Yoga for Athletes by guest blogger, Carolyn Fallon.
Throughout most of my life I have been an athlete of some kind – whether it was participating in various sports in school or playing recreationally on different club and intramural teams in and after college. As an avid athlete, I find that there are other aspects that are part of being an athlete than just the physical skill that each particular sport calls for. There is a need for various characteristics personality-wise, but what I find is extremely important no matter what sport I am playing is the need to be fit and in shape in every way possible. As I have (yes, I will admit I have been out of college for a few years…) gotten a bit older, I have come to find that yoga is a great activity that allows me to be fit regardless if I am playing sports still, and also helps me have an edge over all the athletes out there that believe there is no “real use” for yoga!
Of all the workout styles, yoga is the oldest and most comprehensive practice combining weight-bearing exercise, cardiovascular endurance and meditation. Many people associate yoga with general fitness or just for people who “aren’t athletic”, but a growing body of literature on the effects of yoga on athletic training is changing this. Researchers have found a number of unique and positive results that have come from athletes adopting a regular yoga routine.
Yoga begins with a focus on increasing self-awareness. It starts with the control of breath. Once the individual has learned the use of different breathing styles effectively, these are incorporated into both static poses and dynamic movements that differ based on the particular school of yoga. Once these beginning aspects of yoga have been mastered, athletes can begin to use yoga to propel themselves past the workout plateau by increasing athletic strength and flexibility, while also protecting themselves from various injuries.
Yoga and Strength There are all kinds of ways that yoga can increase an athlete’s strength, training potential and even their recovery time. Just from the practice of controlling one’s breathing, results have been found in the increased strength of people’s grips. Additionally, as athletes become more practiced in yoga they will begin to move in to more vigorous types of yoga, such as power yoga and ashtanga, which will demand more exertion from them physically, and in turn improve their strength over time. Furthermore, because specific sports tend to emphasize certain muscle groups at the expense of others, yoga allows athletes to increase their core strength (and seriously, who doesn’t want that?!) and ultimately optimize their overall training efficiency!
Yoga and Flexibility Athletes have more to worry about than just muscle strength. The tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues of the joints must be trained to handle the extra work of the muscles. Unfortunately, athletes often face the reality of compromised joint health after only one or two decades of training! This problem is largely preventable with the practice of yoga. In fact, many orthopedic surgeons attest that yoga is excellent for strengthening both flexibility and balance. I think we can all agree that these are both pretty important aspects for any type of athlete!
Yoga as Injury Prevention
No matter what sport is involved, the constant movement and exertion that is expected of an athlete’s body can be exhausting. Exercising in general can make one’s legs, back, shoulders, and many other body parts feel sore and tight. Restorative yoga can help athletes to get back to their normal range of motion, which prevents future problems from occurring the next time they are active. Another benefit of yoga in injury prevention is the effect of increased circulation and reduced swelling which allows athletes to return to normal training without a hitch.
Yoga has so much to offer the modern athlete! It combines a body-focused meditation with complete joint and muscle workout, and has proven results that include better muscle coordination, faster recovery times, reduced fatigue due to efficient oxygen use, improvement to long-term joint stability and a reduction in athletic injuries. With so many benefits coming from the practice of yoga, what athlete wouldn’t want to try it out?!