About a year ago I watched Kelly Starrett’s Maintain Your Body for Long Lasting Health and Mobility on Creative Live and was inspired by his guest, Jill Miller, founder of Yoga Tune Up. I’d been suffering with back impairments since November 2012 and no one had been able to help me. Every year I maxed out my insurance benefits on massage therapy, physio, chiro, laser treatments, acupuncture, cupping… you name it, I tried it.
I even tried to get my doctor to book me for surgery to get my spine fused because I heard it might help. She rejected my request and told me that this was just going to be something I had to be careful with for the rest of my life. In addition to care from health professionals, I have incorporated the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls and educational materials into my recovery strategy to keep me on the mats.
In this article, I give a detailed explanation of my back injury and journey to healing for the sake of anyone who might benefit or have a similar issue. If you are interested, you will find it after the review below.
JILL MILLER – YOGA TUNE UP
When I saw Jill Miller appear on Kelly Starrett’s Creative Live series I was intrigued. The way she explained the human body really clicked with me. Jill is an anatomy nerd and she loves giving very detailed explanations about the human body and how all of the parts work together. She began studying anatomy when she was about eleven years old, poring over her father’s medical books. I ended up getting her DVD sets and her book The Roll Model so I could use them with the mobility tools I already had.
I loved following along with Jill’s DVD sets but I wanted to understand what I was doing, not just follow along with her. I wanted to be able to assess my whole body and figure out what I needed to do specifically to help myself.
The Roll Model book was the key to being able to figure things out for myself because it has detailed diagrams and explanations for how the different muscles, ligaments, fascia and even organs work together and how their functions and dysfunctions affect each other.
I was originally focused on my back but I was able to find out how to help myself in a number of other areas including breathing and digestion, using her techniques and Therapy Balls. Additionally, upon Jill’s recommendation, I bought Trail Guide to the Body by Andrew Biel to help me navigate my body for healing. I was sent the Roll Model Starter Kit by the company for this review.
Yoga Tune Up Playlist
YOGA TUNE UP BALLS REVIEW
People with chronic injuries or restrictions will find that working consistently with the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball kit will significantly increase mobility and decrease pain. The balls are specifically designed to reach particular areas, as is explained in Jill Miller’s book The Roll Model and video series.
I’ve been using the balls for about six months and they have proven to be of very high quality and durability. They have a grippy outer texture that clings to the skin and encourages it to slide and glide over the tissues below.
If possible, it is best to use these balls on bare skin. The balls are soft and flexible and therefore are ideal for rolling over bony structures and sink into the surrounding areas.
There are four different balls in the kit:
- Tune Up Therapy Balls in Tote: soft, grippy balls about the size of a tennis ball. Gentle on sore spots and great to rub over bones like your knees and spine. They come in a mesh tote to allow you to use them for rolling up and down the spine and other areas.
- Therapy Ball Plus in Tote: bigger, firmer balls to allow deeper penetration. Great for IT band, thighs, and more. Come in a mesh tote to create that peanut shape for myofascial-release.
- ALPHA ball: A larger, more firm ball. This is meant for larger muscle mass. I use it mostly along my hips, IT Bands and my psoas and obliques.
- Corgeous ball: a very elastic, soft ball meant to be used on the tender belly area and for gentle flexion of the spine. This is my favorite, I use it every single day in the routine below.
The morning routine and additional strength and mobility work has also helped me to alleviate acid reflux and asthma symptoms. You can learn all about how others have used the balls to help them recover from similar ailments in the book. The Roll Model has a number of success stories included for health issues you would never think self-myofascial release would affect. I have cut back significantly on the naproxin I take; instead I roll out!
Excessive tension from underusing the diaphragm (as outlined in chapter 7) not only leads to breathing problems, but also is an underlying cause of back pain, acid reflux, certain heart conditions, and more.
Poor posture creates a host of total-body dysfunction. Long-term, the effects of bad posture include pain, limited mobility, and suffering—and in some cases a shortened life span.
Miller, Jill. The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body (Kindle Locations 1915-1916). Victory Belt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Although I frequently use the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls, especially on those bony areas and my core, I do sometimes prefer a harder, more dense tool for self-myofascial release. I am a RAD Ambassador and use their suite of products for the very deep release. Though in combination with Jill’s techniques, the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls can get pretty deep as well! Trust me, Jill has brought the pain in her DVD instruction!
What I like about the RAD Roller is that it is a fused product and I can roll it up and down my spine and other surfaces without having to put two balls in a mesh tote. I find the tote does not feel as nice against the skin as the smoother surface of the balls do. Though the tote is tight, I prefer the solidity of the RAD Roller.
My body has been somewhat desensitized after years of Brazilian jiu jitsu training so harder products work well for me. I would recommend the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls to anyone starting out in self-care, especially those coming out of surgery or those who have not been physically active consistently over time. The soft, flexible balls will be very soothing and with consistent use and education, I predict users will find long-lasting relief.
MY POST-TRAINING ROUTINE
- Inversion table to decompress the spine, 5 minutes (though it isn’t painful during the inversion, this hurts a lot afterwards and the pain lasts thirty minutes for me)
- TimTam Vibrating Foam Roller to roll the calves, IT band, quads, hamstrings and hips out
From The Roll Model:
- Sequence 6, Piriformis Play. See the clip below for an example of one of the exercises. This feels amazing after you’ve stretched out on the inversion table!
- Sequence 7: Pelvic Funnel (sometimes I do this sequence but sometimes I do Kelly Starrett’s hip flossing with a kettlebell and a lacrosse ball)
- Sequence 8: Lower Back
- Sequence 9: Upper Back Unwind
Remember, the best way to keep your body functioning at its best, you must eat well and drink lots of water!
So my number-one recommendation is to drink plenty of water, as hydration is key for maintaining elasticity in the body’s connective tissues. As the Roll Model Balls knead, compress, and move fluids around, fresh oxygenated blood streams in to maintain homeostatic balance in all the cells in the area. Any area that was adhered, locked up, or scarred will also be completely dehydrated, like a dried-out sponge that needs to be rejoined to the aqueous environment surrounding it. Rolling with the Roll Model Method creates friction to release stuckness between your tissues. Fresh fluids rush into these once-stiff areas while their waste products are escorted out. (This is why drinking water frequently is critical!) This friction also increases local heat in the area, which is a clear sign that blood flow is on its way into these dormant and forgotten areas. Free-flowing circulation is the most important part of maintaining healthy tissues.
Miller, Jill. The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body (Kindle Locations 6791-6798). Victory Belt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
If you are interested in my story regarding recovery from a years-long back injury, please do continue.
For about a year and a half in 2012, I stayed a lot at a friend’s house and the bed there was so old and worn that my back muscles would seize up overnight, trying to keep me in position while I slept. The pain would last for about ten days after staying there so being there consistently had me in constant pain.
After I stopped visiting my back felt much better but it was still a bit finicky; it definitely continued to affect my training. I would say that if I had the education and tools that I have now, this is the point at which the problem would have been solved.
In March 2015, I tweaked it while I was shoveling my driveway. After a few months, that tweak healed and then in July 2015, I tweaked it again when I hadn’t warmed up before class and was unexpectedly armdragged by a white belt playing around. I had already paid for my trip to Las Vegas to compete at the World Masters so I just took it easy and didn’t really train leading up to the competition.
During my matches, I ended up holding someone in my triangle for about four minutes (I had the wrong angle but was too jacked up on adrenaline to realize) and then my next match had me on the bottom, bridging to try and escape the whole time. My back got so destroyed in those two matches that I had a hard time walking for months. If I stood in one spot, it would spasm and my legs would threaten to collapse (eventually I was prescribed Naproxin, which helped with the spasms). I had a hard time stepping onto curbs. I couldn’t sit down so driving was very painful, especially if I had to step on the brakes unexpectedly.
I am a provincial tax auditor and I am seated at work all day. For about six months, I wore the Bioskin Vector and used a kneeling desk because I couldn’t sit on my bum for more than five or ten minutes. After sitting, it took me about five minutes to stand and walk upright. Once my doctor told me this would be a lifelong injury, I put in a request for an ergonomic assessment at work. My office provided me with a standing desk and an ergonomically correct chair so I wouldn’t be in pain at work all day.
Eventually the pain intensity decreased but I hadn’t been able to roll since Masters Worlds 2015. Thanks to the kindness of my team I was able to flow roll with the higher belts and I’ve made technical progress but I hadn’t been really able to enjoy a full blast roll without worrying about blowing my back out again.
After working with Dr. Warren Hefford and doing daily strength and mobility work, I am closer than ever to rolling at full speed. With partners I trust completely, I do roll at full speed. With others, I am always careful on the bottom and when trying to use lifting movements. We hear about people starting back too fast after healing and reinjuring. I don’t want that to be me.
DR. WARREN HEFFORD
Around the same time I was doing my research into Jill’s work, I had booked an appointment with Dr. Warren Hefford at the recommendation of my friend and UFC veteran Chris Keledes. Chris had been singing Dr. Hefford’s praises for keeping his body working through his MMA training so though I was very skeptical, I gave him a try. At this point, I believed in no one.
After one session with Dr. Hefford, I had about fifty percent relief in my back pain. During my assessment he had identified the source of the problem: my hips, specifically my psoas. Dr. Hefford used Active Release Techniques, Contemporary Medical Acupuncture with electrical stimulation and chiropractic treatment to release my hips and surrounding areas and give me freedom of movement.
Over the course of Dr. Hefford’s treatment and my own consistent self-care, I can roll almost normally again. I work every day on my strength and mobility to prevent another injury and I do not push bad positions in training.
Finding a health professional who understands that the location of pain may not be the source of pain is key in healing injury. For years, everyone had focused directly on my lower back for treatment. My back was adjusted, they applied stimulation, it was massaged… basically every possible treatment was applied directly to the area of pain.
The problem is, even when I had relief, it was temporary because they were not treating the source: my restricted hips. My low back would loosen up a bit but then my tight hips would pull it right back out of place. Dr. Hefford told me that a majority of the population has slipped discs with no back pain. The pain comes from restriction elsewhere.
Additionally, nearly every practitioner wanted me back for session after session after session; this shouldn’t be the case. I was able to find results in five sessions with Dr. Hefford and go back periodically for tune ups.
If you are suffering from chronic injury, or even recovering from something with a clear finish line in your sight, I send my empathy and best wishes. Before I went to the World Masters tournament in 2015, I said to my coach, “Oh well, I’ll probably hurt my back a little more but it’s not like it will be permanent.” If I had only known the suffering that would follow, I never would have competed. The tournament is so much fun just as an observer! The trip still would have been well worth it.
The best way to recover and prevent injury is with daily mobility and self-myofascial release strategies. Drink plenty of water, eat well and most importantly, get lots of sleep! Yes, we love training and we don’t want to take breaks but you must care for and maintain your body if you don’t want it to break down over time and prevent you from a lifetime of athletics. The time to start is when you’re healthy!
I’ve also incorporated Morpheus Recovery into my regime and it is a great help for seeing how my body is responding to my lifestyle, diet, training and recovery. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially professional athletes or older athletes, like me, who just want to be able to keep training.
What do you do for recovery and mobility? Let us know in the comments below!