Leading a class through some upper back ball work one evening recently, I saw several of my clients clenching their jaws because the knots across their backs, particularly in the trapezius muscles were extremely tight. As a result, my people weren’t getting any benefit out of the ball work and in fact it was just making their necks tighter as those muscles tensed in response to the sensation in their backs.

So we started alternating between YTU warm ups and Therapy Ball exercises.

To get heat and circulation into the shoulders and upper back, we did some shoulder flossing and matador circles, then three rounds of trapezius shrugs. That seemed to soften the traps up enough so my students could roll out their mid-shoulder blade area, reach their arms to the ceiling, then lower the  shoulder blades down around the balls without muscle tension overflowing into the neck and jaw.  We did another three rounds of trap squeezes, then back on the balls for the self hug and squirm. A third round of trap squeezes and then back on the balls at the psychic bra strap line for some goalpost arms with motion, and they were well on their way to soothed, serene shoulders.

See the video below for some upper back YTU Ball Therapy work, also available here.

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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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Annette Allen

The balls are one of the best ways I can do self assessment on my neck that I have ever used.

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Alicia Wang

It is incredible how connected those jaw muscles are to the traps and upper back muscles! Even with the awareness of my body and where I hold my own tension, I find that I too let the tension in my upper back translate to the jaw and forehead. I love the idea of really warming up that area first and then diving in. The warm up has to increase the awareness as well! The key is to begin with a high degree of focus and intelligence about where the tension lives.

Joanna Bond

I like the ways YTU allows us to experiment. For example, I try rolling on the balls first, just to gauge how painful it is, then doing something else (like flossing or epaulets) to warm up the area. Then I come back to the balls and see if there’s a change. Students get to really feel the difference and somehow, to me, it seems like we’re proving to them how movement and stretches help with muscle tension. That being said, I do a ton of Shoulder Flossing in my postnatal classes, where the mommies ALL seem to have shoulder tension.… Read more »

Becky Marshall

It is so interesting to me that upper back muscular tension can contribute to neck pain. Thank you for the exercises ~ easy to do and I can do them lying down ~ even better!

Peggy Sue Honeyman-Scott

Warm ups are essential for someone with chronic neck and back pain. I have been using the flossing and arm rolls before ball work on myself for 3 weeks now and find it far less painful than going straight in.


I like this series and would also add Pranic Bath in the beginning to begin warming and increasing circulation. I am trying this routine on a woman I’m working with who has chronic neck pain. I will report back on the results. I find the ball therapy helps with the postures and vice versa, so mixing it up is a big hit!

Amanda Z

Alternating between ball therapy and shoulder warm-ups seems like a great way to slow down and check in with the client’s individual proprioception, ball placement and trigger point inventory and release. It’s like combining several types of massage techniques into a single session and finding the one that will release the tension.


This is one of my favorite ball series and I am addicted to these movement. It was nice to read how to help others who may not yet have the release and feel a different sensation through their upper back than I do. Great ideas of exercises on how to stretch the traps before doing the unraveling with the balls.


Great idea, trick that sneaky trapezius with a variety of movement! And those very tight, and completely normal, students too. in becoming so accustomed to carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, our trapezius takes the weight. This is great YTU advice of how to observe the students in the moment, and adjust in a way that is not avoiding getting to where you wanted to go. Rather than ditch the therapy ball effort with an unreceptive group, you creatively found a way to get them the release they clearly all needed. Being able to fully relax into… Read more »


Great strategy for loosing up those with tight upper back and shoulders. I have always been a fan of shoulder warming YTU exercises before rolling out residual tension and adhesion in the upper trapezius all the way down to the rhomboids and lower traps. Im looking forward experimenting with YTU shoulder warm ups and ball therapy and building yummy sequences 🙂


Ah, thank you for answering a question I had about whether to lead with ball work or to save it for the end of a YTU class. I like the idea of toggling between YTU warm ups and ball work to enhance the palatability and efficacy of both.

Emily Tsay

Thank you for posting these videos! I tried these exercises and they felt amazing. I think YTU balls are my new favorite thing! It’s interesting to notice how one side feels different from the other. Could this be caused by overuse of one side?


I’ve been using the balls for quite some time (others than Yoga Tune Up balls but same principle) but was just kind of experiencing on my own with them. I love that Jill is giving arm movements during the use of the balls. It really made me go deeper into the stretches. My upper back and neck need them badly.
Thank you.

Kristin I. J.

I learned the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball work for the upper back and shoulders on Friday and it was very intense at first. I had trouble breathing. I was sore yesterday but the good kind of sore so I knew it was working. Warming up the shoulders and traps with this kind of work is a great idea. My upper back and shoulders are a real problem for me. My traps don’t activate and contract how they should and several other muscle groups compensate to hold me upright since my traps don’t. However that doesn’t stop them from getting… Read more »

Joelene Marinone

I haven’t started to use the balls yet as I do not have them for my classes, but I noticed with some of my friends that have tried them that they can barely stand the pain and are not enjoying a release of muscle tension because they can’t stay with the balls. I will remember to use YTU warm ups before using the balls to help people to release more easily and not tighten other areas that may tighten in response. Thanks for the hot tip!

Via Page

I have also begun to alternate between YTU® warm ups and YTU® therapy ball moves in my classes. Whenever I notice that ball work is too painful, I move to a warm up and then back to the ball work and find that this makes the ball work more palatable. Sometimes I use the balls to release trigger points before a more active YTU® move. I also like to describe the muscles involved, giving students the opportunity to integrate and embody the anatomy involved from several perspectives.