gluteus medius is in the health of your low back, knees and breath, you want to awaken the strength of this middle sibling of the gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus.

Practicing Yoga Tune Up® Prasarita Lunges and putting emphasis on the pushing out to move from side to side will fire up your gluteus medius.

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Also, you can work on your balance and range of motion at the hip joint by incorporating Yoga Tune Up® Moonrises.  Try completing 20-25 reps on one side before switching sides.

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Gluteus Medius – Your Posterior’s Unsung Hero

The gluteus medius is the Jan Brady of the gluteals.  I’m sure if it could talk it would say “Maximus, maximus, maximus” – everyone is only concerned about sculpting a perfectly shaped J.Lo bottom. But strengthening the gluteus medius can stabilize the hip in walking and balancing, and help maintain healthy knees.

Wake up your gluteus medius to stabilize your hip in gait!

The action of the gluteus medius is to abduct the hip, the anterior fibers flex and medially rotate the hip, while the posterior fibers extend and laterally rotate the hip.  Weakness in the gluteus medius is caused by poor posture and under use of the muscles during walking and running. Many other muscles, including the Quadratus Lumborum, will begin to take over for the action of the gluteus medius, resulting in low back pain and and an unstable pelvis. Read the rest of this blog post »



YTU Calf Stretch To Lengthen The Gastroc

How do you know if your gastrocnemius needs some attention? The short story: because we all neglect this muscle. The gastroc is one of the most-used muscles in the body, and it tends to be a mess of adhesion and tightness.

Yoga Tune Up® Calf Stretch is a closed chain static stretch for your posterior chain that will lengthen your gastrocnemius muscle. Hold this pose until you feel change in the length of the gastroc. Remember that this muscle is used every time we take a step and lift up onto our toes or push the gas pedal. It’s a hard worker, and it may take some time in Calf Stretch to get it to unwind and lengthen. Don’t rush the process.

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Take Care of Tight Gastrocs With An Alpha Therapy Ball

The gastrocnemius has two short heads that extend halfway down the leg where they taper into the calcaneal tendon. The gastrocs give your lower legs their characteristic teardrop shapeliness. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscle form the “triceps surae,” but while the soleus is typically problem-free, the gastrocnemius is often an uncomfortable mess of adhesion.

The gastrocnemius is a total workhorse. It crosses two joints, the knee and the ankle; it originates at the posterior surfaces of the condyles of the femur and inserts at the calcaneus via the calcaneal tendon. Its actions are to flex the knee and plantar flex the ankle. Read the rest of this blog post »



Neck Strain Need Not Make Your Winter Blue

Balancing the weight of the head over the spine is no small task – especially when we are bulked up around the neck in cold weather wear. Our forward pulling world creates an intense drive to lead with the chin. And maybe take a few on the chin – in the form of overtaxed neck and upper back muscles.

One particularly susceptible muscle for this type of strain is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). This big neck muscle is easy to see in a mirror.  With your head atop your spine, rotate your head to one side. The SCM will pop out in the form of a diagonal speed bump along the opposite side of your neck. With the chin thrust forward, the SCM cannot properly contract and rotate the head and, as this becomes the typical range of motion, this big powerful muscle becomes shortened, tight and tacked down.

One of the best tools to combat this shortening is to boost your proprioception with Yoga Tune Up® strengthening and stretching as in the video below, “When No Means Yes.” Practicing this work reeducates the neck muscles to function in a balanced fashion and imprints authentic strength and stretch in the SCM, allowing for the remaining musculature of the neck to follow suit and equalize the weight of the head over the spine. This fine tunes the stability of the neck, tames the forward chin and balances the impact of cold weather wear that crowds that area. Bundle up with YTU intelligence for effective posture and a happy healthy winter is sure to follow.

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Winter Weather Wear Can Strain the Neck!

By: | Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 | Comments 17

Winter has plowed its way into the Northeast and cold weather wear is out in full force. Heavy scarves around necks, coats with big collars and slouchy beanies hanging off heads is the order of business for frigid days. With all that extra weight at the back of the head and neck, the muscles of the neck are holding on for dear life against the pull of gravity and the dreaded forward head posture.

The ropey SCM can take on added weight during winter months.

As the puff and bulk of cold weather wear pushes the head forward, the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) becomes shortened and tight. This ropey muscle of the lateral neck inserts at the mastoid process of the temporal bone, as well as the lateral portion of the superior nuchal line of the occiput. It originates at two separate points – the top of the manubrium for the sternal head and the medial one third of the clavicle for the clavicular head.  The SCM cannot do its jobs – rotating the head, laterally flexing the head and bilaterally flexing the neck – when it is stressed in this way, so it must recruit the effort of the typically overtaxed upper fibers of the trapezius, turning the head from the back of the neck and compounding the tension that lives there.

The neck functions best when it works in balance and a counteracting muscle to the SCM is the splenius capitis located at the back of the neck inferior to the trapezius. The muscle shares an attachment with the SCM at the mastoid process and bilaterally extends the neck. When working in concert with the strong balanced action of the SCM, the splenius capitis engagement equalizes the neck and holds the head over the spine, instead of jutting the chin out in front of the body. When working well, this arrangement reminds me of a perfectly balanced teepee, where no single support is overwhelmed, as the poles (or muscles, in this case) share the weight of the structure. But, when out of poise, due to hulking outerwear or technology overload, these muscles become strained, weak, tired and can’t function in the way they are intended to, stressing the neck and upper back.

What is a bundled up, posture-conscious human of the Northeast to do? YTU, of course! Practicing Blockhead is a terrific way to reeducate the neck into a balanced state, strengthening the muscles needed to align the head over the spine, as well as lengthening the posterior neck muscles. Using Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to skin roll the whole SCM will loosen tension there and allow the tacked down fascia to ease its grip and let the muscle do its job. The Trapezius Tamer Therapy Ball roll out will ease habitual pressure there and reach deeper to target the splenius capitis, fine tuning the balanced action needed to support the weight of the head over the spine. After practicing these, a mindful triangle pose with an upward gaze can assist in embracing the rotation of the head with the SCM while keeping the back plane of the head aligned with the back plane of the upper body, relishing the poise of the neck. These actions will imprint upon the muscles to hold stability in the neck, even in the face of cold weather wear that crowds that area. Bundle up with YTU intelligence to support functional posture and a healthy, happy winter is sure to follow.

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Multiple Sclerosis and Asymmetry

If you talk with someone who lives with MS about their symptoms, you’ll hear them say, “My MS is ______ sided.” MS symptoms are often more predominant on one side than the other. My MS is right-sided, so as a result the left side compensates. For me, right-sided leg spasms lead to left-sided hip pain. Asymmetrical Uttanasana is one of my favorite poses.  The asymmetry provides for a very deep stretch in the glutes and hamstrings that in my case pacifies the spasms in my quadriceps. This pose also illustrates the vast difference of flexibility between one side and the other, giving me guidance on where to go next in my practice. See the pose below, or in the Quick Fix for Hips video.

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Yoga Tune Up® And Multiple Sclerosis: What You Need To Know

By: | Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 | Comments 19

I am a yoga teacher of 18 plus years. I now teach Yoga Tune Up®. I also have MS, a somewhat hairy neurological disease. I’ll bore you with the gory details of how MS affects me some other time. Let’s just say my 17 years with MS vacillates between being a rocky road and a sweet smooth ride. Because of the unpredictable nature of the disease, there is always the waiting for the proverbial foot drop factor. (Note: foot drop is a real MS symptom.) Enter Yoga Tune Up®.

My first Yoga Tune Up® class made me convert, after an MS symptom that had been screaming loudly for over year disappeared as a result of a simple ball rolling technique. It has not returned.  When I realized the next morning that my thigh was a part of my body again I contacted the instructor, met her for coffee and asked her when she would be teaching this stuff to other teachers? I did my Level I Certification eight months later. Read the rest of this blog post »



Down Dog: Friend or Foe?

Downward facing dog is one of the most commonly taught poses in yoga class, but is it a good idea for your shoulders? One key element is the need to successfully keep your shoulders in external rotation and also pronate the forearm at the same time. Watch the video below to understand this important concept, and learn a good Down Dog alternative:

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Create A Practice That Serves Your Body

By: | Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 | Comments 30

I recently sent a link to an article about yoga injuries to a long-term client that I was currently seeing for a shoulder injury. My client’s response was brief – that although the article was interesting, she did not associate her injury with yoga. I felt compelled to respond to address this misconception of separating out cause and effect in movement and how we need to look at the integrated total effects of all our movements and how they are impacting our bodies. Here’s what I wrote to her:

I think there is great worth in understanding the prevailing trends of our yoga craft as they affect how and what we end up learning and consequently practicing more, rather than less, of. For example, the fact that head and shoulder stand are taught as the King and Queen of Poses or that Down dog is labeled a ‘basic’ beginner pose. A not-so fun newer trend development is the amount of shoulder and neck injuries from these ‘great; poses.  It begs the question: do we practice poses or just trends in poses? (Check out Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body for more on this.) Read the rest of this blog post »



Take Care of Your Iliacus!

This YTU Half Happy Baby series will stretch the iliacus of the thigh that is on the floor (not the lifted leg). You will get the most out the stretch from the first part of the movement when you press the knee towards the floor. For an even deeper iliacus stretch, keep the other leg straight on the floor without letting the thigh pop up.

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And many of the leg lifts and core exercises in the Coregeous DVD will absolutely get your iliacus toned and strong:

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Iliacus Can’t Get No Respect

By: | Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 | Comments 27

If the iliacus could speak, I think it would say something like this:

“Why does the psoas major get all the attention?

Really, did I do something wrong? Because last time I checked, I’m a muscle too. Sure, I may not have as many attachments as the psoas and yeah, I only connect the pelvis to the lesser trochanter. But did you check out the size of my attachment on the ilium? That’s substantial.

Don’t know what happened, but first we were inseparable. Anatomists lumped us together and actually referred to us as the iliopsoas (some still do) because we share a tendon that attaches to the femur. And then we got separated and now the psoas gets all the attention. All I hear about is psoas, psoas, psoas.

Pain in your hip? must be the psoas! One leg is longer than the other? Must be the psoas! Lateral bend in the spine? Must be the psoas! I mean look at me, I am a sizable muscle that packs a lot of power! And I have one function which makes me stronger (muscles with more than one function and multiple attachments tend to be weaker). I can’t get no respect!”

That’s what I think the iliacus would say. And for some reason I think it would say it with a Jersey accent.

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Sankalpa: Your Inner Resolve

The first day of Level 1 Teacher Training opens with Jill talking about sankalpa and I think, “ugh… she’s gonna ask me to set my intention.” I resist rolling my eyes back and force my mind to stay present. I’ve never understood “setting your intentions” when asked to by a yoga teacher at the beginning of class. No one has ever explained the meaning behind that except for “what do you want from your practice today or why are you here?” Well duh! I’m here to move my body and work out some kinks, breathe a little and sweat a bit.

However, Jill went on to explain that sankalpa is a resolve, more than a New Year’s resolution or an intention. I kept listening as she gave examples and guided us through finding our own sankalpa.

Jill asked us these questions:

1)  Upon passing, what 3 things would you want others to say about you?

2)  Upon passing, what 3 things would you have had accomplished?

3)  Currently, what self-imposed (personal or physical) limitations prevent you from achieving 
those accomplishments?

4)  How can you specifically relieve those limitations?

5)  Are you open to believing that these personal limitations can be removed? Read the rest of this blog post »



A Sassy Sartorius, Yoga Tune Up® Style

In this Yoga Tune Up® Half Happy Baby Minivini pose, the sartorius is highlighted as both the agonist (the worker) and the antagonist (the stretcher).  The happy baby leg is dynamically activating the sartorius when the hip is externally rotated, abducted and both the hip and knee are flexed. The leg that is extended on the floor stretches the sartorius passively.  Try this Half Happy Baby Minivini below:

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This pose can be done on its own, or can be a warm up for other Yoga Tune Up® poses where the sartorius is highlighted. In Splat Frog with Internal Rotation, simply being in frog highlights the sartorius, and internally rotating the flexed knee further activates this muscle. Another pose, Setu Bandha (Bridge) creates a yummy release for the sartorius by posteriorly tilting the pelvis and contracting the buttocks.

This hip extension is such a lovely treat for the heavy flexing sartorius! For a more detailed sequence, try the Quick Fix for Hips Video.

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Prop Your Seat For Your Sartorius

By: | Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 | Comments 5

A few years back I was in India for an entire month to do my 200 hour teacher training. I meditated daily without any extra support from props or walls (I was in a palapa), and I had lectures all afternoon, again without props or walls.  Needless to say, I started to hurt everywhere, but the majority of pain was felt on the medial side of my knee.  At the time I had no idea why. All I knew that the pain “magically” disappeared when I left India. After some self study and research I came to the conclusion that I had an angry sartorius. Here’s why: Read the rest of this blog post »



Make Therapy Ball Rolling A Daily Practice

My daily Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball routine always includes a roll out for the upper back. My day involves driving in the car, teaching, and sitting (or standing) at my desk. All activities are in front of me, which makes it very tempting to slouch! My upper back tends to be very tight and knotty, as it is with many people who also drive or work at a computer all day. A quick rub down for the upper back will helps to refresh and rehydrate these overworked muscles.

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Soothing Stress with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls

Since my first roll on Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls, I knew I ‘kneaded’ it. My soft tissues were rock solid from years of poor posture and a lack of awareness. The only time I had decent posture was while sitting at the piano – the rest of the time I was a schlumpy mess. I attempted to hold my upright piano posture at my desk, but my underused back muscles only cried “uncle” as we slumped to defeat. I was an athlete growing up, and while very active, stretching was not part of my repertoire. So, when I placed the YTU Therapy Ball into my upper trapezius, the ensuing sensation that traveled up the side of my neck and face was a clear wake up call that something needed to change. I was tired of sitting at my desk with neck pain, shoulder pain, and recurring tension headaches.

Rolling on the YTU Therapy Balls can bring great stress reduction throughout your body.

While I continue to roll daily, what I didn’t realize was that the YTU Therapy Balls do more than just fluff and rehydrate my knotty tissue. Since that fateful introduction, I diligently roll, rub, and release muscles daily from head to toe.

What I also gained, was only realized when I did not roll. In addition to rehydrating tissue, nourishing cells, and unwinding kinky fascias, the YTU Therapy Balls’ special grip also stimulates a nerve ending that lies within your superficial fascia. Ruffini endings are specialized nerve endings found in the deepest portion of superficial fascia (also known as membranous fascia) that help to down regulate the nervous system. You know how the grippiness of the balls grabs on to many layers of tissue and piles them up as you wiggle and roll? This action directly stimulates the Ruffini endings as they respond best to slow deep force at an oblique angle (grip and grab!). This is also one explanation of why you feel so relaxed when you are done rolling.

The magic of the Ruffini endings was fully realized for me after an only slightly busier than normal week. I was left depleted –wanting noting more than to curl up in bed and sleep. This was very unusual for me, and I started to think about what was different about this week from the others. And then, it hit me – rolling. I had been so busy all week that I had neglected my regular therapy ball practice.

Unless you live in a deserted place, stress is inevitable for most of us. Even the mundane daily tasks can be incredibly taxing on your nervous system. Take driving for example – you strap yourself in to a 3,500 lb tin can and barrel yourself at 65 mph around other tin cans. I may be a technologically savvy woman, but my nervous system is still operating at dawn of homosapiens levels. Even if it’s not conscious, your nervous system is constantly running under some level of stress.

Your mind, body, and nervous system need to unwind from their daily stressors. While others may choose chemicals or distractions to help unwind, I needed a more hands-on approach, and YTU Therapy Balls have provided me just that. After a good rolling session, I was ready to go. The following Monday seemed a breeze – even though my workload was no less.

What better way to unwind and recharge your nervous system than with the completely portable Therapy Balls? They are my go-to stress reducer, and are always right there when I knead them.

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Confronting the Q-angle Quandary

In Wednesday’s blog, we reviewed the anatomical elements of the hip to knee Q-angle.  Today, by working with each of the components within an unfavorable valgus knee/ Q-angle pattern, we can begin to tame the ‘chicken-egg’ assault on lower body tissues.  Use of Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls helps to release muscle fiber micro-spams (trigger points) that cause inhibition of optimal strength production in affected muscles.  These trigger points contribute to uneven, unbalanced forces around the joints; in this case particularly hip and knee.   By combining Therapy Ball rolling with Yoga Tune Up® corrective exercise techniques, healthy tissues can be mobilized and retrained to enjoy proper anatomical directions of movement.  This science-based approach to ‘pre-habilitation’ aims to not only relieve current discomfort, but especially, to avoid excessive wear of affected areas or future injury.

Start with Therapy Ball massage techniques to relax taut tissues.  Targeted areas include:  quadriceps tendon above the kneecap (patella), inner thigh muscles (adductors); and on the lateral side of hip and thigh, the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and iliotibial (IT) bands.   Give mindful attention to the inferior, anterior edge of the IT band (above and outside of knee) from where it infamously adheres to the vastus lateralis muscle.  Since excessive medial (internal) hip rotation results in overuse of the adductor muscles and often weak hip abductors, the Leg Stretch series, dynamic Prasarita Lunges and Half Happy Baby Minivini are all effective techniques to bring equilibrium and strength to the lower body alignment. The kinetic chain reaches all the way to/from the feet, so faulty lower leg mechanics do, indeed, contribute to Valgus knee and Q-angle issues.   Dysfunctional lower leg mechanics are also related to excessive foot pronation and often a measure of arch collapse, so Yoga Tune Up® self-massage and stretches for feet and lower legs are essential to address this pattern.

Yoga Tune Up® DVDs offer many targeted exercises to address these areas, especially Quick Fix Rx KneeHab or the customized At Home Series.  Below is a sample of Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball work for the lower leg peroneal muscles:

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Q-angle, Patella and Quads, Oh My!

By: | Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 | Comments 26

Recently several new students have presented with subtle, and more pronounced, signs of valgus knee. It is especially noticeable when doing any form of squatting or a dancer’s plié, where the arch appears to collapse and the knees fall inward creating what is commonly known as ‘knock knees.’ Naturally, this topic has become an interesting part of current reading materials and an emphasis in class formats recently. Within the scientific journal articles, it appears that the ‘jury is still out’ on a specific cause of valgus knee. Trainers have long attributed this dysfunction to weak gluteal muscles, overactive adductor muscles of the hip, and/or pronation of the foot; but recently, imbalances in lower leg muscles have also been studied with interest.

In an effort to understand the basic knee pain that students have reported, this investigation began with general look at the powerful quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh. The four muscles are formally known as the quadriceps femoris group. They include the rectus femoris superficial to the vastus intermedius, centered along the femur bone; with the vastus medialis running along the anterior, inner side of the femur, and the vastus lateralis along the outside of the femur. While three quadriceps muscles originate from high on the femur bone, the origin of the rectus femoris attaches on the anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS), low on the hip bone where it assists in hip flexion. All four quadriceps work as the powerful extensors of knee. The distal portions of all four muscles join into one important tendon. The tendon attaches to the sides and top of the patella, which then becomes the patellar ligament and attaches to the tibia (lower leg bone). The forces of the quadriceps muscles pull at the patella (or kneecap) and it slides in its ‘groove’ or ‘track,’ during movement at the knee. Read the rest of this blog post »



Get Your Trapezius In Tune!

The upper trapezius elevates the shoulder while the lower trapezius depresses the shoulder, making them opposing muscle groups. However, they both also upwardly rotate the scapula, making them synergists too.  We do many things throughout the day that elevate our shoulders, such as hunching over a desk or carrying a heavy bag.  This can lead to dominance in the upper trapezius. When hunched shoulders become a normal posture, this can lead to abnormal movement of the scapula (scapular dyskinesis).

Dan Pope from Fitness Pain Free gives a great description of how the upper and lower trapezius work together and how imbalance in strength between these two can lead to shoulder impingement:

“Patients with impingement had on average greater recruitment of the upper trapezius and less recruitment of the lower trapezius when raising their arms overhead…  this upper trapezius dominance can cause hiking or shrugging of the shoulder during overhead movement and decrease the ability of the scapula to rotate normally. Taking a look at where the trapezius originates and inserts (attachment points to bone)  you can see that the upper trapezius will be responsible for elevating the scapula and rotating it upward as you elevate them arms overhead.  The lower trapezius will be responsible for keeping the shoulder blade stable and keeping it from excessively elevating.  The lower trapezius counterbalances the upper trapezius and allows the scapula to rotate normally.  Lastly, if the lower trapezius is not doing its job correctly then the upper trapezius will do more hiking/shrugging as opposed to rotating the scapula normally as you raise your arms overhead.”

Try this YTU Pose Shoulder Circles to help keep your trapezius balanced from top to bottom:

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Trapezius: Friend or Foe to Itself?

By: | Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 | Comments 13

The trapezius is a large diamond shaped muscle on your back that runs from the base of your skull, out to your shoulder, and down your thoracic spine.  This muscle is easy to palpate as it is the most superficial of your posterior muscles. We use our trapezius for movements such as shrugging, rowing, and reaching up overhead.

Because the trapezius has a broad range of actions, some of which oppose each other, this muscle is anatomically broken down into three parts: upper, middle, and lower.

The overworked trapezius can be its own best friend or worst enemy.

Upper Trapezius:

The upper muscle fibers of the trapezius originate from posterior aspects of the skull and neck:  superior nuchal line (medial third), occipital protuberance (external), and the ligamentum nuchae (posterior neck ligaments).  They insert onto the clavicle (lateral third). The upper trapezius extends, laterally flexes, and rotates the head and neck, along with elevating and upwardly rotating the scapula.  A muscle with similar action is the levator scapula.

Middle Trapezius:

The middle muscle fibers of the trapezius orginate from the spinous processes of C-7 through T-3.  They insert onto the acromion process and the spine of the scapula (superior). The middle trapezius adducts the scapula (shoulder retraction), stabilizes the scapula, and performs a small amount of upward rotation and elevation of the scapula. Muscles with a similar action are the rhomboids.

Lower Trapezius:

The origin sites for the lower muscle fibers of the trapezius are the T4 – T12 spinous processes.  These fibers then insert themselves onto the middle and inferior portion of scapular spine.  The lower trapezius depresses and upwardly rotates the scapula. It does adduct the scapula some as well. With the origin site on the thoracic spine, the lower trapezius can also act as a weak spinal extensor when the insertion site is fixed. A muscle with similar action is the serratus anterior.

I remember when I became intrigued by the trapezius muscle.  It was during my upper level anatomy course in college – Human Dissection.  The cadaver I was assigned to was a petite elderly lady.  During one of the first days of lab, my professor asked us to begin dissecting away the skin and adipose layers of the mid to upper region of the back to expose the trapezius muscle.  My lab partner and I went carefully to work at the lower regions of the thoracic spine.  While we were dissecting away the yellow adipose tissue we began to comment that the adipose tissue was looking a little bit odd, linear in appearance.  We continued to remove this tissue away expecting to find the lower trapezius muscle underneath.  It was a bit surprising to find rhomboid major and latissimus dorsi instead. What my partner and I soon learned was that the linear shaped adipose tissue we removed was actually the lower fibers of the trapezius muscle which had been transformed through a process called fatty infiltration. This elderly lady apparently had some type of degenerative disorder, such as severe kyphosis, that prevented her from being able to use her lower trapezius muscle to pull her shoulders down and back or upwardly rotate her scapula for overhead reaches. Because of her inability to contract these lower fibers, they were eventually converted into fat.  The upper muscle fibers of her trapezius were normal.

In my next post I’ll give you a Yoga Tune Up® pose to help keep your whole trapezius healthy and happy!

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Shoulder Supplement: Daily Dose of Movement to Erase Shoulder Pain

My husband’s shoulder started hurting him a few months ago. At first it would come and go. Then it started aching and burning at night, so much that he couldn’t sleep on his side. I suggested lots of exercises to help strengthen his shoulder (which, to my dismay, he did not practice), and he regularly used his Yoga Tune Up® Balls for self-massage, but he was still in pain.

His shoulder pain affected me too, as he tossed and turned at night, disturbing my sleep. His pain altered our nightly sleep ritual; he had lost the ability to lie facing me, holding my hand and quietly speaking to me until we drifted into sleep. Occasionally, he would take an over-the-counter pain reliever, but they didn’t provide a cure — they only gave him a temporary “reprieve.” I urged him to see one of my favorite LA-based physical therapists, and finally he relented. Read the rest of this blog post »



Strengthen Your Rhomboids To Rebalance Your Shoulders

Intense contraction of the rhomboids is essential for strengthening and Long Head of the Triceps does just that. By bringing the shoulder blades into full retraction on the upper back (watch for this cue at 0.34 in the video clip below), the alignment of this pose demands that the rhomboids overdo their job, therefore bringing strength to the weakened muscle while dramatically stretching the pectoral muscles and challenging the cervical spine to retain its arrangement over the pelvis in spite of the tendency to jut the chin forward. Finding an aware tadasana stance after the practice of this pose can illuminate the balance between strong rhomboids and open pectorals, as well as imprint proper posture. Practicing this YTU pose will inform the body of the strength and stretch available in these muscle pairs and, over time, will bring the upper back into balance, enabling the upper arms to reside alongside the body, the spine to roll its curves out naturally and the breath to reach down into an open and supple chest – lifting the physical and energetic body upward into correct and inspired posture.

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Don’t Let ‘Locked Long’ Rhomboids Drag You Down

Our world pulls us forward. It’s undeniable. The prevalence of desktop, laptop and handheld technology, coupled with the irrefutable demand of gravity, draws the posture of modern day man into a “locked long” position of the rhomboid muscles. When the rhomboids are long, the shoulders round and the chest collapses and, as a result, full steady breathing becomes limited, the natural upward energy of human beings is instead dragged down toward the earth and the vital connection to the core disappears as the pelvis is shoved forward flattening the lumbar curve. This full reversal of the natural state of the spinal column exhausts the entire body, physically and mentally.  Bringing these upper back muscles into a more engaged status is the solution and, with awareness, Yoga Tune Up® can get you there.

Read the rest of this blog post »



How To Get The Pop In Your Popliteus

By: | Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Comments 17

Who put the pop in your popliteus? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? Well, whoever it was, we are about to get it back. In my last article we discovered a very intricate muscle called the popliteus that originates from the outside of the bottom of the thigh, lateral femur, and fans out the the inside of the lower leg bone, the tibia.

This muscle has the very important function of keeping the femur connected to the tibia when in flexion and also controlling medial rotation. If the popliteus is not functioning correctly, or it is weak, it can manifest as general knee or cartilage pain. Because the popliteus holds the two bones together it controls the smoothness of the patella tractioning directly over the joint. If the tibia is not in alignment with the femur it can pull the patella off to the lateral side causing issues such as patellar tendonitis, which is felt behind the knee.

The popliteus will draw the patellar tendon into alignment by rotating the tibial tuberosity to line up with the femur bone. This is why strengthening the popliteus is important for the health of your knee joint and its many functions.

How to strengthen your popliteus?

Try these Yoga Tune Up® poses to target the muscle and help you get back on the dance floor!

Sqaut with Arms Up: work towards parallel feet and keep the knee tracking over the ankles. You can activate the muscle by trying to energetically screw drive the heels laterally away from each other.

Shin Jive: focus on the internal rotation of the shin to activate the popliteus muscle as you shin jive your way to better knee health.

Splat Frog with Internal Rotation: this pose focuses deeply on the internal rotation of the hip, but with the knee bent there is also opportunity to work the external rotation in the knee to strengthen the popliteus and its control over the patellar tendon alignment.

Prasarita Lunges: use the pushing of the opposite heel away from you to sway your body from side to side. This action of the foot highlights the energetic medial rotation of the active leg and fire up and strengthen the popliteus.

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With these great excercises you’ll be hopping, jiving and twisting again, just like you did last summer! Enjoy!

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The Mashed Potato Popliteus

By: | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 | Comments 54

I can see it now: you just won the official twist off on the dance floor at your Aunt Susan’s third wedding reception. She always said third time’s a charm and you were determined to prove your dedication to the celebration by showing all the guests your slick synovial moves. So there you are, ready to pop a calcaneus for your Dee Dee Sharp showdown, when all of a sudden a mysterious pain at the back of your popliteal fossa stopped you in your potato smashing tracks!

Well, it’s happened to the best of us, my friend. You knew you had to take a moment to sit this one out between asthmatic Cousin Jimmy and arthritic Grandpa Joe to palpate the reasons of potato smashing stress. Here’s what you found: Read the rest of this blog post »



For Stiff Ankles, Try Some Pin And Spin

The inspiration for this pose came from watching Dr. Kelly Starrett’s Mobility WOD Bone Saw video. Ankle Churning helped with mobility, but I wanted another level of release especially using the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls. As you watch, please excuse my posterior! I wanted to show the movement in close up so you can replicate it at home.

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Are You Running On Shot Shocks?

As a runner, pain just seems to be given. I recovered from a serious illness last year and got right back into my running routine. It felt good after being shut-in for so long, but pain quickly got the better of me. My ankles were stiff and my arches were in pain. Was it my shoes? (always the runner’s first question). I bought new shoes that seemed to help a little bit, but my ankles were still stiff (crackingly stiff, if you know what I mean).

We’re so busy in the running world concentrating on knees, IT bands, and hamstrings.  What about our feet and ankles? Let’s start by breaking down the movement of our feet and ankles during the running gait.

Picking the foot up, regardless of the height of your kick, requires plantar flexion. Plantar flexion puts the foot and ankle into a ballet point. The beginning of this flexion propels us to move. Plantar flexion engages gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, and peroneus.  Yes, the beautiful calf muscles are getting quite a task here. Read the rest of this blog post »



Let Leg Stretch #2 Help Your Hamstrings

When I first started practicing yoga, I was a hot mess in Triangle Pose. I thought that if I touched the floor with my hand, I was achieving the best possible version of the pose. I watched everyone around me placing their hand to the floor and tried to imitate their action without any awareness of my body in space and what I was doing with it. It took some time for me to understand and feel it in my body when following cues from the instructor. Once I realized that I had tight hamstrings, I knew that Triangle Pose would be a challenge for me. I heard horror stories of people pulling their hamstrings in class and lived in constant fear of doing the same.  I forced myself to be aware of my alignment every time we approached it in class, consciously setting myself up in order to feel the stretch in my hamstrings without hurting myself.  Triangle Pose is now one of my favorite poses and when a teacher skips it in a Vinyasa class, I miss it.

Leg Stretch #2 changes the orientation of Triangle Pose, letting you feel it differently in your body.  The action of the hip lowering down to the floor as you stretch your leg off to the side mimics Triangle Pose in the standing position.  Check out Jill Miller’s video below!

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Dear Hamstrings, Why Must You Be So Tight?

By: | Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 | Comments 23

I love practicing yoga. I love strengthening and lengthening my muscles feeling an overall transformation every time I step off of my mat, and into my day. I do however, have moments where I wish my heels would drop further to the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog), or that it would be simple to get into Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (hand to big toe pose) with no problem. I know I am not alone over here in hamstring land, so I would like to emphasize the importance of treading lightly when it comes to our hamstrings. Many of us have tight hamstrings whether it’s from years playing sports, running, or lack of stretching. If our hamstrings are underused or overstretched, the muscle could tear easily during our yoga practice, causing a long journey of recovery.

Read the rest of this blog post »



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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