Breathe, Move, and Feel Your Best with Dana Santas Pt. 1

It’s so funny to me that there is still a misconception that mind-body health is ‘new age’ stuff. Our physical bodies work because of the neuromuscular connection,” Dana Santas told us.

It’s her approach to viewing health as a whole, an interconnected system that’s far more than just our physical health, that’s helped earned the wellness expert the Mobility Maker moniker.

“A healthy mind enables a healthy body and vice versa. I work on this daily with all my athletes,” she continues. “The hand-eye coordination necessary for everything from gaming to soccer, comes from the mind-body connection—as does the ability for a pitcher to regain his composure on the mound after giving up a home run. And breathing is the key to toggling between aspects of your nervous system. You can use your breathing to calm or rev up your mind and body.”

As a mobility, strength, and mind-body coach, Dana has helped pioneer mobility and breathing methods in the world of fitness, bringing her mobility inspired training into the professional sports world. Through her work as CNN’s exclusive wellness expert, she’s also on a mission to help everyday people breathe, move, and ultimately feel healthier and happier in their bodies.

To learn more about Dana and her mobility-inspired mission, we asked her to dive deep into her journey on becoming the Mobility Maker, her favorite breathing and mobility tips, and more.

Q&A with the Mobility Maker Dana Santas 

Q: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the Mobility Maker? What were some challenges and hurdles you faced along the way? 

Becoming “the Mobility Maker’” has definitely been an evolution over the last two decades as the work I did evolved from “yoga for sports” to more of a biomechanics-based mobility approach. It was actually the Asst. Athletic Trainer at the Tampa Bay Lightning who came up with the name in 2011, knowing that I was averse to being called the “yoga coach/instructor,” since my work with the players wasn’t really yoga at all.

That was right at the same time when I was first setting up my social media accounts, so it just made sense to use it as my handle across all platforms. Flash forward to now and I’ve had people come up to me at events, in the airport and even parking lots calling me Mobility Maker and asking to take selfies…honestly, I don’t think some of them even know my real name. It’s kind of surreal.

In terms of the actual evolution of my work…I started out as a yoga instructor, marketing yoga to pro sports teams and athletes because I knew—especially 20 years ago—there was a need for greater focus on mobility. However, it only took about six months working with all the pro teams in Boston for me to realize that yoga in the traditional sense was not at all what athletes needed due to the demands on their bodies, the integration of so many other experts and modalities and the insane nature of their schedules.

That’s when I started taking a deeper dive into biomechanics, learning how to do movement quality assessments, gaining a better understanding of strength and conditioning, and, most importantly, constantly learning from all the team coaches and trainers. This led to me getting my CSCS through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, multiple Functional Movement System certifications, doing extensive course study with the Postural Restoration Institute as well as many other relevant courses through ACSM, TPI, and many more.

In terms of “hurdles and challenges,” there were definitely a few times when being a woman working in the all-male sports of MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA presented issues. But really the most annoying issue was that, in the first decade of my work in pro sports, the women’s bathrooms were usually a mile away from the weight room at all the team facilities. Thankfully, over the last decade, I’ve seen a major evolution in sports when it comes to women in coaching positions and now many teams have women coaches’ locker rooms; I even have my own locker at the New York Yankees, which is pretty cool.

Q: Can you give us some background on the Mobility Maker Bench? 

I’m really proud of my Mobility Maker bench. It’s like the Swiss Army Knife of weight benches. I wanted to create a piece of equipment that would provide support for dozens and dozens of mobility exercises while also being useful for strength and stability exercises. The bench was designed to help correct and prevent some of the most common movement pattern issues. And not only is it so incredibly useful and versatile, because it’s a Sorinex product, it’s built to last and looks wickedly awesome. I love that it’s beefy enough to hold its own in any pro team weight room but designed to have a small footprint, so you can easily stand it upright to move it out of the way when you need extra space. For that reason, it’s also great for home gyms. We have one in our garage gym and use it every day.

Q: Can you tell us more about breathing biomechanics? How does it play a role in mobility and recovery?

Breathing influences ALL aspects of health—including (and especially) MOVEMENT! That’s why it’s arguably our most fundamental movement pattern. That’s also why training athletes to leverage their breathing as a movement pattern and optimize its functioning as a movement pattern and optimize its function is the foundation of all my work across MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, PGA, WWE and more. Because we take upwards of 18k-24k breaths daily, if breathing dysfunction is contributing to a movement issue, it will outweigh any other corrective exercises that don’t address it.

The diaphragm—your primary breathing muscle—attaches to both your ribs and your lumbar spine, where it also intersects with your psoas. Diaphragm function & ribcage position/movement are dependent on one another, and their position and function undeniably impacts your spine, pelvis & shoulder girdle.

Unfortunately, being stuck in a shallow, vertical, upper-chest-oriented breathing pattern (like so many of us are) creates a cascade of muscular compensation and skeletal alignment issues in order to lift and hold the ribcage up to enable vertical, chest breathing.

When you train rib mobility with your breathing pattern (internal rotation w/exhales and external rotation w/inhales)—your diaphragm can functionally contract & relax, eliminating the need for compensatory muscle recruitment that creates chronic pec, shoulder, neck & upper-back tension that limit shoulder and t-spine mobility. And because breathing quality heavily dictates ribcage position, when you optimize your breathing pattern, you optimize your ribcage position which creates better posture and enhanced shoulder stability and function (the scapula glide over the ribcage).

From a recovery standpoint, breathing is the key to eliciting your parasympathetic rest and restore aspect of your nervous system. Research shows that it takes just 90 seconds of deep breathing to elicit a parasympathetic response.

For more on how breathing impacts movement, health and wellness, check out my CNN four-part Breathe Better to Live Better series. And you can learn more about how I use it in my work and how you can leverage it personally and with coaching clients in my Breathe Better 101 online course.

Special note: This blog was originally published on Thorne’s Take 5 Daily blog.

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