Clients rarely show up in your studio because they feel great. They come to you because they are trying to find their way out of pain. The easiest, most obvious approach is to address the site of the discomfort, but often we have to dig deeper and turn our approach upside-down, or inside-out as the case may be. Sometimes it’s the simple, more subtle exercises that work best—particularly ones that encourage deep breathing. Without breath, the tissues can’t move and pain cannot be released.

My clients who complain most about pain are, coincidentally, the ones who breathe most shallowly. After years of directly addressing specific sites of pain with little long-lasting relief, I now start clients having chronic pain issues with YTU Therapy Ball work on their quadratus lumborum followed by a  sequence of leg lifts with arms overhead on a wall. The ball work softens up the QLs while the leg lifts give the psoas a massive eccentric stretch which helps release the respiratory diaphragm. Make no mistake, while this is a simple exercise, it is a challenging one for most people. Jaws clench, eyes bulge and torsos quiver—clients think they are getting the core workout of their lives. From there we do some uddihyana bandha to stretch the  diaphragm and down-regulate the central nervous system.

Once clients start breathing more freely, they start moving and feeling better. And those pain complaints start to fade. I’ve attached a video clip below of some YTU Ball Therapy work for the lower back so you can get going on your own pain relief.

Learn about our Therapy Ball solutions.

Read more about the quadratus lumborum

Christine Jablonski

I believe most people who end up in the fitness profession are trying to heal themselves. Fifteen years ago I sought out SPIN to rehabilitate a full knee reconstruction. Ten years ago I started Pilates to help me recover from a horseback riding accident. More recently, as still-young age and old injuries caught up with me, I began a restorative and Kripalu yoga practice. In every instance, with every discipline, I've experienced a moment of “ahhh....I want to make everyone feel this good.” And so began my path toward fitness studio ownership where I could keep my classes small and focused on my client's journeys from injury, through healing, and on to strength. In addition to figuring out how my clients and I could feel even better (as well as look better in our jeans), curiosity about human biomechanics led me to study with Helena Collins of Life in Synergy, Sadie Nardini of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, and of course, Jill Miller. Combing the knowledge from these tremendous teachers with my strong Pilates background has enabled me to create exceptionally effective programs for my clients, who range from joint replacement patients needing post-physical therapy help to the “uninjured” wanting stronger, better aligned bodies so they can experience life to the fullest.

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Megan McDonald

It wasn’t until I began rolling on the therapy balls that I realized I wasn’t fulfilling my total breath capacity. I had been rolling for a week on my scoliotic curve of my spine, when I hopped up the two flights of stairs to pick up my paycheck from work. When I landed at the top, the “out of breath hit” never came. I realized that the reason running and moving fast or in anyway with a need of cardiovascular effort was not appealing to me because I had always been glued up inside my back respiratory muscles. I had… Read more »

brooke thomas

Back in the day when Ida Rolf (founder of Rolfing) was figuring out what she thought was the best sequence for working with the body she started off with focusing on mobilizing the feet as the first session- to kick things off by giving people a base of support for further changes. However, pretty shortly into her teaching of the “series” she changed her mind and made the first session always all about freeing people’s breath as she had discovered the same thing you did- if you want to give people a REAL base of support for healing, it all… Read more »

Kate Kuss

I can see how a hard pose can affect the breath and also why we need to breath deep through the hard pose to find the ease. If the breath is steady then the mind and body can follow. Thanks for your post. I have to remember your words the next time I use the therapy balls.

William G

It is interesting that the breath can have so much of an effect on opening and the release of tight or injured muscles. I find in my practice that the the breath is one of the fist steps to opening a particular muscle group via specific stretches or the YTU balls.


i would think that this wok would also be helpful with people who suffer from IBS. the pain and debilitating weakness that ensues from this syndrome would be immensely helped by the relaxation felt after this workout.

Dominic C.

Great piece about getting your clients to address their pain needs first in practice in order to move forward. Many times I have found and I have to admit that I was like this too at one point, practicioners dont want to address their pain centers, instead, they choose to sacrifice further injury or compensate in other areas to just be able to participate or “tough it out”. The YTU balls are great and I have been using the types of balls for years. Especially for deep back issues or chronic lower back pain, the balls are fantastic at opening… Read more »


I agree that the breath helps through every tissue, joint and muscle. I find once I consciously begin to breath deeply into my diaphragm my mind quiets and my stress/tension/sometimes pain slowly slips away.

Peggy Sue Honeyman-Scott

Everything is in the breath and we can heal ourselves through breath alone. BUT, we are complex human be-ings and it is way to simple just to take time to breath. For your asthma clients tell them to hold the index finger. In Jin Shin Jyutsu is helps the attitude of fear which can help with panic which affects breath.

Id like to see the videos described. Not quite sure what leg lifts overhead on a wall looks like?

Thanks for the article!

louis jackson

Thanks for the knowledge Christine. I like what you say that “without breath, the tissues cannot move and pain cannot be released.” One of my private clients works in the legal department at a large corporation. She fly’s monthly all over the world, sometimes with only days notice. She’s constantly called into impromptu meetings where she’s often faced with even more stressful situations that involve interoffice politics. She came to me in knots and just wanted to learn how to breath. Now I know how to untie those knots more effectively. Thanks.

Dawn Adams

I find it really interesting that we (meaning most “normal” people) tend to restrict the breath when we need it most. Pain makes us hold on with our muscles, including the diaphragm. Shallow breathing keeps us from fully oxygenating our blood, and it also makes it difficult to relax — two key components of healing. Breathing deeply and releasing pent-up tension from our muscles will encourage our bodies to make their way back to healthy balance. The YTU ball sequences are fantastic for the breath. Not just the lower back sequences, but all of them. It’s nigh impossible to hold… Read more »


YTU definitely has deepened my appreciation for the respiratory diaphragm, on an anatomical level. I have always used pranayama and deep breathing exercises with clients for stress relief, spinal health, core activation, and others. I love the idea of taking the YTU Therapy Balls directly to the QL to begin to open up paths to deep breathing. I’ve heard we have a limited number of breaths in this life, so the more consciously we breathe, we increase our longevity too…not to mention encouraging more oxygen and life to our under-appreciated connective tissues.

Caroline M

Holding of the breath is probably the main reason in having the discomfort or pain in the first place. As children, if we hurt ourselves we let out a big wail and cry until the hurt is gone. As adults, we tend to swallow up the pain (whether physical or emotional) and store it in our bodies. Breath alone can release a lot of stress, tension, pain and emotion and with combined with movement, its a glorious marriage. yoga.

george hirsch

you are right on christine. Also, with shallow breathing, or the holding of breath, comes tension. most of these clients are probably clenching all the muscles they dont even need to use for a posture, excersise, or daily activity.

Amy Sosne

One of my biggest challenges is definitely remembering to breath, whether in a yoga pose, at work, or at home stressed out over something. I’m just starting my yoga teacher training class and already have noticed that I’m more conscious of my breath whether I’m seated or in a yoga pose. I have also noticed that if I’m unable to take deep breaths in the pose, than I have gone too far. I have noticed that many people crunch themselves into a pose and sacrifice breathing as a result. This is not yoga and will not help. Thanks for shedding… Read more »

Eileen OConnell

Thanks so much for sharing this insight Christine. I too have noticed that my most stressed students whose shoulders are always up by their ears and complain about pain the most also do have very shallow breath. the yoga-tuneup balls are a great way to deepen their breath and bring much needed relief for their pain and tension.

Brigitta Dau

I too find people so resistant to just taking a few seconds to breath properly. They want to get to work, already! But, the work we do in class is SO much better with the breath working in unison with our movements…thanks for sharing this blog…Maybe I’ll forward it to my clients 🙂

Susan McGurn

Hi Christine, It is is great to have the opportunity to work with clients so closely. Getting the message across about the use of the diaphram and breath speaks volume. Working in a large group setting can be challenging to get that message across with success. Sharing your experience is encouraging. I will keep chipping my way through each person to reprogram their breathing patterns and will gladly share that breakthrough with everyone! Although I don’t have the time to do YTU therapy ball work in my classes, I have done QL stretches and the leg lift series you speak… Read more »


Hi Natasha,
Great question. I, too, have some asthmatic clients. My suggestion is to use the balls and YTU exercises that are focused on relieving the shoulder chest and back muscles that assist in breathing–specifically the upper traps and clavicular muscles. I’ve also found that my asthmatic clients get very tight pec minors, so you may want to work on opening those as well.

Natasha Gurevich

thank you for sharing your insights. I am in a complete agreement that without deep breathing, no tissue movement occurs and as a result pain persists. However, in case of clients with asthma, shallow breathing is often the only breathing choice they have. How do you suggest to approach instances with people who have asthma? thanks in advance for your suggestion.