Jill Miller and I are talking about her new book, The Roll Model. Jill is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the corrective exercise formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model Method®. We talk about the current pain epidemic in our culture, why self-care is health care, the difference between good pain and bad pain, and what it takes to remodel your “fascia suit”. We also talk about many of the profound and touching stories of people who recovered themselves through this method, including Jill’s own journey.
Jill Miller (all other text is Jill unless noted): I am the creator of a format called Yoga Tune Up®. It helps you to live better in your body and we use a combination of conscious corrective exercise, self-care with grippy rubber balls, and stress reduction techniques. These are all to help you better find your bodies blind spots. The approach is really designed to help you to be a better mapper of your own body. While it has the word “yoga” in it, it is hardly about yoga, it’s about tuning up and tuning in to yourself.
The Roll Model Method® is the extracted soft tissue self-care part of this work. I found the therapy ball work was able to communicate to so many different populations. All the therapy balls do is help you to map better, erase pain, dramatically reduce emotional and physical stress with really no other agenda.
I was approached by Victory Belt, my publisher, and they asked me to write a book about whatever I wanted to write about which was a crazy honor. I thought the smartest thing to do was to share this approach that just helps everyone and applies to you whether you are an immobile person in your bed, or an Olympian, and everything in between.
Brooke: You write in your book that the US has 4.6 percent of the world’s population and consumes 80 percent of the world’s painkilling opiate supply (link to data in resources), and you ask, why is medicine the first resort? Why did we give our power over to the medical community?
I think we are in tricky times. We are enculturated to believe that others can fix us and we give our agency over to the medical establishment. We even divide our body and give it to different doctors- we give our bones to our orthopedist, we give our vaginas to our gynecologists… Specialization helps to deal with pathology and symptomatology, but what we need is a better way to communicate with ourselves and to understand the different types of warning signs that might come up that maybe you can manage yourself. Maybe that will prevent you from getting a drug or getting a surgery. I really want people to be better advocates for themselves. I grew up as a daughter of a doctor and there was a medicine for everything… that was the first resort.
I also watched my mother who is a horrible asthmatic. I grew up in a house where my mother had access to all of he medications for her illness, but it didn’t stop her from being rushed to the emergency room, and it didn’t stop the problems she has now that are related to her stress breathing patterns.
The book gives you 24 stores of people who have stopped disease in its tracks, turned their life around, and have literally rolled forward in a new way.
Brooke: One of my favorite Jill quotes is “self-care is healthcare.”
You’ve got access to a pharmacy in your own body. Thank God we have amazing doctors and therapists and people who can see things that we can’t. But what I really want people to embrace is that this is preventative medicine.
One of my students who I have worked with for almost 8 years- and he’s in the book- his name is Eric. He has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, sometimes known as hereditary sensor motor neuropathy. It’s a peripheral neuropathy that doesn’t’ get the PR the muscular dystrophy does. In HSMN your motor and sensory neurons become unmyelinated in your limbs. You lose the ability to fire your muscles. You also lose the ability to sense body placement, and all you are left with is sensing pain. Medication is really the only resort for people with HSMN.
Eric reached out to me when he was using the highest legal dose of Fentanyl- 1000 times more potent than street heroin. Getting off medication became one of his goals. He ultimately was able to resurrect movement patterns that his doctors said he never would have- moving his toes and fingers, feeling the soles of his feet. It took us a year and change, but he was able to get all the way off Fentanyl through these practices. He took control of his healthcare and started to use the “rubber drugs” as a way to medicate instead.
I have a student in the book who has MS and she was wheelchair bound and found a way using the Wahl’s protocol which is a highly regarded version of the paleo diet (in resources), and the Yoga Tune Up therapy balls as approaches to get off of all medication. She can now use her hands, which she couldn’t do before, and is using her hands to cook and be a professional chef and inspire people to better living.
These are people who are emblems of self-care healthcare.
Brooke: One of the things I love about your book is that it’s all heart. There are such rich stories in there of people who are recovering from really significant things that people usually write off as “that’s it.” Progressive diseases like these, or even recovering from emotional wounds or traumas.
I put out a call when I started writing this book to ask folks who had been using the YTU balls for their story and I expected to get a lot of stories about rotator cuff tears, knee stuff, back stuff… all these musculoskeletal things. I ended up getting all these stories from people with Lupus, or MS, or cancer recovery- there was this disease category. But the category that most surprised me and most filled my spirit are the stories of people who dealt with unbelievable emotional trauma.
Emily Sonnenberg who was raped as a young teenager and how her body armored itself for years. She was suicidal, couldn’t breath deeply, and started doing these intense fitness practices that were turning her into a rock. She found her way to Todd Lavictoire’s YTU class in Canada, and she laid her abdomen down on the Coregeous ball- which is one of the diaphragm resurrecting tools we use- and was finally able to breathe for the first time in 7 years and to finally face all of the emotions that had been bottling up in her. That was the beginning of a transformation. Her life is 180, 360 inside out changed because she was able to process her grief on her own terms in her own way when her body was finally able to let go, and she could re-parent herself through these practices.
Brooke: I was in tears reading Emily’s story because I had met her at one of our YTU summits and didn’t know her story until I read this book. I read it and emailed her immediately to tell her how amazing she is.
The bravery to share this story- there are so many women who have been violated, sexually assaulted and raped and have somehow shut it down and moved past it. They don’t have access to be able to regularly to let go of the stress that lingers from that trauma, and to have a comb to be able to comb through where you get restricted or stuck, or where you hold on to the hell. It is a gift.
Brooke: You yourself went through a really significant journey- you dealt with an eating disorder and you say that for a time that you were abusing yoga in the same way you abused food.
I am a psychological runner- a runner from the family dynamics that were not supportive to my own expression of emotion. I shut down in my own way. I starved myself, I threw up, I used my body aggressively. A lot of people wouldn’t think yoga is aggressive but I literally stretched myself end to end and destabilized my body completely. I was that yogini that could do everything- I could do all kinds of crazy-town things. I was in a lot of denial about my own aches and pains, I was in denial about my compulsion to practice. It destroyed relationships, it affected friendships, it affected my job.
Addiction to food is really difficult to deal with. You need to eat to live. I did heal that part and then it transmuted into this other pie-piece of addiction which was an addiction to stretching. Stretching calms you down- that’s one of the great things about stretching. It turns off your stress switch. I was addicted to that because I was so freaked out on the inside.
I do think that in the exercise and fitness industry the dirty little secret is that there is a lot of body dysmorphia- there is a lot of intense dislike of the body. My goal is for everyone to live playfully and peacefully. Rolling around on balls is playful! Ultimately it is a great treat for you! It helps you to find peace in areas that are unresolved.
Brooke: There are things like in exercise, stretching, and yoga- that can be missed- that the therapy balls can find.
The nooks and crannies are waiting to be touched! You are a Rolfer and you touch nooks and crannies on people all the time. I use you and every grate therapist that I have had the privilege of being touched by. I have a photographic memory for sensation and for touch and movement. So if I have the privilege of being touched by someone as gifted as you, I want to figure out how to replicate that for when I might now have access to you, or I might not have the funds to hire you every other day when I want to have this nook or cranny managed. So the therapy balls and the roll model approach helps you to redecorate from the inside out, and to talk to your fascial seam system. Then the next step is a conscious awareness of how are you holding yourself in your life. How is your posture? How is your breath? And then pain can’t find its way into you in the first place.
Brooke: It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with your work in the first place is that is was an opportunity to teach people how to work on themselves which is always the goal.
Teaching people to fish! Fishing for their blind spots.
Brooke: Good pain and bad pain- there are some basics about when you should not lean into a therapy ball, and then there is also this divide among therapists about whether you should ever feel pain at all in a treatment.
Bad pain is going to set off an sympathetic response. You are going to have difficulty managing your breathing, you may feel bad emotions- they would make you tense all over, they make you scream out in pain, wincing pain. And you know this because when you fall it hurts, when you stick your hand on a hot plate, it hurts. Hopefully you are sensitive enough to recognize the big, “ow that hurts!”. It is untenable discomfort.
Good pain is when you are managing your breathing, when the move stops you feel better. With bad pain you might hit big nerves and you will feel electricity, numbness, tingling. The tingling of thrunking over nerves is clear. The yummy, champagne bubbles tingling is good pain.
Good pain when the ball is removed you feel a rush of warmth, your range of motion increases, you feel emotionally more relaxed, your breathing deepens.
Brooke: And the controversy within the manual therapy fields is people who believe that a treatment should never hurt. I appreciate what you are saying as a Rolfing practitioner for many years, and as someone who got better with a lot of manual therapy.
The pain is already there. What the techniques do is to reveal to you where you have already been holding tension in your body. You don’t want to use the ball like a drill bit. You want to gradually coax the tissues from their state of stiff stickiness into a more hydrated nutritionally perfused balanced ecosystem in that area where you are stuck or stiff or tight or hurting. At the same time, it’s not like you are placing the balls on every place that hurts. This comes with practice. I explain this in the book but I also can’t control how people are going to use the balls at home, or in gyms. But I present how to differentiate- trial and error is going to be your best guide. I also don’t want people to have fear of hurting themselves. People are more afraid of a rubber ball than of swinging a kettle bell. Swinging a kettle bell around is a lot riskier than lying on a pliable, rubber, grippy ball.
Brooke: Dr. Steven Capobianco has been using dynamic ultrasound imaging and seeing some encouraging things.
I met him at the Fascia Research Congress in 2012 I was presenting Eric as a case study there (case study in resources). Dr. Capobianco and I stayed in touch, and I was writing the book and he sent me an email saying he had started doing some research with the therapy balls. So I have the videos of the dynamic ultrasound- he’s in the early stages of seeing the increase in slide and glide of the tissues and the fluffing of the fascias post-rolling. It’s really exciting. I am not a research scientist so I like that our users are out there in the universe doing these studies.
We are also at Cedars- Sinai and are doing some questionnaire studies with people who are participating in our classes. There is another practitioner who is creating a program for those who are relief workers in hospital settings who are suffering from compassion fatigue. This is a stress condition that care workers get. Elise Gibney is creating a study and creating techniques to help care for care workers.
Brooke: Help for the helpers! I love it. You and I are fellow fascia nerds and I love that you describe fascia as the aqueous knitting fabric of the body. How do the roll model therapy balls remodel the fascia and what is the time frame on that?
I refer to it as your seam system. It is the thing that interconnects all parts of your body, and it’s living. It is full of cells that replicate. There are many studies ongoing to try and understand fascia and it’s relevance. So some of the things I say in the book may be out of date in a few years. I study as much as I can to validate my own experience of transformation- of pain relief, the desire to optimize my body. Every part of your body has its time frame of total cell renewal- what you start today will pay off immediately because you will feel better, but the new setting tone of the fascia in your body will take about 2 years.
Brooke: A lot of people hear years and get disheartened. But I think it’s so exciting to think that in only a couple of years you will have a completely different fitting 3 dimensional”suit” on the inside out.
Most people try to remodel fascia to get more pliable and flexible. I am the opposite. I spent years overstretching my body so I have been on this path of stabilization for the past several years. I remain incredibly mobile but I have been doing lots of weight training and strength training to try and ratchet it in and retrain my body in a way that is more stable. I have done this all through my pregnancy and it’s been about 2 years and so I can honestly say that I am healthier, stronger, and feel more regulated than I have at any point in my life. I don’t want to do the Chinese splits anymore, and I don’t want to wrap my legs around my head anymore.
Brooke: Like you said we are on opposite ends of the spectrum- I am the super dense person who needs to be always taking off the suit of armor, but the people who I see in my practice who suffer so much are the hypermobile people. It’s really challenging, so it’s encouraging to hear about the ability to ratchet that back a bit.
You can reset your connective tissue in either direction. You can attempt to become denser, or you can attempt to become more diaphanous. I haven’t talked about this much because I am learning the language of strength and conditioning. I am working with an incredible coach Josh Landis who is also an NKT (Neurokinetic Therapy) guy and is studying PDTR (Proprioceptive Deep Tendon Reflex) and he gets my movement patterns and we have found some really amazing blind spots.
Whichever direction you are remodeling working with your fascia its still a good idea to brush and floss. That’s part of what the therapy balls do. Therapy balls give you feedback in your tissues and they bring self-awareness to the proprioceptive network in your system. The biggest challenge for me with hypermoblity is that I couldn’t sense where my joints were. I had silenced many mechanoreceptors, and now that I am building tendon strength and mastering congruency in the shapes of strength and conditioning I have a lot of new mapping going on because of bringing better matchups in my capsules. I am able to get a better sense of where I am in space because of that.
Brooke: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite strategy of yours, but the Coregeous ball work which you have a great section on in the book, I used that to rehabilitate some scar tissue I had from a C-section that had gotten wrapped up in my right psoas and I had ultrasounds to make sure no one had left scissors or a sponge in there or something, and all I needed was a Coregeous ball and I am radically different.
Helen MacAvoy had an employee who was dying of liver cancer was looking for a live donor and Helen thought, “Why not me?” She was a match, so she donated a portion of her liver to her employee. She had already had 2 c-sections, and then she had this new 14 inch scar that was the exit for her liver. The repatterning of her body around the scar tissue was very significant and she has been using the Coregeous ball to restitch her life back together. A lot of the stories in there are of people being born again because of the amount of agency these tools. No other tools have given me that.
Brooke: What are you playing with you in practice these days?
I pretty much started writing the book the moment I found out I was pregnant, so I wrote the whole book while pregnant thinking I could finish it. And I went into labor and the book wasn’t done. So I had another 6 months of figuring out how to be a new mother, nursing around the clock, and trying to finish the book. I have a standing desk. I have a couple of aches and pains for funky positions of holding the baby, of craning my neck to look at the baby.
Then as soon as I turned the book in I had all these new creative ideas so I have a lot of things I’m working on. And luckily 24 Hour Fitness reached out to me to put a program together called Treat While You Train which is the name of a program I developed with my friend Kelly Starrett. 24 Hour Fitness wants me to come up with a class format based on that epic DVD series so I am channeling my creative energy there.
I love your blog I love your podcast. You have the most interesting and interactive audience and I want to meet all of you so come and hang out. (book tour schedule in resources!)
Let’s roll! Why not choose a therapy ball sequence that delights you from these that Jill offers on yogatuneup.com: https://www.yogatuneup.com/therapy-ball-videos. Whether your area of concern is your neck, upper back, shoulders, lower back, hips, or your feet she’s got you covered here. Let me know how it goes and if your fascia suit is feeling happier afterwards.
The Roll Model contest- win a free trip to LA to train with Jill! (today, 11/11, is the last day to enter)
Roll Model book tour (I’ll be in NYC at Soho Yogaworks rolling with Jill on 11/23- come play with us!)
Treat While You Train– Jill Miller with Kelly Starrett
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