Jill Miller is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher who created a style of yoga called Yoga Tune Up. Strongly influenced by a background in dance, pilates, and bodywork, Jill talked to The Sacred Cow this month about preparing the body for asana and the importance of massage and self-care.
Sacred Cow: What is the focus of the practice you teach?
Jill Miller: The style of my work is called Yoga Tune Up. It’s biomechanically based and consists of therapeutic exercises and self-massage that serve as a prelude to asana. These exercises break the asana poses down into components that help people recognize the limitations in their joints, soft tissue, and hard tissue so they can work with them responsibly and creatively. The exercises also help you make corrections to your imbalances so that you can rehabilitate yourself from injury.
SC: Why might people need exercises that are a prelude to asana?
JM: People think they should just be able to do poses and that the poses themselves are healing. But that’s a delusion. A lot of the positions in “classical” yoga asana – which we now know is only a hundred or so years old – are nigh too impossible for most people. But the ego just doesn’t know better and our mirror neurons don’t know any better either. Physiologically, we are monkey-see, money-do. Trying to achieve these unfitting postures causes us injury. Also, when we fall short of looking like our teachers or magazines, we feel the psychological pain of not being able to fulfill the neuronal imprint of what the instruction is.
SC: What led you to develop this work?
JM: I started practicing when I was 11 years old and I met my mentor when I was 19. His name is Glenn Black and he is a recluse yogi and a body worker who is gifted beyond belief. When I started studying with him, he was teaching a lot of simple movement with the goal of teaching people to move like human beings. We would be in class and he would be so disappointed with our alignment that he would transition the class into group sessions of Bodytuning on us. This is an orthopedic physical therapy that was developed by a man called Shmuel Tatz, whom Glenn studied with. Glenn would then make us do Bodytuning on each other so we could find the right tissues that needed to be contributing to the movements he wanted us to accomplish. This work strongly influenced my point of view, and I named my format “Yoga Tune Up” as a respectful bow to the lineage of Bodytuning.
SC: Why is it helpful to combine elements of massage or bodywork into our yoga practice?
JM: Yoga can’t necessarily get to all of the spots in the body where there are knots and adhesions. Bodywork gets to the nooks and crannies that your asana practice can’t get to. When you floss your teeth, you go all the way around the tooth. And if you miss a little pocket on one corner of that tooth again and again, you’ll get plaque, buildup, infection, disease, and rot. The same thing happens in our bodies if we don’t move completely into all of the joint spaces where motion is possible. Debris accumulates and the detritus of cellular metabolism doesn’t get washed out. This sets you up for an injury.
Bodywork also brings circulation to our tissues, and this is important because there are sensory and motor neurons inside those tissues that are affected when the blood flow is impeded. So, in this way, body work can change the way you think and the way you perceive through your body.
SC: The practice you teach doesn’t often look like traditional yoga asana. What are components of it that make it yoga?
JM: All of my work is done with an attitude of unmani mudra or “no thought mind”. You’re thinking, but you’re thinking in a way that invokes conscious relaxation. The yantra [focus of meditation] is the body. The mind focuses on one sensation at a time to quell the chitta vritti.
The movements I teach also induce the parasympathetic nervous system and down-regulate the nervous system, which helps to bring you into a space of meditation. I think that this is an important function of any yoga format—whether it’s vinyasa, AcroYoga, Iyengar, or Yoga Tune Up. Any practice that can take the body through this process is wholesome and healthsome in my opinion.
SC: You focus a lot on self-care in your work—teaching people to massage and palpate their own bodies. Can you talk about why this is such an important component of your teachings?
JM: You don’t want to have to always rely on other people to heal you. When you pay a doctor or other health professional, you’re relying on someone one else to fix you. If you’re doing self-care, you’re really committed to taking care of the issue yourself. I want to get people out of the dependency cycle. You have to be your own leader. You have to empower yourself.
It’s also important for people to simply learn how to touch themselves intelligently. I just don’t think people realize how important touch is. We’re touch-starved in our society. You can remove someone’s eyes or taste or smell but if you don’t touch a baby, they’ll die. I think one of the reasons why people go to yoga classes is because their teachers touch them. Students of every discipline rave about the awesome adjustments they get from their teachers. It’s so wonderful that Yoga creates a safe space where this is permitted—a place where gifted teachers can help students to sense themselves.
But it’s also important for people to learn how to give healing touch to their own bodies. It makes people more embodied and helps them to access their own kinesthetic awareness so they can map and navigate what’s going on inside. So whatever they do – lifting kids, cooking dinner–they’re running efficiently, are better able to prevent injury, and are happier and more at peace with themselves.
For more of Karen Macklin’s work, visit her website at www.karenmacklin.com.
Tags: AcroYoga, Asana, Body work, Bodytuning, Bodywork, chitta vritti, Glenn Black, Iyengar, Jill Miller, Los Angeles, Massage, Physical Therapy, Pilates, Pranayama, self-massage, Shmuel Tatz, therapeutic exercises, unmani mudra, vinyasa, yantra, Yoga Class, Yoga Link, Yoga Teacher, Yoga Tune-Up