Top Yoga & Movement Teachers to Watch in 2019

There’s an amazing list that just came out on the “Top 19 Yoga & Movement Teachers to Watch in 2019”, and I am honored and thrilled to be included in it!

This list was curated by the innovative online magazine Shut Up & Yoga, and their list includes many of my other favorite yoga/movement teachers as well - including fully half of the special guest teachers in my online class library! (Do I know how to pick ‘em or what? :) )

Click here to check out the article, and to find out what my favorite word is and why (and much more, of course!) I hope you enjoy reading more about my perspective on yoga & movement, as well those of all of the other interesting and innovative teachers who were featured.

Welcome to Kettlebells + Yoga and Our New Special Guest Teacher in my Class Library!

I’m more than excited to welcome our newest special guest teacher to contribute to my online class library: the amazing Lizette Pompa!!

I have been a huge fan of Lizette for a long time, and I was thrilled when she said yes to the idea of contributing some kettlebell + yoga flows to my online class library!

Using a kettlebell is one way that we yogis can bring a form of external load into our yoga practice, and Lizette does a great job of unifying the feeling of a yoga flow with the added load / "prop" of the kettlebell.

Lizette is a yoga teacher and yoga studio owner based in Uppsala, Sweden who loves to incorporate strength into her yoga classes. She is incredibly strong and dedicated to her yoga practice, and she inspires me every day with her posts on Instagram.

I hope you love her first practice in my library (which is only $8.99/month for unlimited access to all classes & you can cancel anytime, by the way!) I've already taken this class two times, and my body is verrry happy!

My Biggest Wish for Yogis in 2019


If I could have one wish for our yoga community in the coming year, it would be for us to intentionally *load our bodies* more. But what do I mean by that?

When I talk about loading the body, I just mean exposing the body to enough of a physical challenge that its tissues are stimulated to *adapt* to become stronger.

When our tissues become stronger, our whole body becomes more resilient.

We are less likely to experience injuries because we’ve increased the load-bearing capacity of our tissues, we have more confidence and trust in our body (which can decrease the likelihood of pain), and research suggests that higher levels of strength levels are associated with increased longevity and long-term health!

So all of those are excellent reasons to load our body regularly. But as amazing as yoga is (and I personally love this practice!), yoga is actually a *low-load* activity.

(Obviously for an inactive person, yoga might offer enough load for some adaptations, but at some point, we all adapt to our yoga practice and plateau, you know?)

For all of the talk we hear these days about injuries in long-term yoga practitioners, the reality is that it’s most likely *underloading*, and not overloading, that is the root cause of the bulk of these injuries. Crazy, huh?

And that’s why my biggest wish for yogis in 2019 is to load their bodies more! This could come in the form of integrating more strengthening moves right into our yoga practice (see my online class library for tons of yoga classes that do this!), and/or in the form of yogis taking on other additional activities that involve higher & varying loads (i.e. weightlifting, rock climbing, etc - the possibilities are endless!)

More load = more resilient tissues = happier yogis!

Stretching Misconceptions in the Yoga World

Does stretching make our muscles longer? Does stretching weaken our tissues and de-stabilize our joints? Can “overstretching” give us lax ligaments? Does stretching apply enough stress to our tissues to make them stronger?

There are a lot (a lot!) of claims about stretching that tend to circulate in the yoga community, and not all of these claims are accurate! Did you know?

“Histology” is the branch of biology dealing with the study of the tissues of the body. And from what I can see in the yoga world, many of the claims that we hear about stretching simply don’t jive with what histology/science has revealed about the properties of human connective tissue (including ligaments & tendons) and muscle tissue.

I really appreciated it when the incredibly knowledgeable Greg Lehman stated this quote I’ve featured here during his presentation to us at Jules Mitchell’s 300-hr yoga teacher training that I recently completed. Thank you, Greg!

And for more clarity and some foundational science about stretching, yoga, and which claims are cool and which ones we should definitely retire, check out my new online mini-workshop “How Stretching Affects the Tissues of the Body!”

See you in the workshop for some excellent yoga geeky learning!

Backbends Insights for Your Practice


It’s so easy to think about backbends as being all about the spine. And they do of course involve the spine, but did you know that our spine doesn’t move as efficiently or powerfully without the support of the arms & legs?

For example, have you ever lifted up into cobra pose (bhujangasana), and felt your feet get light on the floor? (I know I have!) This is often a sign that our legs have disengaged from the movement.

If we instead push our feet actively into the floor in cobra pose 💪🏽, this signals our legs to participate, and if you’re like me at all, you’ll feel lighter and more connected throughout your whole pose (and you might even lift up higher!)

And in camel pose (ustrasana), it’s easy to place our arms in position without asking them to work much or to really “engage” with the pose.

But if we instead work on *active* shoulder extension (arms moving behind you) and connecting to our lats (back muscles), our camel pose might feel more supported, lifted, and quite transformed!

These are just a couple of examples, but you can apply this idea to all backbends. Get your arms & legs activated & participating in your backbends, and notice the difference in how your spine feels!

Strength, Flexibility, Endurance, etc: How Does Yoga Stack Up?


Depending on which yoga circles you tend to run in, you might hear the message that A) yoga is a panacea that gives our body everything it needs, or B) there a ton of things wrong with yoga and although it does have psychological and spiritual benefits, it doesn’t do much for us on a physical health & fitness level.

Now I’m exaggerating somewhat for effect here, but I do observe two distinct camps in the yoga world. As someone who started off my yoga journey in camp A and then later migrated to camp B for a time, I can certainly relate to both perspectives. But these days I prefer to take a realistic, evidence-based approach that is more nuanced than either camp A or B.

It’s a physiological fact that yoga doesn’t offer our body everything it needs to be healthy. (No single physical activity possibly could!) Those in camp A would be wise to reconsider this idealistic approach.

But at the same time, there are many fitness and health-based benefits that yoga truly does offer us that seem to be overlooked by many in camp B. As an example, I recently put out a survey via my Instagram account that asked people to respond with the ways they thought yoga was good for our body. I received many excellent responses, but to my surprise, no one mentioned any musculoskeletal/biomechanical benefits from the practice at all! The reported benefits were mainly psychological in nature, such as relaxation, time for introspection, improved body image, etc. But there wasn’t any mention of physical benefits such strength, flexibility, endurance, etc.


And so today I thought we could look at some classic core components of fitness and use research and critical thinking to determine if and how yoga includes these components. Once we understand which components yoga offers and which it doesn’t, we can then decide to either integrate some of the “missing” items into our yoga practice to the best extent that we can - or we can simply choose to partake in other activities that naturally do a great job of offering these components.

There are of course many other benefits of yoga beyond physical ones, but I’d like to focus on this category specifically because I feel that our yoga community could use some clarification on these points.

Flexibility - YES


It’s been well-established in the research that yoga does improve flexibility. This is because a typical yoga practice takes our joints through their end range of motion on a regular basis. Here are just a few references that support this: [Ref], [Ref], [Ref], [Ref], [Ref]

Of course there is a lot of nuance to this topic. Yoga doesn’t seem to improve flexibility for every person at all joints, and oftentimes additional techniques like directed muscle contractions during stretches can help increase flexibility more efficiently than classic yoga techniques alone.

Additionally, there is a growing discussion around the distinction between flexibility and mobility, with mobility being the preferred quality to pursue over flexibility. But because “flexibility” is the official term on most fitness component lists, let’s just keep this discussion simple and consider flexibility to be about range of motion (ROM), and we’ll assume that in general, most of us could use to increase our ROM, at least at some joints.

And with that said, yoga in general has been shown to reliably improve flexibility in most people!

Strength - YES, but limited


Yoga can definitely offer muscle strengthening benefits, but they are limited. For example, yoga does strengthen the upper body in a “pushing” direction of movement (think pushing the floor away in plank pose or chaturanga), but it does not include significant strengthening in the “pulling” direction of movement (think pulling your body toward something, like a pull-up).

Additionally, because yoga involves bodyweight only, it can definitely strengthen our body up to a point. (And some yoga classes intentionally incorporate creative bodyweight strengthening moves to maximize this benefit for yogis.) But once our body adapts to the loads of our bodyweight, if we’re interested in further strengthening, we need to start using some form of external loading (i.e. weights or another form of resistance). To accomplish this, we could try incorporating some forms of external resistance into our yoga practice, or we could take on a separate weightlifting practice, which is a physical activity whose very “job” is to increase strength.

Muscular Endurance - PROBABLY, but just to an extent


Muscle endurance is a distinct category from muscle strength (although there is some natural overlap between them.) Whereas muscle strength is defined as the amount of force that a muscle can generate against resistance, muscle endurance has to do with a muscle’s ability to sustain a submaximal contraction for an extended period of time without fatiguing.

Does yoga increase muscle endurance? From my look at the research, I didn’t find an abundance of high-quality studies that examined this, but the studies that I did find seemed promising. These two studies [Ref, Ref] both saw muscle endurance increase in their experimental yoga groups. I also found two studies on Pilates mat exercises (different from yoga, but similar in that they use bodyweight only and no equipment), and in these studies muscle endurance also increased from the practice [Ref, Ref].

Additionally, based on my understanding of how muscle endurance works, I would imagine that regularly practicing sustained standing pose sequences would build muscle endurance in the lower body, as would repeatedly practicing vinyasa-type sequences for the upper body.

Power - NO

It’s tempting to equate the term power with the term strength, but in fitness terms, these are two separate (although related) qualities. Whereas strength means the amount of force a muscle can generate against resistance, the term power means how fast you can exert the strength that you have.

Power might start to make more sense if you consider some activities that typically utilize it: sprinting, swinging a baseball bat, and playing basketball all require an element of generating force very quickly. In order to train for power, activities like plyometrics (jump training) and dynamic kettlebell work are often recommended.

Yoga, by contrast, is a slower-paced activity. Even faster “power yoga”-type classes (no pun intended!) are still slower in speed than the fast, explosive movements of power-based training. One could possibly argue that jumping back to chaturanga might be a power-type activity because it’s done quickly and utilizes strength - but this isn’t enough to qualify yoga as a “power”-building activity in my opinion. If you’re looking to train the element of power, there are many other activities that are excellent at offering this!

Balance - YES


Yoga includes many poses that naturally challenge our balance, including high lunge, warrior 1, and all of the single-leg standing balance poses (tree pose, dancer pose, etc.) It seems like common sense to assume that yoga would therefore have positive effects on balance, but research has actually demonstrated this to be the case as well [Ref], [Ref], [Ref], [Ref], [Ref].

As we age, the risks from taking a fall can actually be quite detrimental to our health and well-being, so yoga’s potential to help us improve balance is a very valuable benefit on a functional level.

Additionally, when we take arm balances and inversions into account, yoga also helps us to work on balance with our hands as our base of support. So yes, in many regards, yoga helps us to improve balance!

Proprioception, Body Awareness, Body Maps - YES

Proprioception is your sense of how your body is arranged in space, and it’s intimately connected with the “body maps” in your brain, which are neurological representations of all of the parts of your body. The more accurate your body maps are, the better your proprioception, body awareness, and quality of movement in general.

I didn’t find a plethora of good studies on yoga and proprioception (although proprioception is included in the discussion of some of the studies on yoga and balance that I included in the “balance” section.) However, given that yoga is a low-load activity that tends to be practiced slowly, mindfully, and with control, it would stand to reason that it has the potential to improve our proprioception and to help clarify our body maps in our brain.

Cardiovascular Endurance - POSSIBLY, to a minor extent


Most of us are familiar with the idea that a “cardio” or “aerobic” activity is one that has the heart rate elevated for a sustained amount of time. Classic cardiovascular endurance activities include running, swimming, and biking.

Based on our understanding of how these aerobic activities look and feel (elevated heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath, lots of exertion), it seems clear that yoga is not a cardiovascular fitness practice to the same degree as these other classic activities. However, depending on the pace of the yoga practice, I believe that some yoga classes could be considered low-intensity cardiovascular activities.

In fact, this recent study [Ref] compared “high speed yoga” to “standard speed yoga” and found that “high-speed yoga results in a significantly greater caloric expenditure than standard-speed yoga. High-speed yoga may be an effective alternative program for those targeting cardiometabolic markers.”

Other research on this topic is mixed. These two studies [Ref], [Ref] did not support the idea that yoga could be considered cardiovascular exercise, but the type of yoga examined did not appear to be a very intense form. These two studies [Ref], [Ref] were more favorable to the idea - although the first one would be stronger evidence if it had included a control group.

My feeling is that if the style of yoga you’re practicing includes faster pacing and causes you to feel like you are moderately exerting yourself for a sustained amount of time, that practice could be considered a form of low-intensity cardiovascular exercise.

On a related note, I found a thorough research review that looked at 69 studies on whether yoga reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, and it concluded that “there is promising evidence of yoga on improving cardio-metabolic health” [Ref]. This isn’t answering the question of whether yoga improves cardiovascular endurance, but it does suggest that yoga can offer similar health benefits to cardio-type exercises!



The reality of yoga’s effects on the body is of course more nuanced than this generalized list. For example, a gentle yoga class will probably not include the elements of strength, muscular endurance, and low-intensity cardiovascular endurance - but it might include balance, proprioception, and flexibility. And a faster-paced vinyasa yoga class might include the elements that a gentle class doesn’t - but these won’t be endless, and they really do depend on what and how an individual teacher chooses to teach.

When making decisions about your own yoga and movement practices, consider yoga in the context of everything else that you do on a regular basis. For example, if you happen to trail run 2-3 times a week, you might not be interested in the potential cardiovascular benefits of faster-paced yoga classes; perhaps you would choose a slower-paced practice instead. If you strength train regularly at the gym, you might not need to focus on strength in your yoga practice; perhaps a gentle type of yoga is the right fit for you.

And if yoga is your sole form of physical activity/exercise, then it would be great for you to take yoga classes that excel in movement variety and well-rounded strengthening so that you can maximize the benefits from your practice.

In general, the more that we appreciate yoga for what it does offer us while accepting what it clearly doesn’t, the higher our chances are of finding fulfillment in our yoga practice and balance and health in our bodies.


I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to host and share classes from so many incredible science-based yoga teachers in my online class library! Today I’d like to announce the newest teacher to join the ranks of this innovative teaching faculty starting on October 10, 2018.

For many people, Francesca Cervero doesn’t need any introduction. But for those of you who don’t know her, a few points of note are that she runs a thriving yoga teaching mentoring business, she specializes in The Science of the Private Lesson™, and she also hosts the popular Support & Strategy for Yoga Teachers podcast.

One of the reasons I’m extra excited about Francesca’s classes is that they were actually filmed with live yoga students! And because she is well-known for her impressive skill of holding space in the yoga room in a grounded way, these classes will be a very helpful window into watching this skilled yoga teacher do her space-holding work.

Francesca is also well-known in the yoga community for expertly teaching yoga classes without demo-ing any poses at all. Many people wonder “how does she do it?”, and now we can finally watch her in her element and learn from her techniques.

Look for her first class to arrive in the library on October 10th! I hope you love it!


Expert Q&A On Yoga & Breathing Misconceptions, Part 2 of 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Rich Severin, PT, DPT, PhD(c), CCS on yoga and breathing misconceptions! As you might remember from last week, I recently reached out to Rich because I had accumulated a number of questions regarding claims about breathing that I commonly hear in the yoga world that seemed questionable to me. As a physical therapist and board certified cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialist, I knew that Rich would have an extremely informed perspective from which to address my questions. (Please see Rich's full bio included at the end of this piece!)

Today I present to you the much-anticipated second half of our Q&A. Between these two installments, I feel that this is a very valuable and fascinating offering for yoga teachers who are interested in becoming more evidence-based in their teaching. I hope that you enjoy, and don't hesitate to share your comments and thoughts below!





QUESTION 4: Is there an alignment relationship between the rib cage and the pelvis (or between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor) that ensures optimal physiological function in the body? We often hear in the yoga & movement worlds that it’s important that the diaphragm be "stacked above" the pelvic floor so that these two structures can move in concert during breathing. If the rib cage and pelvis are habitually aligned in such a way that these two structures are not “stacked”, can this result in pain (especially around the spine and pelvis) and/or dysfunction in the body?

ANSWER: Everyone’s anatomy is unique. Everyone’s anatomy is slightly asymmetrical. Everyone’s. Our bodies respond and make adaptations to stresses over time as well. The ability to respond and adapt/remodel while preserving physiological function is how we’ve survived as a species for thousands of years.

The ability to respond and adapt/remodel while preserving physiological function is how we’ve survived as a species for thousands of years.
— Rich Severin

Now that’s not to say that sudden or gross changes to posture can’t result in problems. It can and most of that has to do with exposing the body to stresses and loads exceeding its capacity or without enough time to make adaptions. It’s also not to say that just because someone has a slight deviation from our socially constructed (and not biologically constructed) ideal posture they will have pain or dysfunction. So no I’m not certain that I would agree with that statement or line of thinking.


QUESTION 5: Is there a known causal relationship between specific patterns of breathing (for example habitual “belly breathing”) and specific core conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti?

ANSWER: Like I mentioned above there’s a lot of things that go into disease and dysfunction. I wouldn’t ascribe one mechanism to any disease or dysfunction. There is some research suggesting that individuals with COPD might have a higher risk for urinary incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction but that’s at the extremes of respiratory muscle dysfunction. I don’t think most people in yoga are at that level of disease. However if one were to bear down long enough and they had pelvic floor weakness/laxity I could reasonably see a prolapse develop. However even in that example it’s not a one to one relationship. I would caution against making that sort of relationship. 


QUESTION 6: In yoga class, we are always taught to breathe in and out through our nose rather than through our mouth. I can see how cultivating nasal breathing during yoga might slow the breath down and could therefore offer a meditative benefit to one’s practice. But are there significant physiological benefits to breathing through the nose instead of the mouth in a yoga practice - and in daily life in general?

ANSWER: Most people will generally breathe through their nose. Even those who use their mouth to breathe often still breath through their nose too. Nasal breathing is reflexive and as long as nasal airway resistance doesn’t get too high (like when you have a cold or congested nose), the lips maintain their seal and the tongue maintains contact with the back of the mouth cavity, you will breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing is innate and it allows us to warm, humidify and clean the air we breathe before it gets down to our lungs.

Nasal breathing is innate and it allows us to warm, humidify and clean the air we breathe before it gets down to our lungs.
— Rich Severin

The research is a bit limited and conflicting regarding whether mouth breathing or nasal only breathing is more efficient. Some studies demonstrate that nasal breathing is more energy efficient during exercise, however some have shown that there is no difference. Oral breathing definitely tends to dehydrate your oral passages and could make talking more challenging. 


QUESTION 7: If someone desired to change their habitual way of breathing (i.e. breathe more into their rib cage and less into their abdomen, for example), how easily can she/he re-set the way that their autonomic nervous system controls their ~20,000 breaths per day?

ANSWER: There’s a lot to unpack in this question. Without diving into too much respiratory physiology, the cadence and depth (pattern) of your breathing is automatically controlled by the respiratory control center in your brain stem. The pattern of breathing can be modified by various sensory inputs to activate different neural circuits of the respiratory control center to modify the pattern to match the stress, activity or condition the body is undergoing. The most notable and potent sensory input is the pH of your blood and concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) which are monitored by nerves called chemoreceptors. When pH or CO2 gets too high or too low, breathing cadence and depth will respond instantaneously in order to maintain a cellular environment conducive to metabolic work to keep us alive. The body is incredibly efficient and effective at this process, and control of pH will always “win”. 

...the evidence that exists now does not suggest that we can change our pattern of breathing permanently due to the role breathing takes to keep us alive.
— Rich Severin

We can make temporary volitional changes to our breathing pattern. We can even temporarily stop breathing. However as I mentioned above the control of pH will always win. So while we can absolutely make these changes temporarily, the evidence that exists now does not suggest that we can change our pattern of breathing permanently due to the role breathing takes to keep us alive.

What many people might observe is that when one is stressed or in pain it usually results in hyperventilating or rapid breathing. This is due to our respiratory control center responding to the sensory and emotional inputs and thus selecting an according breathing pattern to match this “perceived threat”. By practicing slow breathing it may allow one to achieve a more relaxed state or distract themselves from pain or stress. If this relaxed state is achieved, the sensory input of a perceived threat has been absolved and different circuitry in the respiratory control center will be activated producing a more relaxed pattern of breathing. We’re finding that some of the circuitry used or involved in these breathing “programs” utilized might be hardwired. 


QUESTION 8: The term “breathing dysfunction” is a commonly-used label in the yoga & movement worlds these days. Do yoga and movement teachers with no concurrent medical training have the authority and expertise to identify and label breathing dysfunctions and disorders?

ANSWER: Breathing dysfunction is a bit of a nebulous term. We encounter this issue often in physical therapy practice too. Unfortunately this term is often used cavalierly and done without performing a reliable, valid and objective assessment of breathing performance such as spirometry (lung volumes), respiratory muscle performance, pulse oximetry or arterial blood gases, and markers of ventilatory efficiency during exercise.

Visual inspection and manual assessment of breathing function are very subjective and are not sufficient to determine if someone’s breathing is dysfunctional.
— Rich Severin

Visual inspection and manual assessment of breathing function are very subjective and are not sufficient to determine if someone’s breathing is dysfunctional. So unless those objective measures mentioned previously are being used I would strongly caution against labeling anyone’s breathing as dysfunctional; especially if they are walking and talking into your clinic or studio. Remember there are so many things involved with breathing and we generally do a pretty good job at it.



Rich Severin PT, DPT, PhD(c), CCS is a physical therapist and board certified cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialist. Currently he serves on faculty as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Baylor University in the Hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy program and The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Department of Physical Therapy as a Visiting Clinical Instructor. At UIC he also serves as the program coordinator for the Bariatric surgery rehabilitation program and is working on a PhD in rehabilitation science with a focus on cardio-respiratory physiology and obesity.  He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from the University of Miami. He completed a cardiopulmonary residency at the William S Middleton VA Medical Center/University of Wisconsin-Madison and an orthopedic residency with a focus on clinical research at the UIC. He has made scholarly contributions and presented both nationally and internationally on topics relating to cardio-respiratory physiology and clinical practice. He is an active member of the America Physical Therapy Association (APTA), The American Physiological Society and several other professional and scientific societies. He serves on the board of directors for Cardiopulmonary Section of the APTA as the chair of the communications committee and as a member of the nominating committee. Dr. Severin is also a member of the APTA Cardiopulmonary Section Heart Failure Clinical Practice Guideline development team, the Specialization Academy of Content Experts, and the editorial board for Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal. Follow him on twitter @PTReviewer.