Yogi Profile: Dana Santas
Meet Dana Santas, a yoga teacher and successful yogipreneur.
Dana came to yoga 17 years ago, and since then has become a successful yoga teacher and yoga business owner. Dana is the creator of Radius Yoga, and director of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a thriving international yoga-based sports performance training business to help athletes move, breathe and focus in ways that enhance performance and decrease injury.
Specializing in professional sports, Dana is the yoga trainer for numerous teams in MLB, NHL, NFL and the NBA, including the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Orlando Magic and Tampa Bay Lightning. As an international expert in health and wellness, Dana is the yoga/movement expert to CNN and CNN Health. She’s also an advisory board member to Darma, the world’s first “smart seat” cushion.
Dana received her training through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI). Dana earned her B.A. cum laude from Tufts University.
As an experienced registered yoga teacher (E-RYT) and educator, she formerly ran a Radius Yoga 200-hr teacher training program through Yoga Alliance, certifying Radius Yoga instructors.
In this interview, Dana talked to me about yoga and her business.
What brought you to yoga?
I was a stressed-out corporate executive, working 80-hour weeks and traveling all the time. My workouts, like the rest of my life, were high intensity. I took my first yoga class while traveling for work. As a former gymnast, I had little trouble with the poses, but the concentration on stillness and breathing was new to me.
As a former victim of child abuse, the focus on connecting my mind and body was both terrifying and cathartic. The more I practiced, the more I came to realize that most of my stress was caused by a sense of feeling out of control—and yoga was empowering me to retake control of my body and thoughts. I’d been speeding through my adult life like it was one big emergency.
I was unaware of how much my life choices and need to be “perfect” were fueled by a desperation to run away from my past to avoid getting pulled into memories and emotions that, honestly, pushed me to the edge of my sanity. After yoga helped me realize that I’d rather heal than run, I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and learned to use yoga-based techniques to deal with the memories without letting them become all consuming and color my perspective of the world.
When did you start teaching?
About 12 years ago. I continued with my corporate career the first couple years but taught as many as seven classes per week. It didn’t take me long to realize teaching was my true calling. While I taught, I continued—as I do today—to study anatomy, biomechanics, neurology, psychology and other subjects that help me better understand how people move, breathe and feel.
In addition to my certification through Yoga Alliance and continued study with Manju Jois, Rodney Yee and other amazing yoga teachers, I did training and certifications through the American College of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine, Postural Restoration Institute, Anatomy Trains and more.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. And I was completely exhilarated by how much my teaching was impacting other people’s lives—from the woman who credited me with curing her fibromyalgia to the man who said I’d eradicated his chronic back pain and the myriad people who told me they slept better, felt happier, etc. I’d never felt so gratified by and passionate about anything. And, personally, I’d never felt so mentally and physically healthy before.
How did you start working with pro athletes?
As an avid sports fan, I couldn’t help but wonder how the acute body awareness and control I was personally developing through yoga could help professional athletes. As such, I began looking at how teams integrated functional movement training into their strength & conditioning programs…and, at the time, I was really surprised to find that—for the most part—they didn’t.
While still traveling as an executive, in early fall 2004, I happened to stay at the same hotel as the Yankees while they were on the road. A chance meeting with Derek Jeter in the lobby led to spending hours after the game talking with him, Jorge Posada and one of their trainers about their training, aches and pains, and mobility limitations. Shortly thereafter, I made the decision to quit corporate America for good and start Radius Yoga with the goal of developing a very specific style of yoga conditioning to bring to MLB, the NHL, NFL and NBA.
Because I was based in Boston, I focused on my backyard; within my first year, I had a hand in every major sports team in the city: I was doing private training with Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Boston Bruins goal tender Tim Thomas, two tight ends from the Patriots, and the Celtics brought me in to work with select players. I was also the yoga trainer for the Boston Fire Department.
From a long-distance perspective, I travelled to Denton, Texas for a collegiate league baseball team, did some work with the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Redskins, and then, in late 2006, I got the call from the Tampa Bay Rays to go to Florida for three weeks for my first MLB spring training gig.
The Rays strength coach, who’s now a very good friend, made introductions to all the other strength coaches around the area, including the Pirates, Indians, and Blue Jays. I almost didn’t go meet the Blue Jays coach, thinking that I wasn’t interested in working with a team based out of Canada…good thing I did, considering that we’re married seven years today (March 18th) and have an amazing 5-year-old son.
Tell me about Radius Yoga as a brand and style of yoga. What is the mission of Radius Yoga?
Radius Yoga’s mission is to help people move, breathe and feel better. Although I specialize in professional sports training, the overall mission is to help everyone, which is why I write for CNN Health and on other platforms to reach a broader audience.
I created Radius Yoga as a hybrid style of yoga and functional mobility training based on my “ABC’s of Yoga™” (Alignment, Breath & Core) that emphasizes alignment/restoration of the kinetic chain, utilizing proper breathing mechanics, and awareness & integrated engagement of the core (including the pelvis and diaphragm) as the center of functional strength and balance.
I think the three most unique aspects of Radius Yoga as a style are in its focus on teaching precision in movement rather than postures, the foundational belief that mobility comes from restoring proper biomechanics rather than through stretching, and the reconciliation of science and yoga philosophy/spirituality.
If you teach awareness of proper breathing and movement biomechanics not only within poses but in the ways that we move properly into and out of postures, you're reinforcing functional patterns of movement and kinesthetic awareness that transcend yoga on your mat to enhance overall movement and function in daily life/during sport performance.
My biggest pet peeve is that most people assume Radius Yoga is about “making athletes flexible.” I don’t teach flexibility and, in fact, I’m quite averse to the word. Radius Yoga uses yoga and “yoga-inspired” postures and movements with specific cuing designed to restore and enhance functional mobility through activation and inhibition of specific muscles. Hamstrings are a great example.
Many athletes can’t touch their toes and the standard “diagnosis” is tight hammies. But usually the athletes can’t touch their toes because their hamstrings are pulled into a fully lengthened state by their anteriorly tipped pelvis and overactive hip flexors and back extensors that don’t allow proper forward bending.
If you try to stretch the back of a typical athlete’s legs to increase “flexibility,” you are at serious risk of ripping their already lengthened hamstrings. In this example, Radius Yoga looks at the muscles that aren’t firing that are contributing to the locked anterior pelvic tilt. What muscles oppose the overactive hip flexors and back extensors? Are the athletes glutes firing? Transversis abdominus? If we restore stable, pelvic function the athlete will regain posterior chain mobility and be able to forward bend to touch their toes—no hamstring stretching necessary!
Another standard assumption about me/Radius Yoga is that because I specialize in sports training, my style focuses strictly on the physical aspects of yoga. But Radius Yoga is more of a “physiological” approach that combines the mind, body and spirit.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s definitely based more on science than anything esoteric; I just reconcile science and spirituality through the belief that cultivating an acute level of body awareness, comprehension of the intricacies of our bodies and the ability to leverage our autonomic nervous system leads to awakening true consciousness…enlightenment…samadhi…or whatever you choose to call it. If you have poor body posture and your breathing is rapid and shallow, you are unknowingly walking around with your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) constantly engaged.
That state of mind is stressful and exhausting—and will color your perspective of the world and all of your decisions. It will also cause muscular imbalances that inhibit mobility and cause chronic pain due to the dysfunctional recruiting of muscles in your chest, shoulders and upper back as “accessory” breathing muscles to support chest-oriented breathing.
There’s a whole chain reaction throughout the body as poor breathing misaligns the rib cage and adversely affects shoulder girdle integrity, inhibits core strength, weakens the pelvic floor, hampers pelvic/hip movement…and so on. And your overall health will ultimately deteriorate as your imbalanced nervous system adversely affects all of your other body systems, causing dysfunction and inflammation that lead to chronic disease.
How does the melding of science and philosophy relate to pro sports?
Consider this: How would an MLB pitcher get full, stable range of motion in his shoulder with a misaligned rib cage? And, if he’s locked in his sympathetic nervous system, how easily can he recover after giving up a hit and be able to face the next batter? Or, after a poor outing on the mound, be able to relate to and enjoy his family in the limited time between games?
To me, this is a perfect illustration of how I’m actually teaching my pro athlete clients yoga that’s not only science based but also sutra based.
The example above speaks to my favorite sutra:
Yoga Sutra 1.2 ~ Yoga chitta vritti nirodha
Yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind
Once you’re empowered by the understanding of your own physiology to realize that what you feel in your mind and body is actually under your control, you are free from the “mind fluctuations” that Patanjali speaks of in the sutras. And then the “seer” can actually abide in his true nature…seeing the world from a perspective that is not influenced by undue influences on his/her physiology. I teach and live this sutra every day.
What's next for you in the coming year?
More of doing what I love and loving what I do! I have some new exciting projects happening in terms national partnerships and sponsorships, the launch of my Radius Yoga for Sports Integration training on both coasts in the fall, expanding my online instructor/trainer mentorship program (the next one begins in May), making a new series of training videos available, and so much more. I’m definitely living a blessed life with so many cool people in it.
Photo by Rich Montalbano/RiMo Photo
Find Dana Online: RadiusYoga.com