The culture that gave us yoga did not intend to provide trendy flexibility exercises, but for many Westerners, that is what yoga represents. We fail to see that yoga does not serve as a workout, but as a daily moving meditation where breathing and movement become one, creating mobility, stability, endurance, strength, patience and focus that can increase that day’s quality. …We often spotlight the physical side effects of calorie burning, and neglect the primary purpose, the chance to gain competency and efficiency in a movement.
The culture that gave us yoga did not intend to provide trendy flexibility exercises, but for many Westerners, that is what yoga represents. We fail to see that yoga does not serve as a workout, but as a daily moving meditation where breathing and movement become one, creating mobility, stability, endurance, strength, patience and focus that can increase that day’s quality.
…We often spotlight the physical side effects of calorie burning, and neglect the primary purpose, the chance to gain competency and efficiency in a movement.
What is Integrated Yoga?
Why we’re all in need of some movement pre-hab and rehab
The first time I wrote about functional movement and my Integrated Yoga method in this article I received a lot of questions about it. How do I make yoga functional? How do I incorporate functional movement into yoga?
I’m going to go into it a little more here. And I just want to say that this is still a work in progress. I’m continually adding new moves and ideas to this method. I draw inspiration from many sources, including but not limited to and in no particular order: Gray Cook, FMS, Barefoot Rehab, Primal Moves, Dr. Andreo Spina, Jason Ray Brown, Jill Miller, Sue Hitzmann, Katy Bowman, Gary Ward, Kathy Dooley, Perry Nickelston, Corrective Exercise, DNS, and from many conversations with personal trainers, physical therapists and manual therapists.
Integrated Yoga is a combination of yoga, functional movement and corrective exercise. It consists of 5 sequences that are designed to create balance in the body and to help recover from the daily stress in our lives. It’s a key component to any fitness or training program for movement pre-hab, rehab and peak performance.
Who it’s for
As a mindful practice that focuses on movement quality, anyone can benefit from it, whether you are an athlete, weekend warrior, yogi or getting back into a fitness routine.
I get this question a lot – What’s functional movement?
In the broadest sense functional movement is a movement program that is useful to a given individual so s/he can accomplish desired physical tasks without negative outcome. It usually involves multi-planar, multi-joint movements which place demand on the body’s core musculature and innervation.
In a group class setting I cannot tailor the movements to every individual, but I can incorporate essential movements that we all need to help us gain “competency and efficiency in movement”.
Gaps in the Movement Profile
Over the years – teaching a wide range of age groups in NYC I started to see a pattern in terms of what was missing from the average person’s movement profile. This is across the board – inactive people, elderly, young, athletes, crossfitters, people who workout and people who do a lot of yoga.
These are the most common movement limitations that I see regularly:
- Breathing Issues (AKA dysfunctional diaphragm)
- Limited core stability
- Limited mobility in the thoracic spine
- Poor balance (lack of awareness in the feet)
- Limited ROM in the hip joints
- Limited ROM in the shoulder joints and excess tension in the neck and shoulders
I’m not saying that everyone has these issues. Some people struggle with one, others with several. It started off as a challenge to myself. Could I address these issues in my group classes? I decided it’s worth trying! I’ve been teaching this method for over a year now and the response has been great.
Filling the Gaps
I see my Integrated Yoga method as part of a prehabilitation and body maintenance program, or as Dr. Mark Cheng says: a way to “build a buffer zone of movement inventory.”
Movement is like money. You can max out your credit card to make a purchase, but sooner or later you’ll have to pay the bill. When it comes to athletic performance you can push your limits past what you’re body is capable of but sooner or later you will pay the piper.
If you own all of the pre-requisites, if you own that inventory of movement where you have that solid balance in the bank you can write bigger checks, you can do more with your body and it’s still safe. Pre-hab/rehab work attempts to give you that thick inventory of movement, creating a comfortable buffer zone of movement. If you keep borrowing past your body’s current inventory of movement you’ll likely run yourself into a compensatory mechanism forcing your body to develop bad habits and just like with money it’s not a good idea.
The Movement Essentials
These are the movement essentials that we all need to improve upon and maintain so that we can stock up on healthy movement. Here’s a brief description of the 5 sequences that I rotate in my group classes. I’ll elaborate on what we do in each sequence in future posts.
- Core Stability – this isn’t about having a six-pack or doing a million sit ups. This is about reflexive core strength and the ability to stabilize in the trunk when needed and to allow for movement in the limbs. I like Charlie Weingroff’s definition of stability – “control in the presence of change.”
- T-spine mobility – Many of us have become very rigid and stuck in our thoracic spines – this often leads to neck, shoulder and low back problems. It also negatively impacts our breathing.
- Better balance – I see poor balance in people of all ages. It’s important to be able to balance on one foot. It’s part of a healthy gait cycle.
- Hip Mobility – This is not about the typical “hip opening” in yoga classes where you hold a long pigeon pose. That is one position the hip is capable of. This is about healthy ranges of motion at the hip joints.
- Shoulder Mobility – We all harbor a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders (probably because we’ve lost some of the t-spine mobility and lack core stability). This is about regaining and maintaining healthy range of motion in the shoulder joint complex.
Yoga and the Relaxation Response
The diaphragm is the most important core muscle.
These are the movement essentials, but because I’m talking about yoga here, at the heart of all of this is…drumroll…The BREATH.
The most prevalent movement limitation that I’ve noticed is poor breathing mechanics and/or a dysfunctional diaphragm. We all need to breathe better, not only to restore the function of the diaphragm (which in my opinion is the most important core muscle), but also to elicit the relaxation response. This is what yoga is really good at!
This is why I start every class with a 3D breath exercise focusing on the diaphragm. When the diaphragm is functioning well it creates 3D movement of the ribcage. A functioning diaphragm is also key for belly breathing which is great for eliciting the relaxation response. (See it all comes full circle).
The Relaxation Response
The relaxation response is another way to describe the role of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When the PNS kicks in, our bodies’ recovery and repair mechanisms turn on. Literally, when we take the time to relax in meaningful ways, healing hormones such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin are released in the body. This is what revitalizes and restores us so we can keep going. This is what helps us regulate our stresses better.
In this state the self-repair mechanisms kick in to help your body fix the things that got out of whack while you were stressed (who doesn’t want that?!!!?!!!).
The Stress Response
When you live more in the Stress Response (Sympathetic Nervous System), your body produces stress hormones (higher levels of adrenaline, cortisol and epinephrine). In this constant stress-state your body shuts down other mechanisms in the body like digestion, reproduction, growth and immunity (who wants that?!).
Integrated Yoga is a mindful movement practice that focuses on movement quality and recovery. It helps you hit benchmarks of movement so you can reach your full movement potential.
We need to improve our quality of movement. Because when you improve how you move, you improve your quality of life.
Bonus points for anyone who can tell me how many times I used the word movement.