Yoga Tune Up: Total Spinal Tune Up

Jill Miller
Year Released: 2006

Categories: Yoga

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Iím reviewing this workout after doing it several times, including once again just this past week.

General workout breakdown: This 39-min. yoga lesson focuses on the five directions of spinal movement: flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion, and lateral extension. Poses include neck undulations, neck oscillations, cat & cow tilt, spinal undulation 1, childís pose, ďhopping rabbit,Ē spinal undulation 2 (lateral rolling), lateral flexion & extension - sidewinder, bridge, jathara privartanasana, followed by another setu bandha, parivrrta ardha mayurasana (twisted half scorpion, or a reverse backbend spinal twist, as Jill calls it), boomerang, parivrtta janu sirsasana (revolved head to knee), urdhva pascimottanasana (upward facing intense stretch), and savasana (corpse).
This is structured as a complete practice, with an ending savasana. Even though in some ways this is more of a workshop or demonstration, as Beth mentioned, itís easy to use and even meant to be used as a follow along practice.
Jill performs some ďmini vinisĒ (aka short vinyasa flows Ė but these are not the usual chaturanga-down dog-up dog vinyasas at all) fairly quickly, although she does not move through them at lightning speed (at least, not at first), and I always take them at my own pace. Yes, Jill could do a better job of telling you to work at your own pace and to your own limits, which may be much less than the experienced, flexible her. Some other poses are held for a number of long breaths, though.

Level: Iíd recommend this to experienced yoga practitioners, although you donít have to be particularly advanced. Although this is in some sense an instructional video, Jill assumes you are already familiar with the basics. She provides only a few modifications, mainly for those with a little less flexibility. Iíve been practicing yoga for about 8 years now, and I find Jillís practices challenging, particularly since Iím still working on strength and especially flexibility (although sheís the first to admit that her level of flexibility is definitely above average), but this one is one of her more doable ones for me. Also, I always feel like I get a lot out of Jillís videos, both physically and intellectually.

Class: Jill alone, instructing live.

Music: none.

Set: a bright, rather plain interior studio.

Production: decent quality picture, with fairly straightforward, simple camerawork. Jill simply speaks to the video camera, which has obviously had its volume turned up to catch her voice since she is not wearing a microphone. You can hear her, but expect some background noise, too (e.g. you can hear a car and/or motorcycle passing by outside from time to time) plus some static. As Beth says, itís a bit echo-y.

Equipment: sticky mat (or equivalent) and blanket or sheet / (very large) plastic garbage bag (although someone on the forum helpfully suggested a plastic painterís drop cloth; this would be better than a blanket on carpet). You may want a strap (or something like a tie or dressing gown belt or long, thin towel) for one pose.

Space Requirements: You should be able to lie down with arms and legs extended and sweep your legs fully out to each side of you.

DVD Notes: This is a DVD-R, which I have trouble playing on my increasingly picky regular DVD player (6+-year-old Toshiba); I had trouble with it in my usually not-so-picky former laptop, too, but I have better luck with my newer one as well as the PS2. Because of this, I donít use this series as often as Iíd like.
Each exercise is chaptered separately; in fact, each side is chaptered separately, too, where relevant.

Comments: This particular video is no longer listed on Jillís older site,, but you may still find copies floating around on the exchange. Many of the exercises appear scattered throughout Jillís more recent productions, specifically Yoga Link (in particular Core Integration), Quickfix Rx, and Post Athletic Stretch. However, Iím very happy I was got this one, because I like this practice a lot and donít feel that her later practice fully replicate this particular one. In fact, Iíd love to see her devote a future video to the spine, whether itís just a refilming or a total remake.

I use this program when my back feels stiff from too much sitting, overzealous weight lifting, that sort of thing, and afterward my spine always feels great.
I have a healthy back and neck, so I canít tell you how this practice would work for those with any serious or even not so serious issue. There are a few moves performed while on all fours, so this is also best for those with healthy wrists and knees.
I canít think of any other programs exactly like this, but Gary Kraftsowís Viniyoga Therapy DVDs with Pranamaya (one for the upper back, one for the lower) arenít all that dissimilar and are probably more accessible to the average person, in terms of level, availability, and production values. When I was trying to get into kundalini, practices like Ravi Singh & Ana Brettís Rise and Spine segment from Kundalini Yoga for Beginners & Beyond (the original one) were one of the reasons I stuck with that effort as long as I did, although Jillís approach works better for me for whatever reasons.

Instructor Comments:
Jill brings a real intelligence to her instruction; not only is it clear that she has spent a lot of time studying yoga, anatomy, etc., but she has a great awareness and intuitive sense of how the body moves. I love that she never talks down to you (e.g. she uses the full scientific names for muscles and other body parts rather than making up cutesy ones), yet sheís obviously not showing off or purposefully trying to go over your head. You can feel her excitement and enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge; she wants you to learn and benefit from the practice as she has. Also, Jillís style of yoga is unlike the others Iíve experienced, yet she seems to have a deep appreciation for the traditions of yoga, so you never feel like sheís putting her own stamp on things just for the sake of doing something different.
I really like her on screen personality. Her sense of humor can be a little quirky, but itís not really out there, and itís right up my alley. Her language is straightforward and plain, peppered with conversational and colloquial phrases rather than flowery or mystical sayings. Her ďreal worldĒ visuals make a lot of sense; when she tells you that itís a jump rope action, you know exactly what she means. (In other words, I feel like Iím interacting with a real person who practices yoga, not someone assuming her role as ďyoga teacher extraordinaire.Ē)
Jillís instruction and cuing are excellent. She describes things well, giving you truly helpful tips and some quick demos of what not to do. Jill does not mirror cue, however; when she says ďright,Ē sheís referring to her right, not the viewerís.



This is another offering from Jill Miller's Yoga Tune Up series, this one from her original collection. Like in all of her DVDs, it is just Jill teaching alone in a studio. The initial sound quality is not great--Jill's voice is quite echo-y, and you can occasionally here background traffic noise--but once the practice got started, this didn't bother me at all.

In my opinion, Jill's DVDs come closer to the feel of an actual yoga class than virtually any other yoga media. It is less a formal practice and more a "lesson" (a term Jill herself uses). Total Spinal Tune Up is designed to increase the range of motion of the spine from every possible plane. Jill starts by warming up the neck, first with neck undulations in three different directions, then with neck oscillations--eg, tracing the infinity symbol in front of you. Following this, she moves to the floor to begin the spinal work. She starts with a traditional cat/cow series but then transitions into spinal undulations; she speeds them up and goes quite fast here, but I just stay at a more moderate pace. Next comes a move called "Hopping Rabbit" (Jill has a lot of her own names for poses!): sitting on your heels, you use your abdominal muscles to repeatedly raise and lower your knees. Moving to hands and knees, she does some lateral rotations for the the spine.

Next Jill moves to a reclined position on the floor. First comes sidewinder, a move in which you perform lateral flexion/extension of your side by moving your left shoulder/knees together, then right, remaining flat on the floor all the while; this move gradually becomes larger through opening up the knees. Bridge pose follows, and then Jill does a variation on revolved stomach pose, a move which also appears in her Triangle Tune Up. Another bridge pose follows before repositioning to a face down position. Jill calls the next posture twisted half scorpion: you turn your head to one side, raise the leg on that same side, and then extend it backward for a rear leg extension with a spinal twist. After doing it on the other side, you do round two, this time raise the leg opposite to the turn of the head.

Finally, you move to your side for what Jill calls joint stacking, basically a move for tractioning your side torso. The next pose is revolved head-to-knee, and the final active posture is Urdva Paschimottanasana, or reclined forward bed (ie, performed lying on your back). The practice ends with approximately a 3-minute savanasa, bringing the total time to about 39 minutes.

Although I don't think this is a favorite amongst Jill's DVDs, I like it. The postures, while challenging, are generally very accessible, and by back definitely feels better after using this. If you've never tried Jill Miller before, this might not be the best place to start, but if that's not an issue, I definitely recommend this DVD.

Instructor Comments:
I like Jill--she's very down-to-earth, even a little bit goofy at times. She doesn't mirror cue but otherwise gives precise instruction on alignment and form. Her teaching is quite informal; it actually feels like she is right there in the room with you.

Beth C (aka toaster)