Hey, Athletes: Five Reasons to Add Yoga to Your Training Plan

I was inspired to write this article while creating a “Yoga For Runners, Spinners, Cross-Fitters” type class that I’ll be teaching next week. Yes, all of this has been said before- but I felt it was worth saying again. If you or someone you love is an athlete- yoga is for you.*

Photo courtesy of www. running.competitor.com.

Strength + Flexibility: While not all classes are the same, many forms of yoga can be pretty physically challenging. You may discover muscles that were previously unknown to you (such as the intercostal muscles, between the ribs). Keep practicing and you’ll find a stronger core, too. Yoga has the potential to even out the imbalances in your body caused by years of training in one particular discipline. You won’t be surprised to hear that flexibility increases, too. You may not get your feet behind your head, but you will begin to enjoy a greater range of motion, and a more balanced body.

Breath Awareness:  The physical practice of yoga (asana), along with breath practice (pranayama) have been shown to increase the effectiveness of breath function. Properly oxygenating the tissues is vital for muscle recovery. Bonus: by returning the attention again and again to the breath, you learn to become more fully present. This is a good thing- keep reading.

Increased Body Awareness: Ever feel klutzy? Like you’re always tripping over something? Yoga can help teach the body to have a better sense of itself, so “it” knows where all of “its” parts are. The fancy term for this is proprioception- and this awesome article explains it really well. Even if you’re already super-graceful, your yoga practice (with its accompanying lessons of mindfulness and moment-to-moment presence) will allow you to tune in to the subtle nuances of the body. Endorphins are amazingly delicious things, but they can often mask important signals indicating imbalance or weakness.  By learning to listen carefully to the body’s messages, you can stop injuries before they happen.

Reduced Tension, Physical and Mental: Training leads to tight, strong, muscles, which are highly specialized to do repetitive motion. Through active stretching (like Sun Salutations) and passive stretching (longer holds, think more Yin-style)- the body begins to loosen and relax. When the joints are looser, not constricted by chronically tight muscles, the body can function more efficiently and economically. You’ll out-perform your previous results.

Even more important to some is the release of mental tension. For many spinners, runners, gym junkies, etc., there is a constant underlying goal to improve, to achieve a new record, to win a race. Motivation is awesome- but when the mind is fixated on results 100% of the time, it is using valuable resources to analyze, examine, and judge each moment. In other words, the mind itself becomes like a strong, tight muscle. Yoga is a non-competitive, moment-by-moment experience that allows the practitioner to release the chronic tension that can accompany the competitive state. Regardless of the activity, we perform best when we are at ease and relaxed.

The Practice Goes With You: While I’ve used the word throughout this article to refer to a physical practice, “yoga” is not just something that we do on a mat. It means  “to yoke”, or “to join.” When you practice yoga, you’re joining together mind, body, breath and spirit. Many of my favorite yogis never enter a yoga studio- their yoga lies elsewhere, in a meditation practice, in their morning jog, painting or writing.  As an athlete, a regular on-the-mat yoga practice can be the springboard to turning your sport into your yoga.

That’s Five Reasons, So Get Out And Do It Already: Just a few things to keep in mind. Really, this is the same thing, said three different ways, but please read it anyway:

  • Save your competitive edge for your sport or physical discipline. Treat your yoga practice as therapeutic (’cause it is).
  • Check your ego at the door. Don’t worry about making the pose look a certain way.  Listen to the instructor, and listen to your body. Find a sense of bringing the “pose into your body, rather than your body into the pose” (thanks to George for this one). If all else fails, and it’s just really killing you that other people are doing crazy flexible things, remind yourself that you are way better than these other people at (fill in the blank here).
  • Ease up. You’re probably used to pushing yourself really, really hard. But on the mat, pushing yourself into the deepest possible stretch is actually counter-productive. We want to teach the muscles to loosen and relax, not tighten up even more.

If you’ve never done yoga before, check out this post about your first class. Have fun!

*This is a trick statement. Yoga is for everyone! 🙂 

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