Yoga Tune Up® Blog

Best YTU Poses, Bar None, for your Barre Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tune Up Your Barre Class

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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Try This YTU Therapy Ball Technique for Neck Pain Relief

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

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

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Think Globally, Roll Locally For Your Body

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

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

photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio

photo credit: Samantha Jacoby Studio

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

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

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

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

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Coaching Your Nervous System and Stress to Curtail Chronic Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Pain Just In Your Head?

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

What is pain?

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

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

How can the nervous system get it so wrong?

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

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

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

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


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Pacify a Troublesome Piriformis

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

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

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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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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