For a long time, many athletes viewed yoga as a “soft” practice without much relevance to their training regimens. Increasingly, top athletes are discovering the many values of yoga. The reasons for choosing yoga and the exact methods of incorporating it are as individual as the athlete, but most are seeking the same basic benefits. Here is a look at the science behind the benefits that athletes can get from yoga, as well as some suggestions for incorporating these same practices into your own workouts.
Your core is the complex system of muscles that control the overall alignment of your body. Top athletes need a powerful core to propel them through the movements they make on a daily basis. Many different yoga positions build core strength, making them easy to incorporate into any workout. Focus on those positions that require you to balance on your hands and knees or hands and feet, such as Downward Dog, the Plank Pose, and Cat-Cow.
Stretching and Flexibility
Competitive athletes need maximum flexibility and lean, smooth, stretched out muscles. It is important to stretch before any workout, so why not start things off with some yoga poses designed for dynamic stretching? Classical Sun Salutations are practiced throughout numerous branches of yoga, traditionally in the early morning, and are appropriate for beginners.
At the end of your workout, don’t forget to cool down. Shavasana, or the Corpse Pose, is a traditional yoga class ender that can help you bring your workout to a satisfactory conclusion.
Yoga of all styles is extremely beneficial in helping athletes prevent injuries. Strains, sprains, and repetitive use injuries are much less likely to occur when the body is in proper alignment, the strength and flexibility are as high as possible, and the muscles are regularly stretched. It really doesn’t matter which type of yoga you choose to reap these benefits from, as long as you commit to regular practice. Choose the style that best fits your existing workout regimen.
Body Awareness and Mental Toughness
A huge part of being a top athlete is an acute awareness of where your body is in space and how it is reacting at all times. Yoga teaches you to turn your focus inward and become aware of what is happening internally. Choose the style of yoga that speaks to you the most, and commit to performing its mental practices as well as its poses. Becoming aware of your body lets you adjust it as needed to prevent pain and maximize functioning.
Along with a growing awareness of your body, yoga also provides an increasing awareness of your own mental state. You will learn to use breathing and intentional movements to calm yourself, accept fleeting thoughts without judgment, and become more fully present in each moment. These qualities help top athletes enter the “zone,” or the head space in which they are ready to perform at their best. Whichever style of yoga you choose, mental toughness is an excellent side benefit.
Although it can actually do more harm than good during their seasons, many athletes are turning to power yoga as a way to remain in top form during the off-season. This gym-based yoga style developed in the United States during the 1990s. Rather than the slow stretching and meditation that many Americans think of when picturing yoga, power yoga is a high-energy fitness workout. It developed out of the Ashtanga yoga style, but does not follow a set series of poses.
If you are looking for a hard-hitting yoga class that will rapidly build your overall fitness level, power yoga might fit the bill. Note that you should already be in good health and reasonably fit before you begin. If you are somewhat out of shape, consider starting with another style of yoga and then progressing to power yoga as you build strength and flexibility.
“Megan Williams is the community coordinator for CenteredYoga.com. Centered Yoga provides yoga teacher training and certification in Thailand. To learn more, visit http://www.centeredyoga.com.”