A Review of P90X: Yoga X
This is the fourth in a series of reviews of the individual workouts within the P90X program. For all other reviews of the workouts, as well as a review of the overall program, please see the links at the bottom of the page.
I am a long-time fitness enthusiast who’s completed P90X twice. While I haven’t found the program to be the transformative experience it’s purported to be, I find it to be overall beneficial and very effective at keeping me on track fitness-wise when I don’t have reliable access to a gym.
Before I started on P90X the first time, I noticed that there was a dearth of workout-by-workout reviews, leaving me with little idea of what to expect from the program. I aim to correct that, and to give you an experienced exerciser’s perspective on the benefits and disadvantages of P90X.
Today we’ll be focusing on the fourth in line and proof that Tony Horton is either surprisingly good at acting normal and low-key or has just been sedated for this program: P90X: Yoga X.
Beyond giving us an opportunity to poke fun at poor Tony, however, Yoga X is right behind Plyometrics as one of the more effective workouts in the P90X series – as well as one of the most skipped.
People skip Yoga X because some of the poses are very tricky to do, people skip it because it’s more slow-paced, and more than anything, people skip it because, at one and a half hours, it’s just too darned long.
However, no matter how much you might be tempted to do so, I would strongly advise against skipping Yoga X.
Yoga X: Full Flexibility In Only 90 Minutes
While muscular strength and cardiovascular conditioning are arguably more important than Gumby-like flexibility, a lack of flexibility leaves us all more injury-prone and less able to heave our increasingly stiff, ungainly bodies out of our office chairs and about our day-to-day lives.
Flexibility is also, very often, the most overlooked aspect of physical fitness.
Let’s face it: we have enough on our plates trying to jam any workout at all into our already bursting schedules. If we do any stretching at all, it’s often perfunctory and hurried, a two-minute ritual tacked onto the end of our workout and sometimes abandoned entirely in our rush to jet off to the shower and get on with our lives.
Modern life, however, is uniquely adept at reducing our flexibility and range of motion. Many of us work at jobs that require little to no movement for eight hours a day or more, which allows our range of motion to shrink and shrink until, one day, we drop a pen, lean over to pick it up, and realize that our fingers no longer reach the floor.
At that point, you have two alternatives: you can either get down on your knees and hope your carpal tunnel isn’t so bad that you can’t keep a grip on your pen all the way back up to standing, or you can give it up for lost and go get another pen.
A strong heart and body will keep you in good health, but good flexibility will make your day-to-day life much easier. At the very least, it’ll save you a fortune on pens.
While the P90X program does include an optional X Stretch DVD, in my personal experience I find that Yoga gives better results by far – not only in flexibility, but also in balance, coordination, and mind-body awareness. I would do X Stretch in addition to Yoga X, but not instead of.
And, while I have always been and still remain skeptical of the more mystical aspects of yoga practice, even this skeptic has to admit that a mindful hour or two of focusing on nothing but your breath and the movements of your body really will clear your head.
However, not all of Yoga X is fun and games. It does have its faults.
Yoga X: The Bad News
If you have some familiarity with yoga practice and at least some of the poses, as I did, Tony’s cues on form and breathing are good enough for you to muddle through, though they’ll still lack some clarity.
If, however, you’re a total newbie to yoga, Tony’s cues are sufficiently vague that they might leave you somewhat in the dark.
That’s not entirely his fault. In yoga practice, the devil really is in the details, and without an experienced, live instructor on hand to look at what you’re doing and offer feedback, it’s can be difficult to master some poses.
However, a little more guidance from Tony would have been nice.
What would have been even nicer is Tony not ignoring his own advice.
Let me explain:
During the P90X program, you’ll be doing the fifteen minute Ab Ripper workout three times a week. As Tony himself points out during Ab Ripper, the abdominals are a muscle group like any other, and you shouldn’t train them more than three times a week.
Then he throws what he calls a “Yoga Belly 7” segment into Yoga X, and we’re all left wondering if he was listening when he said that other thing about not working the abs more than three times a week.
Finally, Yoga X is where the P90X scheduling starts to fall down slightly. If you’re just starting out, chances are that your legs may still be a little pooped from Plyometrics. If you’re not just starting out, they may or may not be tired, but they’ll certainly get tired after Yoga X, the first half of which involves holding lots of variations on a lunge position for extended periods of time.
Then, after Yoga X, comes P90X: Legs and Back. And, finally, there will be Kenpo X, whose kickboxing moves wouldn’t be challenging under normal circumstances but can become so after two days in a row of intensive leg work.
It is hard to fit in yoga without leg work, yes. But I can’t help but wonder if there might have been a better way to do this, because there have been times during P90X when, by the end of the week, I’ve felt like every muscle from the waist down was kapoot.
But hey, no pain, no gain, right?
And, speaking of pain, if you like a little agony you are going to love right angle pose.
A Note on Upward-Facing Dog
A pose you’ll repeat often during this workout is Upward-Facing Dog. Since it's so prevalent, I figured it deserved its own section.
Personally, I find that, as a low back pain sufferer, this pose hyperextends my lumbar spine too much and leaves me with an aching back. If it gives you the same problem, I’d recommend switching to Cobra, which I have found much gentler as long as you don't exaggerate the arch. Alternatively, simply hold plank position until it’s time to do your second vinyasa and move into Downward-Facing Dog.
Yoga X: The Rundown
Since I know that Tony can be a little vague, I’ve decided to make things a little less vague and give you a pose-by-pose rundown of some of the more challenging poses you’ll encounter during Yoga X.
I’ll try to especially concentrate on poses where I feel that Tony’s instruction was a little lacking. You won’t see Downward-Facing-Dog listed here, for example, because I feel that Tony covers all of the important aspects of Downward Dog during the workout, possibly because it’s one of the most repeated poses.
(Note: I've removed the previous informational links to the pose descriptions at Yoga Journal, since despite my not being affiliated with them in any way, shape, or form, my linking to them so many times apparently risked giving that impression. Therefore, if you're not familiar with any of these poses, please perform an internet search for their names to familiarize yourself with them.)
Equipment-wise, you will need a mat for some poses. It’s also wise to have a yoga block, though in a pinch a small, sturdy box or a copy of War and Peace will do. Look for something with the same dimensions of your standard issue yoga block, which measures 9”x4”x6”.
If at any time during this workout you feel any low back strain, go into Child’s Pose and stay there until you feel better. It’s a marvelous pose for releasing tension in the back.
Part One: The Dynamic
The first half of Yoga X consists of moving asanas, which are a series of dynamic, flowing, high energy poses.
Tony will start you off with some light stretching and a series of three sun salutations. Once warmed up, you’ll start incorporating more challenging moves, starting with the Warrior series.
To make them less challenging, let me share with you a few insights I've gained during my own workout on how to make these poses work:
Warrior One: The key to all Warrior poses is to make sure you keep your rear leg engaged and keep your weight centered rather than leaning forward. Straighten your rear leg and tighten that glute. Don’t keep all of your weight on your front leg.
Warrior Two: In addition to keeping your rear leg engaged, be mindful of keeping your hips and shoulders stacked one on top of the other. This centers your weight and allows you to distribute it more evenly between front and back. Again, think center, not front. Think stacked, not leaning. Think powerful, like a warrior, not flopping around like a fish.
Reverse Warrior: This pose will get slightly harder but more rewarding overall if you don’t plant your hand on your rear leg and lean all of your weight on that hand in order to get into the deepest backbend possible. Accept a shallower but much stronger backbend by putting 10-20% of your weight on that hand and using your core and strong legs to hold up the rest.
Triangle Pose: Here, worry less about getting your hand all the way to the floor and more about getting your chest and shoulders straight and square and open. You can push through your lower hand in order to open your chest and shoulders more.
Twisting Triangle Pose: Take Tony’s advice here and shuffle your rear foot in a little in order to get into this pose a little better. A block is very helpful here.
Chair Pose: In this pose, think of drawing everything towards a center line that runs from the middle of your forehead down to your big toes. Squeeze your toes, knees, and thighs together towards that line. Squeeze your shoulder blades in to keep your back straight and strong. If you think ‘in’ rather than just ‘down’, and think with your whole body rather than just worrying about your legs, you’ll find much more strength and stability in this pose.
Right Angle Pose: This pose is agony, especially in the clasped hands version. Don’t feel bad about having to straighten your front leg and take a break now and then. Do remember, as with the Warrior poses, don’t let your rear leg flop around back there without doing anything! Keep both legs engaged, not just the front.
Prayer Twist (in a lunge): This is a tough balance pose for me. I always fall over. To get the most out of it, do as you do in Chair Pose and try to think of drawing everything in to your center. It actually becomes easier to find your balance here if you’re flexible enough to reach the floor with one hand. If balance is your weak spot, though, you might be better off keeping your hands in prayer position and fighting for that rather than getting deeper into the stretch.
Warrior Three: If you have low back problems or a weak back, keeping your hands forward in Warrior Three is going to be difficult for you. Don’t feel bad about keeping them back, but do, as always, remember that you still have a rear leg here.
Standing Splits: No, I can’t hold onto my ankle with both hands, either. I've tried, and every time my forehead makes for the floor with embarrassing haste. Don’t worry about it. Do what you can.
Half Moon: Rear leg again. You have one, or at least I assume you do, so use it. I know it seems strange that you can stand on one leg and do anything with the other leg that might help you, but it’s true. Tighten both glutes, pull your abs in, and you’ll find this pose becoming miraculously more stable.
Twisting Half Moon: No, I can’t really do this one either. Don’t worry about it. Keep that rear toe on the floor if you can’t keep it raised. Don’t hurt yourself. Work into it as far as you can, then accept that you’ve gone as far as you can, and stop.
Here ends the dynamic portion of the workout. If you’re planning on doing the second half later in the day, this is your chance to spend some extra quality time in Downward-Facing Dog.
Part Two: Balance and Static
Tree: My favorite pose ever. To lock it down, pull your raised knee back and buttocks in towards that center line. Hang out. Imagine sprouting leaves.
Royal Dancer: Keep thinking of that concept of ‘center line’ here, and while you do, also think of tension and counter-tension. To achieve stability in Royal Dancer, you need to reach towards the front with one hand and pull on your raised leg with your other hand just as much as you need push back with that leg. Let your torso and upraised arm and leg form into a bow shape, seeking equilibrium between all of its parts. The more you can equalize that tension between the two components of the pose – reaching forward and pushing back - the more stable you’ll become.
Standing Leg Extensions: These appear to be unique to P90X, with the only variation I found having the leg held to the side rather than the front. In any case, this is another example of flexibility actually making a pose easier, in some ways. If you can grab onto a toe while your leg is extended, the forward push of your foot combined with the pullback from your arm and torso will stabilize you. Think, always, of finding an equilibrium between pushing and pulling. If you can’t go for toe lock, though, you’ll lose that advantage and rely more heavily on hip flexor and quadriceps strength to keep your leg extended. If you can, try both and see which you find more rewarding. If you can’t or you’re feeling pooped today, just hug your knee into your chest and enjoy the stretch.
Crane: Now this is hard. To get it right, think not only of drawing in to that center line, but also of tucking your body in towards your core, almost folding in towards your absolute center of gravity. Don’t let your butt go high up or your knees flare out. Pull in through your core. Keep your fingers spread wide for stability. If you have wrist problems, curl your fingers slightly so that they’re not flat on the mat. It’s a tough pose, and I’ve never been able to hold it for the full minute. My personal best is 46 seconds. Don’t worry. Just breathe, inhabit the moment, do what you can, and accept what you can’t.
Seated Spinal Stretch: If you have back problems, go as far into this pose as is comfortable and no farther. Be gentle to your back.
Cat/Cow: Don’t skip this, especially if you have back issues. Do try not to over-exaggerate the arch in your lumbar spine, though. Again, go as far as is comfortable.
Frog: Really wonderful stretch for the hips and inner thighs. I could hang out in this one forever. Pay attention to your knees if you have knee problems, since this position may be awkward for some kneecaps, and make sure to aim for that 90 degree angle between hips, knees, and shins.
Bridge or Wheel: If you have low back problems, do not go into a full Wheel. It’ll put far too much strain on your lumbar spine. If you have wrist problems, you might want to be careful, too. Stick to Bridge. You’ll still get some benefit, and you’ll get it without the backache.
Plow to Shoulder Stand: Another iffy pose for those with any kind of vertebral issues, I find that this one simply puts too much strain on my neck, even with cushioning. Strain on the neck is bad, and the benefits of this pose aren’t worth the risk. If you feel pain in your own neck, skip this one.
Table: Listen to Tony’s advice on adjusting wrist position if you have wrist problems. Otherwise have fun.
After this, the poses are all very straightforward stretches as well as a few abdominal exercises which, quite honestly, I skip and I think you should skip, too. If you’re doing Ab Ripper three times a week, you’re doing all the ab work that is needed or even recommended.
And remember, when it comes to Yoga X, patience is its own reward.