Nine Rules of Spinal Flow Yoga
Optimizing the Balance of SAFETY and PROGRESS
1. Start easy enough that you aren’t straining.
Later you’ll want to push to build strength, but in the first couple weeks you’re just trying to learn to perform the exercises properly. You’re also trying to figure out what level on each exercise you should be training at. Finally you are trying to find out which if any exercises are problematic for you. If you think you’ll have any trouble remembering, the best practice is to keep track of anything notable in a logbook. I keep track of my notes in a google doc.
2. Don’t add too many new exercises at once.
This one’s kind of relative so follow your instincts. If you’re reasonably healthy and nothing currently hurts you should be able to do all of Spinal Flow at once with no real problem. However, if you currently have pain, it’s possible that you’ll feel great during the exercise, and not feel worse until a day later. Unfortunately, late onset pain makes it hard to determine which exercise caused it, particularly when you did many new exercises. The way to play it safe is to start off with only 2-3 exercises your first day. If that goes well, in the next day or two try adding 1-2 more until you work up to the full routine. If something hurts lessen the intensity (exercise level or repetitions) and recheck your technique, and if that still doesn’t work, skip over that exercise for a while.
3. Do not train through increasing injurious pain.
This means if you have 4/10 pain at the start of an exercise, so long as you pain doesn’t get worse, during or immediately afterwards, you are usually good. The next keyword is “injurious.” Muscle burn is not injurious, nor is effort, nor is delayed onset muscle soreness that comes on 1-3 days after you workout. However, neck pain, back pain, joint pain, nerve pain, numbness and tingling that extends down the arm or leg, etc. are all “bad pains.” If any of the bad pains are increasing with an exercise you should stop immediately. These kinds of pain are associated with new or increasing injury and training through them lessens progress in the long term. The quicker you stop an exercise causing bad pain, with quicker you’ll heal and get better. Also, if you stop a problematic exercise quickly, you can often continue with the rest of your workout without a problem.
4. Unless limited by rule three, always push for more:
a little better, a little cleaner, faster, more efficient. After the first couple weeks when you have learned the exercises you really want to start pushing. If you can max the reps on a given level with no pain and good form, move up a level, and begin again with lesser reps as needed. If you always work out the same, you’ll always look and feel the same. Strength and fitness really does protect the spine, and you won’t gain either if you don’t continually push yourself to do more than you are used to.
5. Know K.S.W.T.
K.S.W.T. is shorthand for how you assess your performance individually on each exercise. It’s quick, easy, doesn’t take up much room on a page or exercise flow sheet, and records all that is needed without getting into detailed pain descriptions that lead to pain rumination.
K = O(K): K means you did every rep correctly and without any increase in injurious pain. If you did all your repetitions on an exercise with good technique, that’s a K. If all the repetitions you did maxes out the level (usually 20) and it means you should advance to the next level and lower the repetitions as needed the next time you workout. Then again gradually work your reps up from there.
S = (S)ore during, OK after: If you feel an increase in neck pain, back pain, or arthritic type joint pain or a ligament strain during an exercise this is your warning to stop. If you stop the exercise as soon as you feel an S, you’ll probably quickly recover and be able to do the same exercise with perhaps a few more reps the next time. *
W = (W)orse after: Meaning you did the exercise and you feel worse after. This unambiguously means that you went to far. The exercise level, reps, or exercise itself were too much for you for now, and you need to reassess and back it down the next time. You might need to omit the offending exercise for a few sessions, weeks, or longer. While I think all the Spinal Flow exercises are, in general, fantastic, they aren’t great for everyone all the time, and knowing when to stop is half of what makes Spinal Flow work.
T = poor (T)echnique. It means when you did the exercise your technique wasn’t perfect. This can be for a few reasons. It could be you don’t know what good technique is and you just need to practice it. Or it can mean that you aren’t strong enough to maintain the good technique that you know. If fatigue makes it so you can’t work through a given exercise with full range of motion, within reason this fine, and in fact desirable to train through. That’s because the additional partial repetitions increases intensity by allowing you to continue to work when you would have otherwise have stopped. However, if most of your reps on an exercise are a T, you should back down a level. If the exercise is too difficult and you are “breaking form” by rounding your neck or back, this is the bad kind of T. You can generally safely train up to, but not beyond this point, as you are both excessively risking injury and reinforcing bad movement patterns. In either case of a T, don’t “level-up” on an exercise until you can max all the reps with good form, with full range of motion, replacing that T with a K.
6. Train Spinal Flow at least twice a week, but not more than once per day.
K.S.W.T. is shorthand for how you assess your performance individually on each exercise. It’s quick, easy, doesn’t take up much room on Perhaps non-intuitively more frequent training is better at first because it allows you to learn the exercises faster, and since you won’t be training that hard yet, you should not require that long to recover. Once you have learned your technique and are working hard on the Metcon exercises you’ll probably want a days rest between workouts. So SFOne could be done every other day and call it good, SFMetcon could be alternated with SfAware, while SFSub10 can and should be rotated through daily.
7. Always exercise with a neutral (or very near neutral) spine. As best as you can, utilize that position throughout your day.
If you remember only one rule, it’s this rule.
8. The scale is your friend, get to ideal weight, and stay there.
An elevated body mass index (BMI) physically overloads the spine and increases total body inflammation that wreaks havoc on the entire body. The inflammatory cytokines are thought to chemically accelerate degenerative disc disease and resultant spine pain. Contrary to what it seems every psychologist will tell you, daily weighing has been shown to be mentally healthy and effective. Research shows people who weigh themselves every day consistently lose weight, those who weigh once a week stay about the same, those who weigh once a month usually gain.
9. Elimination of spine pain, health and fitness are NEAR TERM goals of Spinal Flow Yoga.
Elimination of spine pain, health and fitness are but NEAR TERM goals of Yoga. While Spinal Flow Yoga is primarily focused on elimination of pain and increasing physical health and fitness. These goals are only a minimal base level for yoga proper. Not the most you can do, but rather the least. If yoga means more to you than exercise then Spinal Flow is just branch three of yogas philosophic eight limbs. I’m emphasizing it only because asana is the one limb that’s often most off track in accordance today’s biomechanical understanding of spine rehabilitation, and exercise science. Any yoga that causes injury violates the very first Yama of yoga, “non-harming.”
*Tendinitis (more correctly termed tendinopathy) is an exception to the don’t train through pain rule. While diagnosing and treating tendinopathy is currently outside the scope of Spinal Flow Yoga, it is one of my areas of intense study and practice. You can read my specific thoughts in relation to tennis/golfer’s/shooter’s elbow, trochanteric or gluteal tendinopathy, or coracoidopathy. Unlike neck pain, back pain, or deep joint pain, with tendinopathy you don’t want to be afraid to train in the “S” zone, as it usually takes that level of intensity to get the tendon to remodel and heal. As the tendon warms up it with the exercise it should actually feel better within minutes, as well as immediately afterwards, so it should still never be a “W.” As Spinal Flow Yoga matures I hope to add additional blogs/articles on how to self treat other tendinopathies, such as Achilles, patellar, and rotator cuff with Spinal Flow and/or weights. So if anyone has specific questions feel free to ask in the comments, and time permitting, I’ll do my best.