Yo Yo Yoga

by Sean St. Onge


Disclaimer: I do know I said I would have my interview by my next blog in with podiatrist Dr. Mark Enander. Due to schedule conflicts, I will have to conduct that at another time...hang tight 212ers, Dr. Mark and I still gots love for ya!

I cannot honestly say I really practice Yoga. I also cannot say that I have taken more than 12 Yoga classes ever in my life (I probably sit at 10). Yet, this does not stop me from seeing its importance and place in conjunction with strength training and overall general fitness. Many of its foundation movements are riddled in classes, small groups, and one on one training sessions. To discredit Yoga and all of those who practice it would be fairly ignorant, seeing it has literally stood the test of time dating back to its earliest documented practices in ancient India.

I sat down and spoke with the resident 212 Health and Performance Yoga instructor, Julie Cloutier. Julie has participated in other strength and conditioning certifications, including the use of kettlebells. She has great overall knowledge of where fitness came from and how to bring it back with a very fun, opinionated view that I love. She fits right in! We spoke about including Yoga movements into strength training.

If there is anything to be said about Yoga and its benefits, one can argue that one of its best features is that it is one long static stretch that is moderately transitioned to a dynamic stretch. LOL. Let me rephrase that for the non fitness nerd reader; Yoga has you in positions that lengthen a specific area of the body for a duration of time and it becomes more fluid like or flows into multiple poses. As the student does this, the body temperature rises and the student eventually can "grease the grooves" in all of his poses and move into many poses for a longer period. 

I utilize a very Bruce Lee, "absorb what is useful, reject the useless" method. This does, by no means, mean that I reject any particular movement per say, yet it is easier to say I just teach what I have experienced and can utilize in a safe manner for my clients (I would also screen all my clients beforehand).

I enjoy implementing movements like the Down Dog pose, as it helps provide a fairly safe adaptation for shoulder flexion and stretches your trapezius muscles and lats. 

downdog to pushup.jpg

I also enjoy the Yoga Plex, Warrior II variation...

Thank you Tony. I enjoy this one because of its bang for your buck, hitting the hip flexor (groin), chest, and thoracic spine (upper back by the shoulder blades). This is tremendous for the common desk jockey client as being set in a sitting position for longer than 4 hours will reek havoc on your posture. 

There are a few more, yet there are several that give me the Gary Busey stare...


specifically, Up Dog...


I personally do not enjoy seeing this movement performed by students and clients no matter when it is implanted into the class (beginning or end), simply due to its ramifications and potential for injury based on the populous using it. I revert back to those that practice Yoga and have jobs that require them to be seated all day for up to 8 plus hours. In this instance, only a true Yogi who practices for 2 plus hours almost 6 days per week can withstand the pressures of the Up Dog pose. You can do the math. How many hours per week seated vs. the few hours reversing the effect. I am sure Yoga aficionados will fight me after reading this saying that many of the great practitioners cannot speak for those whom are novice and try to utilize Yoga as a "safe, non-threatening" means to any form of exercise. It always comes down to coaching and teaching these movements properly as I, too, am withheld to with weights. Everything has risk vs. reward boundaries. I am shortly standing on a soap box stating that this movement should really be reconsidered or always offered with another pose. The movement itself is to do everything we would want, stretching our tight hip flexors, pectorals and thoracic spine. I think the problem comes in when it is done too fast or too early.

Yoga instructor, Julie Cloutier (10+ years experience), and I have spoken often about this. We both agree, to the point she states,

"I often lead variations of the Cobra (Low Cobra, Cobra pulses) and Sphinx during the beginning stages of a Vinyasa flow class and to beginner students over the Upward Facing Dog for backward bending. Opening the chest and spreading through the collar bones is the goal. Done improperly, I feel Upward Facing Dog can put a lot of pressure on the low back. Also, in a super-fast style of Yoga, you might find a teacher skipping right over the fundamental alignment principles of Upward Facing Dog (a perfectly lovely posture that needs time to "settle") to get to the next pose or sequence (usually Downward Dog). I feel that many Yoga students need more time for exploring the postures to get the full benefits. Especially since we practice Yoga to develop awareness."

I am also wary of the misuse of head positioning in Downward Dog. With an inexperienced student or client that still uses ocular cues (watching the instructor move by move), not only will they be less likely to be listening to the cues, they will be straining their neck flexors (scalenes, sternocleid mastoid) and even their occipital nerves can be over stressed. Yet, worst of all, by having the wrong head/neck position in the Downward Dog, you are potentially exerting 90+ Newtons of force on your lower back (lumbar spine). 


Julie also mentions, "Be wary of a teacher who teaches one precise alignement ideal for all bodies, everyone is different physically and their experience levels differ too. Look for someone that promotes individuality and safety in postures and is not committed to "one size fits all."

And..."Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Teach students to activate muscles instead, we often say Yoga is 'stretching,' but the super flexible miss out on the aspect in favor of asthetics (looking a certain way during a posture). WHO CARES?! It's NOT performance."

I found that the issue of hyper flexibility in Yoga students, especially females whom are potentially lax in the joints based on congenial laxity, do not need to stretch more, but they are great at it and continue to practice it simply because they are good at it. Practice what you are not good at, maintain what you excel in. You can quote me on that one, ha!

I do plan (due to peer pressure by a lady I know) to implement and practice more Yoga simply due to its benefits and how it, when preformed properly, can compliment strength training.