Jill Miller celebrates a body that moves well for life.

My message to the world is live peacefully and playfully in your body.

Jill Miller gained fitness celebrity from pioneering a movement category: self-care fitness. So it came as a shock to her and her followers that she recently underwent hip replacement decades earlier than most people. After giving birth to her second child at age 44, Miller suspected she might have a labral tear, but she was not suffering from aches and pains that often accompany that condition. A scan revealed that her left hip joint had advanced-stage osteoarthritis.

Miller attributes the lack of pain pre-surgery due to her self-care fitness practice. But she chronicles and acknowledges that her early years as a dancer and yogini may have contributed to the onset of the arthritis. Back in the day, she was fond of extreme poses. “I did movements that were out of a healthy range for my joints,” she writes. “And I did them A LOT.”

Miller celebrates and shares movement with special reverence. She co-founded Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and created the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up and The Roll Model Method as protocols for recovery from overuse, underuse, misuse or lack of body awareness. Her groundbreaking self-care format has been enthusiastically endorsed by athletes and performance experts such as Dr. Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD.

A fix for too much yoga

Miller calls it embodiment: the ability to set aside judgment or analysis and “listen” to your body. By being a student of your own body, Miller explains, “you’re better equipped to make effective decisions. That’s because movement, like food, can be something we use to cover up or escape our feelings.”

As a young girl, Miller discovered she could use movement to keep her feelings at bay. She says she was short, wore big, thick glasses and was overweight. When her mom brought home Jane Fonda workout tapes and the Raquel Welch yoga tapes, Miller discovered them—and worked out obsessively. She also became anorexic, dropping from 95 pounds to 65 pounds at one point when she was 12.

She tells 24Life that anorexia and workouts “spiraled into body dysmorphia, chronic overexercising and bulimia nervosa by the time I was 17 years old.” That was when yoga became Miller’s “thing,” and while it was therapeutic, Miller says she also was dampening some of her sensory systems by overstretching and overdoing, without even realizing it. Meanwhile, she piled massage school on top of her full load of college studies and discovered shiatsu and the power touch has to provide psychological benefit, as well.

But in 1997, intense pain simply getting out of bed prompted Miller in her 20s to re-examine the extreme impact of yoga, dance, step aerobics, running and swimming—and poor nutrition. She recently wrote, “All these systems were feeders for my unquenchable thirst to move, feel and cover the emotions I was afraid to express and feel.”

It was the defining moment for the work that has come to represent the leading edge of self-care. Miller had to rebuild her body and characterized Yoga Tune Up as a fix for her practice. She says she challenged herself “to disassemble the minutiae of the poses and make sure that my joint articulations were a good match.” If she couldn’t do a pose, she would modify it to retain the spirit of the movement without overburdening certain joints.

Listen to the body and change the life

Miller’s appetite for understanding anatomy and physiology was—and is—“insatiable,” and her public effort to model (or in her words, “remodel”) recovery from her unexpected surgery is a brief detour from the evolution of her practice and her next book, which looks at not only recovery but also resilience. Miller has been looking beyond the mechanical properties of our tissues and neural function and especially closely at the influence of breath. “Your breath is this fundamental driver of your health. … You can alter your relation to stress. You can influence your myofascial tensions just by changing the way you breathe.”

Today, “The Roll Model” has been translated into other languages, including German, Polish and Korean, and Miller marvels at the fact that every day, somewhere there are people “rolling their cares away and re-examining the way they live in their body and taking care of themselves.”

From the response to her formats, Miller knows that embodiment and self-care can be life-changing. “Ultimately, I really want to see people get in touch with their relationship to pain and learn ways of improving their mind’s relationship to their bodies so that they don’t feel that they have to succumb to drugs or suffer negative side effects that take away their quality of life,” she says.

Read Jill Miller’s Q&A With 24Life about her “hipstory” of chronic pain and her surgery and recovery.

For more regeneration tips and practices, check out Miller’s column for 24Life. 

Celebrate Movement with Self-Care

Jill Miller’s three self-care moves for December honor the body’s ability to move—and be moved. To get started, you’ll need a Therapy Ball PLUS or a pair in their tote bag, and a yoga block.

Jump Switches

Equipment: none

Jumping is good for bone and cardiovascular health. It’s also a great test to your fascial body and the inherent springiness that Jill calls your seam system. Plus, jumping makes you feel exuberant and youthful (it’s why we “jump for joy!”). This movement is a whole-body, coordinated effort to help you celebrate.

  • Start in full plank position.
  • Engage your core and step your right foot outside your right hand.
  • Lower your left knee slightly and then, using your leg and core power to lift your hips, spring up and land silently.
  • Let your lowering movement return the force of the spring up.
  • Exhale as you punch up, and inhale as you lower your body.
  • Continue for 30 seconds to one minute.

Rotated Rib Respirator

Equipment: yoga block

Breath muscles are located all over your trunk. Rotational movement in the transverse plane often shuts off our ability to create complete breaths. This move will challenge your intercostals, diaphragm and other postural muscles to integrate their full range of motion.

  • Kneeling in a partial runner’s lunge with the left side of your body against a wall and your right knee bent.
  • Place your right hand on the floor inside your right foot and rotate your torso so that your chest is against the wall and your hips and pelvis are level. Place your hand on a block if needed.
  • Breathe into your ribs for a count of 4 and tighten those muscles as your left hand tractions up the wall, and hold for a count of 4. Push your right elbow into your right knee to deepen the rotation.
  • Exhale for a count of 8 and use the slackening of deflation to rotate even more.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Ankle Range Reclaim

Equipment: Therapy Ball PLUS and yoga block

An ankle that expresses its full range of motion will allow complex twists and turns to be initiated from the ground up. It’s especially helpful in dance and quick explosive changes of direction, as when you leap over a curb. This move is a simple ankle mobilization that should help with every degree of range of motion.

  • Kneel on the floor and then sit down on your heels, to check your ankles’ range of motion.
  • Place the Therapy Ball PLUS or pair in their tote on your ankle joint, and mount the yoga block under the ball.
  • Sit down on the ball with your tail on top of your heel. You can lean off to the side if it’s too uncomfortable to sit directly above your ankle.
  • Point and flex your ankle or move it from side to side.
  • Remove the ball and block and sit on your heels, to recheck your range of motion—it’s likely to be noticeably greater.

Videography/Photo credit: Todd Cribari, inspirostudio.com
Hair and Make-Up: Chanel