Yoga Tune Up® Yoga Tune Up Blog

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The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscle Imbalances in Your Jaw and Neck Affect Digestion – Part Two: Swallowing

By: | Friday, September 23rd, 2016 | Comments 0

You know the feeling of having your omega-3 capsule stick to the walls of your esophagus and lodge there until you drink more water or eat a piece of breath to shove it down? An object’s progress from mouth to stomach is an intricate dance of body position and muscle function. Now that you have been able to ruminate about chewing (See Part One: Chewing if you missed it), it’s time to move on to swallowing and how our habitual head position changes the reflex.

Remember, the digestive tract is a tube of smooth muscle that travels from the mouth to anus. Movement through most of the canal is achieved through peristalsis, or wave-like contractions of the tube walls. Skeletal muscles assist in areas of the tract where food needs to be propelled, like swallowing in the throat.

The skeletal muscles of swallowing are the geniohyoid, mylohyoid, and stylohyoid, collectively known as the suprahyoids. They form a sling of muscles along the underside of the jaw. They span from the anterior, inner edge of the mandible to the hyoid bone. The hyoid bone is a horseshoe shaped bone that floats between the root of the tongue and cartilage of the voice box. Their roles are to depress the mandible and to elevate the hyoid and tongue for swallowing.

Normal swallowing is a complex voluntary and reflexive process involving the tongue and sequential contraction of these muscles. Swallowing happens in four stages. As we chew our food, our tongue moves it around our mouth so it can be crushed and mixed with saliva. This forms a bolus, or round bundle of food ready for swallowing. In the first phase of swallowing, the tongue pushes the food mash toward the back of our throat. This is followed by the propulsion of the food into the upper pharynx through further contraction of the tongue. In the third stage, the bolus is transported through the pharynx and esophageal sphincter by synchronized muscular contraction of the suprahyoid muscles. Their action pulls the hyoid bone and voice box up and forward to open the entrance to the esophagus.

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The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscle Imbalances in Your Jaw and Neck Affect Digestion – Part One: Chewing

Everybody Eats: my suggested title for the prequel of the bestselling children’s book Everybody Poops. While it may not have the excitement and allure of a fascinating tale of elimination, it would be an equally compelling story of the process of digestion. We rarely pause to consider the functions of the organs that process and assimilate our food into our bodies. Yet without our digestive system, our bodies would lack the essential nutrients to keep our beings healthy and vibrant. In this multi-part series, we will explore how our habitual body positioning can throw our digestive systems out of whack.

Everybody poops!

Unlike the Internet, your digestive system is just one long tube.

First, an introduction to your digestive system. Your alimentary canal is a single tube, compartmentalized by function, from your mouth to your anus, with sphincters that pace movement and auxiliary organs that provide juices and enzymes to breakdown food. Its smooth muscle functions outside of your conscious control. Food moves through the tract via peristalsis, or wave-like contractions; like pushing toothpaste out of the tube from the bottom. Skeletal muscles help with voluntary propulsions of food in the throat (swallowing) and rectum (defecation).

Structural imbalances of the muscles that aid in chewing and swallowing can botch proper digestion from the first bite. In part one and two of this series, we will explore the muscles of the jaw and neck that govern chewing and swallowing, what can go awry, and how it can be corrected. Let’s break down chewing.

How often do you consider the strength of your jaw muscles? It’s likely that you only notice your jaw muscles after hours of chewing gum on an airplane only to wake up the next day without being able to open your mouth. Or if you’ve ever experienced teeth grinding leading to headaches or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

The muscles that depress, or open, the jaw are the geniohyoid, mylohyoid, and stylohyoid, collectively know as the suprahyoids. You will learn more about this group of muscles in Part Two: Swallowing. The prime movers of jaw elevation, or closure, are the masseter and temporalis. Together, with the suprahyoids, their actions create chewing. We’ll start with the muscles that close and clench the jaw.

The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in the body relative to its size. It’s the primary muscle used for chewing. The combined power of the masseters is up to 150 lbs of biting force – or enough to bite off a finger. They are located on the sides of the mandible (jaw) between the zygomatic arches (cheekbones) and the sloping curves of the jaw just below the ears.

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Feeling Powerful: Connecting Your Brain to Your Serratus Anterior

Now that you’ve read Wednesday’s post and found this superpower muscle, how do you strengthen her so that she can support your shoulder? The serratus anterior is featured and awakened in the following Yoga Tune Up® poses: Side Plank, Dolphin Supinate, Plank with Serratus and Megaplank with Active Serratus.

What if you’re just getting started? I recommend doing Megaplank with Active Serratus against the wall. Using a full yogic breath, inhale and tubularize your core; then exhale actively and press both forearms and hands into the wall. As you do this you’ll protact both scapulae. Please cheer your serratus on as it responds. Read the rest of this blog post »

Feeling Powerful With Your Serratus Anterior

You’re in the restroom before a big job interview. You remember reading this blog and you decide to do Megaplank on the wall. You feel your serratus anterior responding, but you also begin to feel your anxiety decreasing and your sense of personal power on the rise. Read on to find your serratus anterior and feel like a superhero at your next job interview!

First, a little about me. At the age of 50, after about 22 years as an English professor, the constant keyboard work and talking on the telephone (remember those?) had just about wrecked the right side of my body. My right shoulder was frozen – or so I was told. I had alternating numbness and sharp shooting pains running down my arm. It was just about that time when I started yoga and began learning how to heal my body.

Around that time, I happened to meet an old-time baseball pitcher named Steve Rogers and I figured that nobody would know better than a baseball pitcher how to take care of a hurt shoulder. He looked down at me and with a soft, southern drawl, he said, “Sweetheart, you jus’ gotta rehab around that injury.” At that moment, I had no idea what he meant, but now, years later, my shoulder is strong, supple, and flexible and I learned a valuable lesson.

Get to know your serratus anterior to keep your scapula in place.

Get to know your serratus anterior to keep your scapula in place.

The key muscle that helped me to heal my shoulder – the serratus anterior – isn’t technically a shoulder muscle. But as I became aware of the role of this important, but under-appreciated muscle, I learned an important lesson of body mechanics. That is, when one muscle or set of muscles are injured or weak or overstretched they will recruit help from surrounding muscles and that is often the source of pain. On the other hand, when we strengthen postural muscles, such as the serratus anterior, we provide support for those weak or overstretched or injured muscles. Strengthening my serratus anterior allowed my weak and injured shoulder muscles to heal while offering much-needed support. Read the rest of this blog post »

Learning Through Novelty

Let’s look at two words that are often used interchangeably but mean different things: proprioception and kinesthesia. According to the American Heritage Science Dictionary, proprioception is “The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body.” In other words, it’s the awareness of body position and location.

Kinesthesia is the “Sense perception of movement, the muscular sense,” meaning an awareness of how movement is performed. Proprioception is the result of sensory input throughout the body (skin, fascia, muscle, joint receptors), which then sends feedback to the spinal cord and brain.

Kinesthesia, however, is more behavioral in origin and your body is more actively involved in assessing movement patterns and making adjustments. In yoga and other movement disciplines, we need both our proprioceptive sense and kinesthetic abilities to execute tasks. In addition, the brain exhibits neuroplasticity, meaning that changes in nerves and synapses can occur, new movement skills can be acquired at any time, and there is potential for new neural connections throughout life, regardless of age.

As humans, we are often creatures of habit, often preferring repetition and predictability to novelty, from driving the same way every day to work, to performing the same set of sequenced asanas in a class or at home. Although there is still incredible benefit to be reaped from repetition and movement, creativity is what drives the brain, kinesthetic sense, and motor learning. With every new set of movement concepts or skills, there is a timeline of growth and acquisition that can be seen in the psychological model of the conscious competence matrix, used in many different modalities of learning:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: The student does not know or understand how to do something, and therefore does not know their own incompetence.
  2. Conscious Incompetence: The student does not understand how to do something, but sees their own deficits and is eager to learn.
  3. Conscious Competence: Student understands how to do something but is refining the movement and skills needed.
  4. Unconscious competence: Student is able to execute the skill with minimal effort and ease.

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How a Psoas Major Massage Relieved my Low Back Discomfort: QL & Psoas Self Massage

By: | Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 | Comments 4

In my last post, I identified and located the quadratus lomborum (QL) and psoas major muscles, discussed why and how we can develop shortened or imbalanced psoas and practiced a few movements that can assist in countering its shortened length.

Years ago, I went to a massage therapist and shared with him my symptoms of persistent low-back discomfort. After his initial assessment he recommended a psoas massage, which I had never heard of before and, with hesitation, agreed. It was quite painful and he performed the release with me in a number of different positions, from laying on my back to curled up in child’s pose. Once the massage was complete my back soreness disappeared and it left me bewildered. Remember the QL and psoas share the same attachment points at the transverse processes of the vertebrae of the lumbar spine? My shortened psoas was affecting my QL and therefore sending referral discomfort to my low back. Read the rest of this blog post »

Jumping in Feet First

By: | Friday, September 2nd, 2016 | Comments 2

In the first part of this blog we explored the why of walking, and today we’ll dive into the how. While the entire body is involved in proper gait alignment and biomechanics , let’s start with the foundation: your feet and ankles. When speaking about the gait(walk) cycle we break it up into the swing phase and the stance phase. The swing phase occurs every time your foot leaves contact with the ground and is swinging through to take the next step.

Ankle and foot mobility is needed for good gait mechanics

Ankle and foot mobility is needed for good gait mechanics

The stance phase is divided up into three different parts: the heel strike, mid-stance, and finally the heel lift. A heel strike is the initial moment of shock absorption, and we begin to pronate (flattening of inner arch) to accommodate the different surfaces we might encounter. As we shift into mid stance the entire foot makes contact with the ground and we center our weight over the foot.

The final part of the stance phase is when we lift our heel and prepare to push off and enter the swing phase. During the heel lift the foot supinates (rolling outwards and the arch lifts) and acts as a propeller to spring you forward into your next step. Read the rest of this blog post »

September-October Upcoming Events

By: | Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | Comments 0
Category: Achilles Heel, Anatomy Training, Articles, Back Pain, Balance, Breathing, Calf Pain, Chronic Illness, Core, Events & Trainings, Face and Jaw, Fascia, Feet and Ankles, Flexibility, Forearms, General Health, Glutes, Groin, Hands & Wrists, Hips, Hips & Glutes, Injuries, insomnia, Jill Miller, Knees, Leg Cramps, Leg Stretches, Lower Back Pain, Meet the Teacher, Migraines, Mind Body & Spirit, Neck Pain, Osteoperosis, Pain Relief, Pelvic Floor, posture, Sciatic Pain, self massage, Strength, Teacher Training, Therapy Balls, upper back pain, Yoga Tune Up | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where ever you are in North America, there is a Yoga Tune Up® or Roll Model® Method training coming your way!

Level 1 Teacher Training

The Roll Model® Method – The Science of Rolling

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Walking: The Gait-Way to Vitality

By: | Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 | Comments 3

I’m going to describe two different people walking, visualize them, and then tell me (feel free to yell out the answer at your computer!) who is younger.

Person 1: head forward, rounded shoulders, and eyes to the ground, Person 1 takes tiny shuffling steps. You hear his feet scraping against the ground with each step, as he doesn’t have the balance, nor the movement in his ankles/feet, to suspend himself on one leg as the other swings forward. Much of his body is rigid as he goes along in this controlled fall forward.

Person 2: Person 2’s head is lifted and you can see the full length of her spine and power from her core. She moves as though propelling herself through space. There is movement through her hips, knees, ankles, and feet. You notice a buoyancy and confidence to her stride as she freely swings her arms and finds the moments of balance as she transfers her weight effortlessly from one foot to the other.

The human gait in action

The human gait in action

If your answer is the infamous YTU “It depends,” you are correct! While Person 1 is what we might visualize as the typical and eventual image as we age, it doesn’t have to be that way! Continuing, or returning to strong biomechanics of walking is not merely a display of your physical vitality; walking (often and well) can help to offset joint degeneration, breaking hips, circulation problems, mental decline, energy loss, and low moods, all of which we usually associate with aging. In this blog we’ll explore some of the physical and mental benefits of walking, and one aspect of what is needed for proper gait biomechanics.

The most obvious physical benefit to walking is the strengthening of your entire body. Swinging your arms and the cross-crawl pattern (opposite arm and leg move at the same time) helps to tone your arms and core muscles with each step. As you can see with the gait pattern in the first image the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, plantar flexors, intrinsic feet muscles, and more are all activated through walking. The joints, specifically the cartilage, are “fed” through movement, as synovial fluid (joint nutrition) and oxygen are pumped through the joint through the positive compression that comes with walking. When we don’t move enough it’s almost like starving our joints, and you know how cranky you get when you’re hungry? Well your joints do too. Read the rest of this blog post »

Self-Care Techniques for the Busty Crowd Part 3: Keep on Bustlin’

In my previous posts, I discussed some of the issues I have with pain and mobility as a result of my large bust, and went on to discuss a few methods I use to work on some of those issues. Today, I offer a few more of my favorites that help address the stagnant, burdensome way my upper body often feels.

You know that phrase “the weight of the world is on my shoulders?” Sometimes my own globes make me feel this in a very physical way. I’ve found that adding dynamic movements bring a renewed feeling of circulation into my shoulder girdle. I don’t look nearly as lovely and coordinated as Jill when I teach this, but the Pranic Bath is one of my favorites.

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