Yoga Tune Up® Blog

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

Trapezius, Our Stingray Superhero

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


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

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

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

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

Silence Screaming Scalenes with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls

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

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

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Angina? Maybe It’s Your Scalenes Screaming At You

Poor posture can stress out your scalenes.

Poor posture can stress out your scalenes.

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

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

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

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Tongue Exercises For Clean And Clear Speech

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

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

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Our Tongues Need A Tune Up Too!

By: | Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 | Comments 2

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

The muscles of the tongue share a fascial connection with

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

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

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

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Try This YTU Hip Flexor Stretch To Banish Quad Walking!

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

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Are You A Quad Walker?

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

Try This Yoga Tune Up® Pose For A Healthy Infraspinatus

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

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

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

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Get Your Infraspinatus to Work Smarter, Not Harder

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Trapezius Trigger Point Tamer

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

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

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

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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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