A few years ago I stumbled into a  life-changing yoga class taught by Matthew Coe. It wasn’t called Yoga Tune Up®, but toward the end of the class he whipped out a basket full of colorful little balls and told us to take a set. We started rolling-out our feet. I melted into the practice and was sold. I talked to him after class and asked if he would teach a ball rolling workshop— I was hungry for more! A few months later, he taught a Full Body Roll Out Workshop. I left amazed by the new knowledge I gained about my body and felt empowered to take better care of myself.

A few weeks after that Matthew taught the same workshop at Sutra— a studio we both taught at during that time. I took the workshop a second time, and again was floored. That’s when I decided I would take Yoga Tune Up’s teacher training to learn more to take better care of myself and help share this goldmine with the Seattle community.

What are Yoga Tune Up® Balls?

Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) Balls are designed to safely provide maximum benefits for your soft tissues and joints, unlike lacrosse balls that are designed for lacrosse or tennis balls made for tennis. YTU balls are portable and affordable self massage tools made from grippy-pliable-optimally dense rubber. Their pliability is the perfect balance of soft and firm. They have enough density to penetrate through layers of skin and muscle to massage deeply into your high tension areas and provide targeted trigger point therapy, and enough “squish” to avoid damaging bony prominences and nerves. The balls’ grippy texture creates optimal shear against skin freeing-up superficial fascial adhesions and awakening proprioceptive nerve endings that benefit your central nervous system.

These balls are available in three sizes. The Original size is the smallest and works like a thumb in and against your tissues. The next size up is Plus with pressure similar to an elbow. The largest of the rubber balls is the Alpha which feels similar to a fist. There is a fourth member of the YTU ball family, slightly different from the rest. The Coregeous ball is a much larger inflatable ball (10’’ diameter),  also made of grippy-pliable materialI, but its density varies depending on how much you inflate it. The Courageous Ball is used in the core, freeing up adhesions and increasing awareness in and between organs, the abdominal wall, the diaphragm, the ribs, mobilizing the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle, and more. As Jill Miller says, “The courageous ball is like having a friendly bear claw take hold of large sheets of tissues at once”. Until I used it, I didn’t realize how much I really “kneaded” it.

Yoga Tune Up® Balls are an incredible tool for self care. They increase awareness and understanding of your painful places of muscle and fascial tension, reduce pain, stress, recovery time and the occurrence of injury while improving energy levels, well being, posture, core integration, anatomical understanding and bolster the immune, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems (to name a few), making them the perfect compliment to yoga asana and any other movement discipline. Once invented, their benefits spoke for themselves and they naturally rose in popularity on and off the yoga mat, brought to studios, gyms, physical therapy centers all over the world by Jill Miller’s highly trained and knowledgeable team of Yoga Tune Up® Certified yoga teachers and therapists.

Jill Miller is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the corrective exercise format Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model Method®. With more than 28 years of study in fitness, yoga therapy and anatomy, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, and pain-management.
Benefits of Using Yoga Tune Up® Balls

From Jill Miller’s book, The Roll Model Method:

“If there is a restriction or adhesion in a certain part of your myofascia, the muscle cannot function fully, and neither can the joint(s) to which the muscle attaches. Therapy Ball rolling and other self massage techniques squeeze, knead, compress, and pry loose muscle fibres and their associated fascial tissues that have become adhered to each other. All this turbulence and beneficial commotion within the tissues increases local blood circulation, consequently bathing and ultimately rehydrating the area (known as perfusion).

Rolling teases apart the “sticky” or adhered parts of the tissues, thereby separating the individual fibers within the muscle so that each fiber can literally pull its own weight instead of its neighbors’. Your muscles are then able to fully contract and release as your movement dictates. the Roll Model Balls help herd truly tissues into better alignment with your bones so that you move it efficiency and ease.

Roll Model Ball work makes correction and connections in tissues that daily exercise, stretching, and yoga often bypass. A Therapy Ball provides a micro-stretch into areas of myofascia that have become adhered because of damage, lack of use, lack of use, poor nutrition, scar tissue, emotional holding, or other reasons”

3 Ways to Work With Your Yoga Tune Up® Balls at Home
#1 Low Back Relief

yoga-tune-up-ball-low-back-relief-betsy-shilling

Props needed: 1 set of Standard or Plus YTU balls, 1 Yoga Block

Target Muscle: Quadratus Lomborum (aka: hip hiking muscle— deepest muscle of the abdominal wall and commonly referred to as a back muscle). It attaches to the top of the iliac crest in the back body and inserts at the last rib and the upper 4 lumbar vertebrae.

On the left side of your low back, place one YTU ball just above the top of your hip crest and the other YTU just above the first ball and slightly more medial (toward the spine, but not touching the spine). The balls will touch each other and be pinned underneath you as you lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position your feet and knees a few inches wider than hip-socket-width. Breathe deeply and relax the weight of your body into the support of the therapy balls. If you want more pressure, such your tail and synch your navel toward the balls. This will reduce your low back curve and help you to mush your lower back into the YTU balls. To further increase the pressure and release adhered tissues, add movement. Inhale as you are, then exhale dropping both knees down toward the left — windshield wiper style — falling to the pinky toe edge of the left foot and big toe edge of the right. Inhale to return your knees upright and to center. Repeat this movement with your breath 5-10 times, then repeat it all on the right side.

#2 Neck and Shoulder Relief
yoga-tune-up-ball-shoulder necks-betsy-shilling

Target Muscle: Levator Scapulae (aka: shoulder shrugger muscle) which is attaches at cervical vertebras 1-4 and inserts into the medial border of the shoulder blade.

Lie on your back like you are preparing for Bridge Pose— with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, both hip socket width. Tuck one ball just under the top of your left shoulder — wider than your neck but narrower than your shoulder blade. Do the same on the right side. If this feels too intense, reduce the pressure by elevating your head (you can rest your head on a yoga block, pillow or whatever you have handy). Breath deeply and relax the weight of your body into the support of the balls. If you want more pressure, slowly lift your hips toward or all the way to Bridge Pose. To maintain the increased pressure with less effort, slide a yoga block under your hips and rest in Supported Bridge Pose. To further increase the sensation and release adhered tissues, add movement. Begin with your hands on the floor beside your hips. Inhale to lift your arms up, reaching toward the ceiling and possibly aligning upper Arms with ears. Exhale to return your hands to the floor beside your hips. Repeat the movement with your breath 5-10 times, each time reaching just a touch further, upper arms toward ears, on your inhale.

#3 Hip and Knee Relief

yoga-tune-up-ball-hip-knee-relief-betsy-shilling

Target Muscle: The Adductors of the Hip (aka: groin). There are multiple muscles in this category spanning the inside of the knee to the lower, mid and upper inner femur bone to the pelvic bone.

Lie on your left side and place both YTU balls together and stacked along the length of your femur bone inside your right inner thigh. With your right knee bent, pin the balls to a yoga block  on the floor (the setting varies from person to person and depends on how high up the thigh you are working). Let the weight of your leg drop into the balls and rest your head to a bolster or against your hand. Breath deeply and relax your gluts. To further increase sensation, release adhered tissues, and explore the relationship of your knee to the adductor muscle(s) you have pinned under the balls, add movement. Inhale to straighten your right knee and exhale to bend it. Repeat this movement with your breath 5-10 times then move the YTU balls higher or lower on your thigh until you have covered the entire area. Repeat it on the other side.
Things to Be Aware of

Safety: Like anything that has the power to heal, misuse and overuse can lead to harm. Take small doses when the medicine is strong and become mindful of the difference between discomfort and pain — this work should feel something like a deep tissue massage. Work in the middle space between effort and ease, making sure that your breath is full and consistent and that the muscles of your face are relaxed. Use your breath and the ease in your fascial expression as a barometer to check that you have not crossed the threshold from discomfort (where positive change can happen) into pain (where damage can occur). Give your tissues time to rest and repair in between YTU rolling sessions and drink lots of water. Don’t roll on bruises or over damaged bone. If working with the balls while lying on the floor feels too intense, get up and work with the balls leaning against the wall. You can do almost all the same work there with reduced and controlled pressure.

For more information, visit Betsy’s website at betsyshilling.com and check out Betsy’s upcoming Yoga Tune Up® spring/summer special events:

  • Full Body Roll-Out Workshop, May 14 at Ritual House
  • Spotlight on Yoga, May 20 at Om Culture
  • Total Body Tune Up Workshop Series on Jun 4, Jul 16, Aug 13 at Ritual House

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Betsy Shilling

In every practice Betsy’s light-hearted and grounding presence will inspire you to explore beyond your perceived edges where growth in mind, body, and spirit will emerge. Betsy’s group Vinyasa classes are soulful, anatomically intelligent, and creatively sequenced. She also offers Yoga Tune Up® inspired myofascial release classes to transform your tissues and erase your pain. As a young adult she studied neurology and managed a meditation for stress reduction research lab where she taught basic meditation techniques. Her gifts and passions finally merged when she began teaching yoga (RYT 500, E-RYT 200, Yoga Tune Up® Certified Teacher). She found her dharma and went on to learn Prana Flow from Shiva Rea, completed Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up Therapy® teacher certification, and was initiated into the Vedic Conservatory for Vedic Thai Yoga with Mukti Michael Buck. Deep gratitude to her most loved and inspiring teachers: Master Bong Yom, Cosetta Romani, Shiva Rea, Jill Miller, Amber Tande, Liz Doyle, Mukti Michael Buck, and of course, Sat Guru. Jai!

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