I’m reviewing this workout after doing it at least 3-4 times.
General workout breakdown: This 23-min. yoga CD focuses on deep tissue massage and pressure point triggers to release tension in the upper back and shoulders. The program is done entirely on your back on the floor, with almost all poses in ardha savasana (half corpse, i.e. lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor - This is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down!).
The practice begins with you simply observing how much of your back touches the floor; you return to this simple observational mode at the end, and, believe me, you’ll notice a difference. Basically, the premise of the program is that you position the balls at a specific pressure point or juncture of muscles / ligaments, then do one or two simple moves, like bridge, a slight crunch, moving your arms (snow angels, protracting and contracting like you’re being pulled by puppet strings, making your arms into a trident shape), or giving yourself a hug. You might lean side to side or “chug” gently to get deeper into the tight spots. All but one of the positions are just to the left and right of the spinal column, moving from just where your neck begins down to just where your lower back proper begins. The first position is actually that spot midway between your neck and shoulders on the uppermost part of your back – you know, that tight spot that feels good when someone gives you a quick backrub.
Jill moves deliberately, with enough time to wiggle into position, execute moves, and absorb what’s happening.
Level: I’d recommend this to people with some experience with yoga and/or these types of techniques (pressure / trigger points, body rolling, etc.). You don’t need to be an experienced yogi(ni) by any means, but you should feel comfortable working with audio material only.
Production: clear sound.
Equipment: 2 rubber balls (2 ˝”; mine are Hi-Bounce Sponge Pinky Balls). Jill includes these with orders from her site along with a printout of visual representations of the poses.
Space Requirements: You should be able to lie on the floor with legs extended and arms free to move around in all directions.
CD Notes: The CD is chaptered, with 9 total tracks (intro & beginning, positions 1-7, final rest).
Comments: It goes without saying that if you have an injury, chronic condition, etc., to consult with your favorite medical professional before trying this series. Jill is very clear about listening to your body’s signals and lays out which kinds of pains should not be ignored. She encourages you to work at “a comfortable level of discomfort.”
It can be tricky to figure out exactly where the balls should go (the diagram on the enclosed handout helps, and Jill provides some good tips), and sometimes it’s also tricky to get the balls even on both sides, but I figure that even if I’m not dead on I’m close enough and still getting benefits.
I tend to carry a lot of tension in my upper shoulders and neck due to hunching over books and computers, and activities like lifting weights contribute, too. This set is the next best thing to – sometimes even better than – getting a backrub from dh to work out those knots. This program isn’t as good, however, at getting at the knots I get higher up in my neck, since the exercises only work at the base of the neck. Depending upon how tense I am, this workout can seem unpleasant at times, with the pressure from the balls working into the muscles, deep tissues, even ligaments, and some of the emotional issues related to the stress that caused the tension in the first place can surface. But the release is always worth it.
Shiva Rea has a similar segment, called “The Secret Ball Society,” on her Drops of Nectar CD, which focuses on the glutes and trapezius. Jill’s is definitely more thorough when it comes to upper body tension. I haven’t tried the Petrone balls or any other method for using balls, however.
If you have a lot of shoulder tension, you may also like Gary Kraftsow’s Viniyoga Therapy for Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders; Erich Schiffmann’s shoulder stretches, found in his book Moving into Stillness, in his DVD-R Backyard Series: Beginning Yoga, or on his website; Barbara Benagh’s Yoga for Stress Relief, which has two premixes for shoulder tension; J. J. Gormley’s Yoga for Every Body (which has a couple of premixes related to this area); and Judi Rice’s Yoga for Inflexible People (which has 5 premixes for the shoulders). More advanced yogis might also enjoy Jill’s Shoulder Shakti DVD-R or Yoga Link: Shoulder Shape-Up. (For releasing neck tension, I highly recommend Ana Forrest’s instruction, such as on Strength & Spirit.)
Jill’s instruction and enunciation are both clear. She speaks with warmth, humor (e.g. the area of “the psychic bra strap”), and liveliness. (If you think yoga teachers invariably sound like they’re auditioning for books on tape for insomniacs, well, Jill will be a change for you.) She demonstrates an intelligent yet intuitive knowledge of anatomy. She clearly respects yoga and similar systems with all of their traditions, somehow managing to make her yoga practice her own without making it feel like she’s being different for the sake of being different.
May 8, 2008 (written April & May 2008)
This set, available from Jill Miller's web site (www.jillmilleryoga.com) is the first release in her "Tension Tune Down" series. It consists of two hard, slightly squishy rubber balls and a practice CD focused on the areas of the lower neck, shoulders, and back.
I have chronic tightness in my neck and shoulders, and so I had been wanting this set for some time before I finally purchased it. I must say, I was not at all disappointed--I was in love from the moment that those balls first touched my back!!! I had previously tried the Petrone Method, but unlike the Petrone balls, Jill's balls are significantly smaller and firmer, and I could really feel them working at the tension in my muscles. Although I've never had a trigger point massage, I have done deep tissue work, and this felt very similar. Jill describes it as a "comfortable amount of discomfort;" another way to put it is that it "hurts so good!" It feels amazing, like a great massage that you give to yourself. :)
Anyway, as reviewer KathAL79 already mentioned, the entire practice is performed lying in a reclined position in half savasana (on your back, knees up). You start with the balls at the very tops of your shoulders and slowly make your way down your spine with each track; there are a total of seven positions. Also unlike the Petrone Method, Jill doesn't just have you lie there in each position; rather, she incorporates different types of movement to allow you to really feel the balls working. Some of these movements were very small and simple, such as rocking gently from side to side or up and down, whereas other of the movements were larger, such as moving the arms up and down as in "snow angels." Several of the motions reminded me of work I had done in other therapeutic DVDs, including Viniyoga Therapy for Upper Body and Fitness Fix Intermediate.
Also as Kath mentioned in her review, this practice does not really do much to address the neck, as only the very first position targets the lower neck muscles. However, in addition to hitting the upper back and shoulders, it also ends with some brief abdominal work. Because there are nine separate tracks on the CD, it is easy to just skip to those which are most relevant for you at any particular time. Jill includes a basic chart illustrating the exercise for each track, which is helpful. Although it can be difficult to know exactly where to position the balls, Jill's instruction is very detailed, and I found that I derived benefits no matter where the balls seemed to be.
One final note: at the start of the practice, Jill asks you to just feel how much of your upper back is touching the floor, simply as an awareness exercise. When I did this, I could basically feel my shoulder blades, but not much of my upper back itself. After doing the entire 23-minute practice (or even after just doing Tracks 1-5, which I've also done to save a little time), I've noticed that my entire upper back is perfectly flat against the floor, and I can't feel my shoulder blades poking out at all!
So, I can't say enough about this set--I absolutely love it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. No prior yoga experience is required, although some basic familiarity with common anatomical terms would be helpful.
I think Jill is one of the best instructors out there! She has a great personality that is both warm and humorous, and she has an incredible knowledge of anatomy. She would be my #1 choice as a personal trainer. :)
Btw, if you order from Jill, expect to receive a personal email confirmation and personal note with your order! I had an email exchange with Jill, and she told me that she is making other products in the Tension Tune Down series, including one for rotator cuff.
Beth C (aka toaster)
September 3, 2008