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Tune Up Fitness® Blog

Being With Bunions

My husband and I love going hiking. There’s nothing like the feeling of the outdoors. The rush of ascending a challenging incline. Flowers, wildlife, and amazing views become our movement back drop. What could possible spoil all this awesomeness?


We had just finished a hike outside of Julian. When my husband complained about his feet, I said what could I do to help. I had just finished my Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 teacher training and thought maybe we could do something with the therapy balls on the feet. A few minutes later, relief was insight!

Up until this point, my husband only saw surgery as his only option for relief. He may still go the surgical route because of the rubbing of the shoe on the bunion. But now he has some tools to use to mitigate his pain.

Here are a few of his favorites that have been game changers for living with bunions:

Ball on the Ball

Place a single (original) Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball on the ball of the foot (not on the toes). Flex the toes around the ball, wait three breaths, and extend the toes. You can also try isolating and lifting each toe one at a time starting with the big toe.

Sweet ROLLief!

Bunions crowd the other toes. This upgrades the space between the toes and challenges the extensors of the toes (like extensor hallucis longus and extensor digitorum longus).

Feet in Line

Come to standing. Notice your feet. Are they turned out at an angle or pointing straight ahead? Point them straight ahead, look straight ahead, and notice how it feels from hip to toe (propriocept).

Stand with your feet in parallel to improve knee, hip, and lower back health.

My husband uses proprioception to notice when he’s running or walking that his feet have started to turn out. It’s made a difference in his foot to hip pain.

Hip Strength

Bunion and hips? Strong hips will help stabilize the feet and create a better sense of balance.

One range of motion (ROM) exercise that has been helpful is Hip Lowers. Stand with one foot on a block or book (also can be done on floor to modify) and one foot off. First, see if you can keep the pelvis level. Then, use the “blocked” hip to lower the pelvis as far as you can go. Come back to level. Repeat.

When my husband did this in a recent class, he fatigued quickly. This was such a great assessment movement that let him know where he needed to work on his hip strength to create more pain free walking and running.

I wish I had a magic wand to get rid of my husband’s bunion. Having the tools to cope may be the second best thing!

Liked this article? Read Walking from Philly to Los Angeles

The Sankalpa Struggle: Make it Stick!

Last week, I discussed what a sankalpa is, and that our brains use such metacognition tools in order to focus and accomplish goals.  But what makes a sankalpa stick?

My first sankalpa was comfy. It made me feel all cozy and warm when I recalled it. This was all rainbows and butterflies in the nurturing environment of the Breath and Bliss Immersion, but life had a way of showing me I needed more precision for the path I was headed on. Much like a report card, my internal assessment revealed I had not received an A for effort, but in fact it was an area in need of improvement. I had been expecting my sankalpa to do the work for me. It’s a tool, not magic or even a miracle. As soon as I committed to a sankalpa that represented my new life values, the resistance came.

Relentless resistance, in all forms—the sankalpa struggle was forcing me to face the choices before me and either use this tool or fall victim to my distraction and fear. I think Jill knew the resistance would be lurking just outside of her sphere because one of the last questions she asked us when forming our sankalpa was “Are you open to believing [inevitable] obstacles can be removed or overcome?”

Feeling the resistance

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The Sankalpa Struggle

“Drop in and connect with your intention,” the instructor said at the beginning of class. A brief pause of silence in the room, paired with a contradicting stampede of thoughts flooding into my mind… “Did I lock my car?” “I should get gas before going to the grocery store after this.” “I wonder what poses we will do today? Hopefully not backbends, I hate backbends.” “Can she tell I’m not thinking about my intention?” “Oh crap, what is my intention?”

The instructor’s voice muffled behind my thoughts began to lead the class… “Quick, think!…I am peace?” “Wait, what does that even mean?” “I let peace in?” I think I’ve heard that one before. It sounds nice. “I let peace in, yep, that’s my intention.” Two to three poses later my intention flies out of the window faster than a bird spooked by my cat. This was my experience with creating mantras and setting intentions in the past. It’s no wonder I never dove in and really used them to my benefit. They were fleeting.

Fast forward, almost seven years later, still on my mat. I found myself front row at a Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 training with Jill Miller. On the first day, within the first hour, we created a personal sankalpa, our own mental resolve. My eyes must have rolled a bit as I flipped to the page in our manuals… “Here we go again. Another intention to toss to the wayside of my mind,” I thought. When I landed on the page I was bewildered to see it bare. “huh?”

Sankalpa creation, a YTU teacher training staple.

Jill’s voice interrupted my thoughts before I could doubt her process. “Answer the following questions based on your initial responses to them,” she prompted us. The questions had nothing to do with yoga or consciousness per say, instead they questioned our intentions for our personal lives. They asked us to nakedly look at our both our values and the roadblocks that prevent us from living out those value-based intentions. After answering the questions, privately in our manuals, we formed a short sentence which would become our Sankalpa. I remember putting my manual down on the floor staring at it with a cocked head thinking, wow, that sentence not only summarizes my life’s desires it shakes my soul on a cellular level. Now she had my monkey brain’s attention.

Where is my mind? Tame the chatter and find what matters.

A few months later, at the four-day Breath and Bliss immersion, Jill continued to teach us how to weave our own sankalpa into our practice with purpose. I thought for sure she could see my mind thinking. Just when my thoughts began to drift out of my experience, she would gently say to us, “recall your sankalpa,” much like a nurturing mother reminds you to stay true to yourself when you find yourself of course. As I write this, I can actually still hear the tone of her voice, pacifying my unfocused toddler-like mind. It gently redirected my thoughts and pulled me back onto the slack-line of consciousness, somehow still leaving just enough space for me to dip my toes into the unconscious realm.

The weekend not only consisted of the knowledge bombs that I found typical of Yoga Tune Up® trainings, it was laced with bursts of deep, profound insights that were specific to me. I came home surrounded by an angelic-like aura of bliss and it stuck around for some time. I found the use of my sankalpa most helpful during my own personal practice or to tame my before teaching jitters. It centered me and allowed me to momentarily declutter my mental closet. A few months passed and a whole lot of life happened when I noticed my sankalpas potency started to fade. “Maybe I am just not meant to be a vector of bliss…”

I began to think and just as coastal fog rolls in and out…my sankalapa disappeared before my eyes. After a lot of struggling and what at times often felt like the last round of a mental octagon battle I grew the awareness that my sankalpa had not in fact failed me. It had simply lost its applicability. It served its purpose in that particular time in my life, but my life had drastically changed. I needed to upgrade my sankalpa to compliment the level at which I was not trying to live. While this process was not easy, and definitely not pretty, it has proven to be so worth it. See how I broke through my sankalpa struggle with a single karate chop in my next article “If you want the change you must accept the challenge.”

“If you want the change you must accept the challenge.”

In my experience, a sankalpa can be used in different ways—but I am most interested in using it as a tool to catapult me towards my life’s most purposeful goals. Turns out setting your goals are the easy part…it’s the follow through, the commitment that trips most of us up and leads us to desert our sankalpa all together. If you find your sankalpa fizziling out, these next three questions will help you wrap your mind around the what, the how and the why sankalpas work in the first place. Since my monkey mind needed some taming, I decided to dig deep into how to increase my sankalpa’s stickiness. Like any young child curiously learning something for the first time, it began with the question “Why?”

Why do sankalpas work on our brains?
Rather than an anchor, I like to think that your sankalpa acts as a suggestive stroke of paint, coloring the thoughts of both your unconscious mind and eventually your conscious activities. It allows you to tap into your inner creative, paint the scene you want and then bring it reality. The suggestive sankalpa is what neuroscience calls a metacognition tool, a fancy word for any technique that allows you to redirect your brain toward a desired outcome. It interrupts your habitual self-destructing thoughts that ultimately distract and derail your mind despite your efforts. In addition to this intentional interruption, anytime you use your sankalpa in junction with your physiology (i.e. the breath or movement) it primes the brain for learning and growth. Your sankalpa is not only received better, it is retrieved better. This connection explains that blissed-out feeling that followed me home after the Breath and Bliss Immersion.

After the why comes the what, which I will discuss next week!

Liked this article? Read My Core Immersion Summer Vacation

July – August Upcoming Events

It’s your time to up your Teaching game this summer!  Join us at a YTU or RMM Training! Check out our upcoming events below or further details. We hope to see you there!

Level 1 Teacher Certification Training

The Roll Model® Method – The Science of Rolling

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Daily Dizziness: How Therapy Ball Rolling Energized my Body and Eased the Stress of Constant Undiagnosed Dizziness

Last week, I discussed my struggle with undiagnosed dizziness and related symptoms. As mentioned, I have used therapy ball rolling is a way for me to connect to areas of tension, maintain/improve mobility, and de-stress from constantly feeling unwell. I roll, rejuvenate, and hydrate my tissues with sequences for the jaw, neck, shoulders, and back. I have found comfort in using the Roll Model® Therapy Balls, as I have often felt unable to accept support or help from other people.

To release strain in my shoulders, neck, and jaw, I place the therapy balls deep into my levator scapula and upper trapezius at the top portion of the medial border of the scapula. I use pin and stretch techniques to target the connection between the two muscles. With knees bent, feet flat on the floor, I lift my arms up and hold onto an imaginary steering wheel. The movement of my arms as I turn the wheel, digs deep into these muscle fibers. This action helps me release some of the stress I’ve experience over the past year. Read the rest of this blog post »

Learning to Roll and Cope With Undiagnosed Dizziness

Imagine standing on a boat as it’s sailing through a vicious storm with nothing to grasp on to. That rush of adrenaline coursing through your body as fear takes over and uncertainty settles in. This has been my life for one year and two months (as of writing this post)–constant undiagnosed dizziness. Unlike the spinning of vertigo, my symptoms mirror the sensation of a boat rocking from side to side.

Because specific causes of dizziness are difficult to pin point, I have been living with it on a daily basis. As a yoga instructor and movement educator, when your vestibular system is off kilter it makes it difficult to function in front of a class or maintain an exercise routine on your own. Visual stimulation such as lighting, quick movements; sensory overload involving, heat, smell, and sound are all a trigger for my symptoms.

Anyone who has experienced dizziness knows how stressful it can be, especially when you are not sure what is causing it. I have left many doctor appointments with them scratching their head and me clutching to mine in disbelief.  At first I felt alone in my condition, but eventually learned that dizziness is extremely common with some causes still a mystery to physicians. About 15% of the population has dizziness and 25% of those cases go undiagnosed  (an estimate according to Timothy C. Hain, MD, Clinical Professor of Neurology at The University of Chicago.)

For a while, I attached movement to dizziness and was in fear of doing too much; thinking rest was the best medicine. I spent many days lying down or in a seated position, which was actually doing more harm to my body. Once I made that realization, I started to use my Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method techniques once again. I began to form a deeper relationship with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls and the effects that self-massage has on my body. Read the rest of this blog post »

The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscles Imbalances in the Pelvis Affect Digestion – Part Four: Elimination

By now, most of us have seen the viral video of a unicorn squatting to easily pass rainbow colored soft-serve ice cream using a platform to elevate its hooves. (If not, search “unicorn pooping” immediately.) The analogy being that when we squat instead of sit to eliminate, our waste slides out easily, without strain. Easy excretion is the last stage of a smooth moving digestive system.

Other factors influence our regularity, including the type and quality of food, fiber content, fluid intake, adequate chewing, slow swallowing, and the rate of passage of food through the stomach and intestines. When practiced together, these elements generally create colon consistency. However, our defecation posture can help or hinder our bowel movement. Difficulty squatting (or being unaware of the effects of squatting on elimination) limits the most efficient position for passing poo.

Squatting to defecate is the original elimination position. As humans lived in communities and built cities, sanitation issues arose and new means of sewage removal were invented, including the toilet and, eventually, plumbing. The chair-like toilet that we know became the status quo around 1596. As we shaped our toilets, our toilets shaped our excrement angles (though, there is a lot to be said for hygiene).

The sigmoid colon is the part of the large intestine closest to the rectum and anus. It stores the feces until there is enough to stimulate the desire to defecate. The rectum is the final section of the large intestine that terminates at the anus. It passes through the pelvic floor muscles, which play a crucial role in bowel continence. Read the rest of this blog post »

Relax and Go to Sleep Part 3: Relax!

The following is a synopsis of the Relax Go to Sleep program I’ve crafted for “the dude,” a successful artist and Type A personality with some habits I think we can all identify with. After assessing his needs, and teaching him some valuable lessons, we started a routine together to down-regulate and relax.

First, I suggested he take into account things that induce relaxation, not only for our session together but especially during his home program. I advised him to get comfortable, stay warm, find stillness, recline, surround himself with quiet,  darkness, and swaddle as much of his body as possible.

We started the “exercise” program standing at a wall, using the original Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball, we proceeded with “Erector Eraser,” manipulating the ball in a zig-zag motion up and down one side of the spine at a time. This mildly active movement proved to be a great warm up for his body and psychology and we added gentle humming as a way to further excite the vagus nerve.

Spinal erectors travel the length of the spine

The next lesson was to massage areas of his body which are innervated by the vagus nerve and in turn provide a relaxation response.  I use the Coregeous® ball for this sequence to create roominess, freedom, and a pliable belly.  I learned during evaluation that his abdominal muscles are quite strong like steel, but not functional as they never seem to change their tone.  I have him lie prone, ball at navel center, and instruct tubular core with subsequent exhale to allow the ball to penetrate into the layers of abdominal fasciae.

Then, using the same ball, trace the colon by the ball rolling up the ascending colon (on right side of tummy), across the transverse colon going toward the left, and down the left side of belly (descending colon). I encouraged him to roll smoothly and slowly creating compression on the viscera.  Next is to place the ball at sternum and roll it side to side across his chest and upper ribcage, even out to his armpit area. This creates a slight rocking which also induces a relaxation response.

I taught him the neck release from The Roll Model® including neck release on block which gently oscillates the head, masseter release, and the temple tamer.


At the end of our sessions, I could see that I had lost him into a gently snoring slumber. It was heartening and reassuring for me to see that my assessment and program had helped him relax and go to sleep!

June – July Upcoming Events

Been working on your Summer Bod? Don’t forget to recover with us at a YTU or RMM Training! Check out our upcoming events below or further details. We hope to see you there!

Level 1 Teacher Certification Training

The Roll Model® Method – The Science of Rolling

Read the rest of this blog post »

Relax and Go to Sleep Part 2: The Five P’s

Last week, I introduced you to “the dude” in order to outline some of the diagnostic tools I used for working with this stressed-out client and his quest for sleep. This week, I will cover the Five P’s: Perspective, pace of breath, place, position, and palpation.

First: Perspective. I needed to address how he thinks. We all know thinking positive is important, but I am discovering throughout my years that we are all positive about the way we think, a not necessarily thinking positively! I am not a counselor or psychotherapist, but I do study yoga, so I referenced the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali along with what I gained from my Breath and Bliss Immersion.

Yoga Sutra 1:2–Yogas’ Citta Vrtti Nirodhah–translating loosely: the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff is yoga. In yoga, we don’t focus exclusively on the negative aspects of thought, but also the conundrum of incessant thinking which disrupts inner spaciousness and proves to be vexing for everyone.

I gave him the affirmation/reminder to detach from the barrage of information and become a passive observer of it all. To become aware enough to control the rising of his mind into mere ripples. To become proactive and consciously disallow the mind’s seduction down into the rabbit hole of worry.

Checking in with Ardha Savasana

Second, I addressed Pace of Breath. His breath proved to be a great barometer of the internal state of his mind. Rapid, shallow breathing usually indicates sympathetic overload, but his pattern was more curious than that. It was rapid, but deeply bracing, like he’s constantly preparing for a big punch in the belly. I sought to combine physiological down-regulating with the energetic principle of Apana Vayu. The Vayus are Seats of Prana or “powers of air.” Apana means “air that moves away.” It drives Pranic movement downward and outward. Apana governs elimination. Apana Vayu rules the elimination of negative sensory, emotional, and mental experiences. It is our ability to let go. I hoped he could harness his mind and bring its “stuff” downward.

Another P is place. I reminded him he’s safe, warm, and peaceful in this present moment helping him to breathe easefully, slowly, fully and smoothly. I encouraged a three-part breath, letting him know he has all the time in the world to simply inhale, abdomen, thorax, and chest. With focus on Apana Vayu, snatching the distractions (Citta Vrtti) traveling around in his mind and escorting them way down into the lower abdominal cavity and out. I also gave him a pace for his breath. I recommended his exhales be twice as long as his inhales tempting a parasympathetic state.

Orthostatic (posture) presentation was a hyper-kyphotic thoracic spine, limiting the depth to which he could inspire. However, the deep fascia was not completely sticky, dense, hardened, and set that way, as he had the ability at the end of each session to uncurl, uncoil, and straighten up. The Roll Model® upper back release done as part of each session, which proved to be miraculous for his condition.

Next up, position! In the past, I would have prescribed forward folds as they are the typical relaxation inducing yoga shapes. I am grateful being a Yoga Tune Up® teacher as I have additional corrective techniques at my disposal. His art has penetrating detail, as such his work puts him constantly in a forward rounded sitting position. His hamstrings are tight as well causing the pelvis to be tilted backward in a seated posture. With these issues taken into consideration I felt it best to help him literally and metaphorically unwind!  Have you noticed that as soon as you recline it seems as if the weight of the world flies away, your off switch turns on, and I bet you let out a sigh of relief?!

Even more relaxing than reclining is inverting. When we invert, raising pelvis higher than heart, and heart higher than head, the body automatically shuts down sympathetic activity. The brain becomes a bit clearer and calmer. We gain a different perspective or point of view so to speak. Inversions stimulate the vagus nerve, our key parasympathetic nerve helping us rest, repair, reset and digest. And hence informs the bulk of this program.

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