Spinal Flow Yoga was created to treat neck and back pain at home by taking an all body fitness approach. I created it by integrating and simplifying what I knew from physical therapy, exercise science, yoga, and strength training, incorporated principles from the best of modern spine biomechanics research; Stuart McGill’s among others. The program is generalized to the human body, but adaptable to the individual, a system not dependent on the gym full of exercise equipment I had in my physical therapy office. I would go so far as to say that I was able to implicitly fit about 85% of my ideas into what are now two 5-minute exercise programs that are unique, elegant, and state of the art. If yoga means union (and it does) Spinal Flow Yoga is certainly union of the best of what I know, periodically updated as I further research, test, and refine ideas.
To better appreciate what Spinal Flow is now, I think it helps to understand from where it came. The first Spinal Flow Yoga (SFOne) was an hour long all body flow, performed with a neutral spine. Why neutral Spine you ask? This is why. An hour long workout was what I thought necessary and what I was used to from yoga, weight training (lifting was often two hours), and physical therapy. However, as much as I liked SFOne, I knew it wasn’t delivering what my weight routines were. Yes, it was a decent workout, it burned calories, it was good for the spine, but it was too much of an ‘all in one,’ and not something I wanted to do myself. I also found that people who liked yoga would do SFOne with me leading them, but they weren’t doing it at home, which was kind of the point. And I don’t know anyone who does yoga at home, unless they’re taking pics for instagram. So I divided SFOne into two shorter routines. SFMetcon (the hard stuff), and SFControl (the easy but still important work to teach neutral spine postural awareness). At first I thought SFMetcon was the answer. It was only 23 minutes long, it was intense, and something you could do quickly. The problem was that SFMetcon was that it too intense. 23 minutes may not sound like much, but 23 minutes of max effort is an unpleasant eternity. Despite my job, I honestly don’t like exercise in and of itself at all, rather the results, and I knew if I wasn’t going to do an intense 23 minute flow, neither would most. Especially people with neck and back pain. So that became one of my guiding lights. If the results were’t worth it enough for me to continually do it, then it wasn’t good enough for anyone else. And if I kept doing it myself, it wouldn’t be a one-off good idea, but something I would continually work at, and improve over time. And that’s one of the problems I faced in physical therapy. You set someone up on a rehab program, get fit and fixed, but if they didn’t keep up with it, some injuries are the kind that come back. So I made Spinal Flow Yoga to have obvious fitness, and appearance (for form follows function) value, beyond rehabilitation, worth keeping up for it’s own sake, and something you could do at home.
Finally, I had an epiphany on a single exercise that was so simple, but worked, and when applied to the rest, it allowed me to shorten the workout time to 7 minutes daily, and later 5 minutes, all while the program took a leap forward with regard to results. With the culmination of Spinal Flow Yoga’s RESISTANCE-5 (R5), five minute daily exercise system. The “flow” is no longer flowy, but the results are SO MUCH BETTER, and it takes ONLY TIVE MINUTES. Details on how here.
As for the easy but important if you have neck or back pain, “neutral-spine-postural-awareness” exercises? I reasoned that if 5 minutes was enough for fitness, no way were people going to want to spend 20 minutes working on postural awareness. I worked down SFControl to 5 minutes also; what I’m now calling POSTURE-5 (P5). Details here.
The above said, while R5 is my primary flow, and my personal workout, it isn’t strictly spine rehabilitation. Nor is R5 exactly where I would tell someone to start if they currently had spine pain. Consequently, I wasn’t sure about releasing R5 as a rehab workout. Part of what I removed from SFOne to make it faster and more effective for strength and stamina, was the slower, low intensity, neutral-spine posture, awareness, and coordination work. Work that’s crucial if you have pain and are lacking said posture/awareness/coordination, and unfortunately most people with spine pain are lacking it all.
I also knew people with spine pain would have as many, if not more, barriers preventing exercise as anyone else, and I was sure that like me, most would prefer R5 over the longer flows. So I had to figure out how to make R5, and Spinal Flow Yoga as a whole, work for people currently in pain, as that was, and still is, my primary focus. Yet I didn’t want to dilute the effectiveness of R5. To solve the problem, I reduced the Level-1 intensity of R5 so that it’s easier for beginners to start, leaving level 2 much the same and I keep learning ways to make L3 harder. At the same time I took what I liked best from R5 (efficiency) and streamlined SFControl into Spinal Flow POSTURE-5 (P5) to explicitly teach ideal neutral spine posture in varied positions (minus the competing focus on fitness) in a 5-minute sequence also. I reasoned that as with R5, a 5-minute flow done frequently, would be infinitely more effective than a longer exercise sequence that’s not done at all.
Together P5 and R5 are a very a complete and customizable spine rehabilitation and all body fitness system. Good enough for the vast majority of spine pain sufferers, unique, and for which I don’t know of any viable competitors. What’s cool about P5 is that once the spine recovers, and when P5 techniques are internalized, P5 can be omitted, leaving just R5 to be continued. Which will take one’s fitness about as far as most would want to go, but still reinforcing the neutral-spine awareness and coordination achieved with explicitly with P5.
My suggestion is for people with current pain is to start P5 first, use the stick as a cue to lock down, understand, and feel what a neutral-spine is. At the same time preview the videos of R5 and think about what you can start with, without aggravating your condition. Then when you can do the P5, without the stick, and without any increase in pain, using the ‘axis’ hand positions to maintain a neutral spine, then begin some or all of R5. Many, perhaps most, will be able to start R5 within a few days of P5, but be sure to keep the USER RULES in mind. When you can easily do P5, keeping the spine in perfect positions without the stick or hand positions, P5 can be discontinued.
I should add that while P5 is designed for people with spine pain, it’s not only for people with spine pain. Poor spine awareness and motor control is common in those without pain also, thus learning P5 will go a long way towards prevention of future injury and degeneration, being well worth the short time it takes for most anyone to learn.
How POSTURE-5 (P5) works
Like R5, P5 only takes 5 minutes to finish. Even better, P5 is easier to learn, perform, and explain than R5, but is important for those who have, or recently had, neck or back pain. Learning P5 will go a long way towards prevention too, so it’s well worth the time it takes for anyone to learn. But, if you currently an injured spine, perfecting P5 is likely necessary, both for optimal recovery and to prevent relapse.With P5 you’re not trying for exertion, rather technical precision, so it’s also a good place to start if looking at the R5 videos you’re thinking, “no way.” Unfortunately, P5 won’t make you strong, but it will teach what postures and movement patterns keep the spine healthy, allow it to heal, and lessen pain, so strength can better advance with R5. Therefore, P5 the yin to R5’s yang, where you are learning what not to do, as much as what to do, learning how to NOT bend and twist your spine while standing, moving, sitting, lying down and rolling over, etc. These simple postures and movements that are seemingly no big deal if alls well, but overdone, either sustained, or repeated, they are the primary causes of spine injury and pain. And after which everyone, physicians included, often think, “it came out of nowhere.” And for which unfortunately, many people come to expect as just a normal part of life.
R5 turned out better than I ever expected. It’s not a compromise for me to not have a gym membership, it’s a preference. In less time than it took me to get dressed for the gym, R5 is done for the day. Now I’m no longer doing Spinal Flow just to learn, test, and develop for others. I’m doing it for me, because I think it’s the best workout, not only for myself and people with back pain, but for most anyone, in most situations, period. So while Spinal Flow was originally intended to treat neck and back pain, with R5, I’m genuinely curious whether more people will be interested in doing it for overall health and fitness. It’s that good.
How RESISTANCE-5 works
Admittedly a highly effective 5-minute total body workout sounds a bit too good to be true. If it wasn’t me I don’t think I would believe it. But working on it for about two years now, I think I’ve worked out the whys, and how scientifically it makes sense.
R5 is designed to work with for virtually ANY FITNESS LEVEL. If you can walk without limping, you can probably do R5. This individualization is accomplished by: