Twice in my life have I wandered into a yoga class where I felt completely fascinated, connected, and at home. The first was with Jhon Tamayo at Atmananda, where I ended up doing my teacher training. The second was this past weekend with Jill Miller at Omega.
I’d heard about Jill from Brooke Siler, who runs Re:Ab Pilates here in New York. She said if I liked anatomy and alignment, I would like Jill. Then my friend T’ai Jamar, who runs T’ai Yoga Therapy, happened to link to Jill on Facebook. And she was leading a retreat upstate the following weekend. Perfect timing!
I needed a retreat badly; I was pretty burned out on client work, entrepreneurship, and even social planning. I hadn’t left the city since Christmas, and I felt like my bones were rattling with built-up sound waves. The workshop offered by Jill over the Fourth of July weekend was “Yoga Tune Up”, which sounded perfect:
Yoga Tune Up®
Fitness Therapy for Everyday Living
Hatha yoga, like any physical discipline, can create wear and tear on the body, mind, and spirit. Serious practitioners and newcomers alike may encounter physical roadblocks and stagnation. Certain poses may feel disconnected, dangerous, or downright impossible. When this happens, the body has not been safely prepared for asana, and the warning signs include pain, numbness, and an unsupportive mental dialogue.
In Yoga Tune Up®, we learn to intelligently and systematically prime ourselves for every category of asana. The workshop incorporates movements from Jill Miller’s signature Core Integration series, as well as effective joint mobilization techniques based on fitness therapy. Her innovative approach deconstructs poses into accessible, digestible units, the way a mechanic disassembles an engine.
Sold. I’ve felt like a mess for about a year now; my hamstring, shoulder, and lower back have all registered various (and confusing) complaints. Tara Glazier, and Anusara yoga, have really helped to explain and heal the sciatic issues, but the knots and tendonitis in my shoulders have startled even the burliest massage therapists.
I caught the charter bus at Port Authority on Friday afternoon, and within three hours (plus traffic) was at the gorgeous Omega campus. It feels like summer camp for adults; tennis courts and whitewashed cabins dot the hilly green woods. Rabbits and chipmunks lounge about everywhere, without fear; it was like a Snow White sequel. I camped in the lower meadow, facing the lake. There were about ten workshops going on that weekend; you could learn to grow your own food, find your soul mate, live in the present moment, play tennis without tension, interpret the Bible, practice qi gong, or dance your bliss. In between your workshop sessions, you can take free yoga, tai chi, or meditation classes, lounge in the sauna, and enjoy three fresh, local, vegetarian meals (or the slightly less strict café) each day.
Jill started Friday night with an exploration of the shoulders and back. We were introduced to her secret weapon: a pair of Spaldeens (bouncy rubber balls, a bit smaller and harder than tennis balls). Turns out that Yoga Tune Up involves a lot of intense deep tissue massage. And jokes about balls.
Lying down, you’ll place the balls underneath your shoulders, or between your shoulder blades. Various wiggles and shimmies crush the tension and knots. If, that is, you’re able to breathe and relax into extremely intense sensation. Your stiff, dry connective tissue is not the easiest stuff to work with. If you’ve had a Shiatsu or Trigger Point massage, you know what this is like. The mantra for the weekend was “I allow myself to relax completely;” the natural response is to tense up into the pain. Our secondary tactic was deep abdominal breathing. (My performance-enhancing supplement was a trip to the sauna.)
We started in the trapezius, and worked down the sides of the spine. It was like popping bubble wrap, chasing and crunching all the knots you can’t reach on your own. When we finally removed the balls, and relaxed with our knees bent, my back had melted like clay. There was about 100% more surface area touching the floor. I had no idea all these points had previously been contracted. By the end of the weekend, my crunchy bumpy shoulder joints were quiet. It’s been five years since they felt this good.
The points behind my hip were similarly revelatory. Tight ass kills, kids. And, best of all, when the glute was relaxed, my hamstring pain disappeared. Gone. Over the past year or two, it’s been an increasingly common burning sensation behind the hip, and a sharp tightness below the sitbone. Teachers and friends said it was a hamstring tear; I thought it was a knot. In any case, I’ve been resting and babying it for the past six or eight months. But by Sunday there was nothing to baby; all the discomfort was gone. I don’t really understand what happened — maybe the deep muscles of the hip relaxed and stopped pinching the hamstring? — but it was SO encouraging to feel healed for a while!
Jill makes a beautiful point about this self-treatment. We are detached from our bodies, often thinking that doctors and massage therapists are the only people who can touch and heal these vessels. A little education can reconnect and empower us to take care of ourselves. It’s funny; before the workshop, I was reminding myself to ask Jill if she knew a good trigger point massage therapist in New York City. (My favorite one moved to Texas.) Turns out she did: me! ;)
Yoga Tune Up is not just massage, however. Jill also teaches
- “No-impact cardio” — quick, in-place movements that really do get your heart rate up. Good for fast-twitch muscles, to complement the slow-twitch work we do more of in yoga.
- Custom strength-training exercises (or yoga pose variations), to rebuild bone strength, and rebalance misaligned systems. Lots of circular movements, since we often move in single planes. Special attention to the “corso,” and a technique she called “tubularizing the core” that protects the lower back.
- Long, static stretches (or yoga pose variations), to get deeper and more lasting stretches of the muscles and connective tissue.
- Balance/cardio/strength/massage work using those big exercise balls. Awkward! I am too tall for them; I could barely move around. Not even going to pretend I’m adding that part to my repertoire.
So, basically I got ten hours of physical therapy (slash higher education) for $320. Deal of the century.
When I got home, I tried to recreate the magic of the little balls. It was hard to remember the exact movements we did in class, but I soon realized that there’s an intuitive knack and some obvious feelings to chase. If you know your basic muscle anatomy, you’ll be fine. You can scrub across the grain of the muscle, to break up the crusty connective tissue, or along the grain of the muscle, to squeeze out the knots. If you find a trigger point — a fiercely tight, painful spasm — you want to do micro-movements, wiggling a millimeter back and forth, until it relaxes. (Note: I am a novice in this method, you might want to learn from the source and not just a blog.)
A week later, the hamstring has started to tighten up again; the shoulders have started to grind. But now I have a great nightly ritual to relax them. It works even better than beer or snacks.
If you’ve read this far, I highly recommend you check out Jill’s classes. She’s on the East Coast for a few more weeks. There are two shorter workshops at Pure West next weekend:
Yoga Tune Up®: Breathe In, Bliss Out
A Workshop in Conscious Relaxation and Yoga Nidra
Saturday, July 24th 2010, 4–6pm
Yoga Tune Up®: Organic Dynamics
Essential Full Body Moves To Augment Your Practice
Sunday, July 25th 2010, 11:30am—1:30pm
And her full schedule is available at http://yogatuneup.com/yoga-workshops-classes