Thursday, February 25, 2010

P90X Yoga X Review

When I started P90X, I was almost contemptuous of the Yoga X DVD. “People do yoga to relax,” I thought to myself. “I don't want to relax. P90X is supposed to be extreme, goddammit.”

Sure, the moves were challenging and I totally sucked at most of them, but I chalked it up to the fact that I've always been sorely lacking in coordination, flexibility and balance. After my first couple of clumsy, pratfall-filled Yoga X sessions, I felt like I was wasting my time.

I was wrong.

My Yoga X review, after the jump.

As a native Northern Californian, yoga’s not foreign to me. Yoga studios are everywhere. Plenty of folks carry their rolled-up yoga mats with them to work. Words like “Iyengar” and “Bikram” and “Hatha” roll off people’s tongues. But until P90X, I never bothered to try yoga or learn anything about it. I assumed it was more hokum than tonic. I mean, sure, if you want to twist yourself into a pretzel shape and call it a workout, by all means, but I’m gonna go lift heavy stuff at the gym.

So when I saw that P90X calls for 90 minutes of yoga each week, I was skeptical and less than enthused. And my first time through the Yoga X DVD didn’t help. I felt clumsy and awkward, stumbling and hopping around to keep from falling. Plus, while contorting myself into the various poses, I couldn’t see the TV screen, and consequently had a hell of a time trying to follow along with what Tony and his minions were doing.

(As an aside, I initially found Tony’s fellow onscreen trainers to be maddeningly serene while I was flopping around trying to stay balanced. Even Daniel Haas looks like he’s a master yogi. All was forgiven, though, when Tony yells out "This isn't a competition -- we're just doing our best and WHAT, you guys?" and everyone ignores him.)

But after a few weeks of Yoga X, I started seeing positive changes. My balance improved, and so did my flexibility. The moving asanas were stretching out my stiff lower back and shoulders, and I could feel my shoulders, arms and legs getting stronger from all the transitions. My movements became much more fluid, but even as the routine got more familiar, I felt more challenged to refine and perfect my poses.

At the end of my first 90 days of P90X, my improvement -- not just in performing the postures, but also in my all-around flexibility and balance -- was remarkable. I’m confident that Yoga X was responsible for boosting my fitness and enhanced the rest of my P90X training.

So what does it entail?

After a warm-up consisting of sun salutations -- a series of poses strung together in a fluid sequence -- Yoga X can be divided into four distinct sections:
  • Moving Asanas
  • Balance Postures
  • Floor Work
  • Yoga Belly 7
Let’s take 'em one at a time:

Moving Asanas

These poses are done in a “flow” or “vinyasa” style, which means they are joined together by fluid transitions. Here, the transitions between poses are sun salutations, sequencing together Mountain Pose, Plank Position, Upward Dog, and Downward Dog.

Runner's Pose: This is essentially a low lunge position, with your palms flat on the floor. The hamstring and outer hip of your front (bent) leg and the hip flexors of your back leg all get a nice, long stretch.

Crescent Pose: From Runner’s Pose, sweep your arms to the front and up until they and your upper body are vertical. This is a balance challenge for your legs, and deepens the stretch in the hip flexors of the back leg.

Warrior One: This pose is similar to Crescent Pose, but with your back foot turned perpendicular to your front foot and your entire back foot on the floor.

Warrior Two: The legs and feet are positioned the same as in Warrior One, but you rotate your torso to open up your chest, and you bring your arms to shoulder height so that they’re horizontal -- one pointing forwards, and one pointing back, with both palms facing down.

Reverse Warrior: From Warrior Two, inhale and turn your front hand over (palm up), and as you exhale, bring your front arm overhead so that your bicep is next to your ear. Rest your back hand on your back leg. Lean back to get a nice stretch, and look at the eye of the elbow of your upraised arm.

Triangle Pose: This move works your side and hips. Starting in Warrior Two position, bend at the front hip and lean forward as you exhale. Keep your arms parallel until you’ve reached as far forward as you can, and then lower your front arm to the floor while raising your back arm up to the ceiling. Don’t round your back.

Twisting Triangle Pose: Just like Triangle Pose, except with your torso twisted the other way so that your arms switch positions.

Chair / Chair with Prayer Twist: From a standing position, bend at the hips and knees into a squat position, like you’re sitting down in a chair. Your legs should stay together, and your knees should track over your toes. Reach your arms up overhead and hold. Then, from Chair pose, bring your hands to prayer position and exhale as you twist to one side, hooking your elbow on the outside of your knee.

Right-Angle Pose / Extended Right-Angle Pose & Grab: This is like Triangle Pose, but instead of keeping your legs straight, you’re in a deep lunge position. Plus, to extend the pose, you reach your top arm up over your head. And to make it more challenging still, you then bring your top arm down behind your back and with your bottom arm, reach between your legs to grab your other hand. I hate this one.

Prayer Twist from Runner's Pose / Side Arm Balance: From a lunge position, twist with your hands in prayer position, and hook your elbow on the outside of your bent knee and hold. Then, to move to Side Arm Balance, get into a side plank position, pressing your bottom hand firmly down while rotating your body up and raising your top arm and leg up.

Warrior Three / Standing Splits: Warrior Three is no joke. Start in Crescent Pose, and then push with your front leg so that your arms, body and back leg form a horizontal plane. Don’t lock your planted knee -- I find that it’s less stressful (and more stable) than keeping it straight. Drop your arms to the floor and lift your back leg up further to get into Standing Splits.

Half-Moon / Twisting Half-Moon: I really hate these poses, but they do offer a great hip stretch while challenging your balance. From Warrior Three, drop one palm to the floor and raise the other arm up to the ceiling. Hold until you feel like you’re going to pass out. Then turn your torso to the other side and switch arms. Fun!

Balance Postures

Next up: Three moves that hone your proprioception and give you a fuller sense of what your body can do in space. In other words, prepare to tumble.

Tree: This move requires strength, balance and flexibility. Stand on one leg, and place the foot of the other leg on the inside of the standing thigh. Hold your hands in prayer position, and then separate and reach them straight overhead. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Royal Dancer: Royal Dancer is a balance challenge, but it also offers a deep stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings, and lower back. From a standing position, put your weight on your right leg, and hold the inside of your left ankle with your left hand. Lift your left leg back, and tilt at the waist while reaching your right arm straight forward with your right palm to the sky. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Standing Leg Extension: Stand on one leg and raise the other until it's parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Floor Work

At long last -- a chance to collapse to the floor and relax, right? Wrong.

Crane: I love Crane. As soon as I saw Tony's pals perform this move, I couldn't wait to get to the point where I could hold this pose for a full 60 seconds. (It didn't take as long as I thought it would, though.) From a low squat, place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet close to your hands. Open your knees wider than your elbows, and press the inside of your knees against your upper arms (just outside your armpits). Rest your shins against your triceps, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Take all the weight of your body onto your arms and lift your legs off the ground. Hold for one minute. Come to think of it, Crane's probably a better fit under the Balance Postures; it's an arm balance pose, and is a preparatory move for handstands.

Seated Spinal Stretch: A nice, long back stretch! Sit down, and with your left foot on the floor and left knee bent, pull your right foot under your left leg and tuck it next to your left buttock. Reach your right hand straight up to the ceiling, and put your left palm on the floor below the base of your spine. Twist your torso to the left and bring your right elbow to the side of your left thigh. Breathe in and out five times, and with each exhale, twist further to the left while pushing your right elbow into your left thigh. Then switch sides.

Cat Stretch: Another nice back stretch. Get on your hands and knees. With each inhale, arch your back and lift your head; with each exhale, round your back and drop your chin to your chest.

Frog: From Cat Stretch spread your legs wide, keeping your upper legs at a right angle to your lower legs. Press your upper body down to the floor while gently pressing your hips backward to stretch your inner thighs.

Bridge / Wheel: Try to do this:

Plough to Shoulder Stand and back to Plough: While on your back, raise your legs and hips, supporting your lower back with your hands. Straighten your legs straight up to the sky. Split your legs apart. Then put the soles of your feet together with knees bent and to the sides. Do some scissor splits, too. Finally, drop both feet over your head and try to touch the floor with your toes like this:

Table: From a seated position, place your palms on the floor directly beneath your shoulders, pointing your fingers forward. With your feet on the floor, bend your knees so that your body -- from head to thighs -- is parallel to the floor.

Cobbler Pose: Sit with the soles of your feet together and your knees to the sides. Grab your feet and open them up like a book, keeping your back straight. Do this for 30 seconds, and then reach your arms forward and hold for another 30 seconds.

One-Legged Hamstring Stretch into Two-Legged Hamstring Stretch: Sit and extend one leg out with the other foot tucked into the inner thigh of the extended leg. Bend forward from your hips and grab the foot of your extended leg. Repeat on the other side. Then, do the same with both legs extended.

Yoga Belly 7

This is the part of Yoga X that focuses specifically on abs and core work, as if our midsections needed even more of a workout.

Touch the Sky: Get on your back and straighten your arms and legs up towards the sky. Hold.

Boat: Sit up, balancing on your tailbone while raising your legs together while reaching your arms forward, palms up. Keep your back straight and chest up.

Half Boat: Just like Boat, but with one foot on the floor.

Scissors: These are the same as Fifer Scissors from Ab Ripper X, only you hold for 30 seconds before switching legs.

Torso Twist Hold / Deep Torso Twist Hold: Lie on your back with your arms straight out to the sides. Lift your legs up together and tilt them to the side at a 45-degree angle. After 30 seconds, switch to the other side.

Three-Part Touch the Sky: Same as Touch the Sky, but this time around, gradually raise your arms and legs higher to increase intensity.

Side Twist: Like on your back, bend your right knee, and pull your heel in towards your butt. Put your left hand on the outside of your right knee and pull it across your body towards the floor while turning your head to look to the right. Switch sides.

Glute Stretch: I'm getting tired of typing. Suffice it to say that this move makes your butt feel good.

Happy Baby: Lie on your back and grab the outsides of your feet with your hands while bending your knees. Roll side to side.

Child's Pose: Sit on your knees, and collapse down to the floor with arms stretched forward and palms down.

Corpse Pose: By far my favorite Yoga X pose: You lie still and close your eyes.

Fetal Pose: Lie on your side with your knees tucked into your chest in a fetal position.

Meditation Pose: Sit up straight with crossed legs and rest your hands on your knees, palms up. Close your eyes and chant "OMMMMMMM" with Tony.

After doing Yoga X for several months, I'm convinced that yoga enhances overall fitness. It helps to stretch your tight muscles and extend your range of motion, reducing your risk of injury and boosting your body’s flexibility, balance and strength.

"I can't do a lot of pull ups and push ups because I workout on a pull up bar all day," Tony says. "I can do a lot of pull ups and push ups because I do yoga."

My one complaint? This DVD is too fucking long. Ninety minutes is a lot to ask of busy people who are already overdosing on Tony Horton. There's a lot of good stuff crammed into this session, but a lot of folks (who aren't fans of yoga to begin with) end up skipping yoga because they don't think they can squeeze it into their already-packed schedules.

(Thankfully, the "One-on-One with Tony Horton" series has a 48-minute yoga DVD that can be subbed in place of Yoga X. More on that tomorrow.)

Lastly, for more information about power yoga moves that build strength, flexibility and balance, check out "The Athlete's Guide to Yoga" by Sage Rountree.