Just do it—yoga.
1.) Injury Prevention.
Athletes experience stress on their bodies during their training. This repetitive overuse of certain muscle groups will cause imbalances in strengthening and lengthening. Tighter muscles pull at the ligaments and joints. If an athlete falls, muscle tightness puts him/her at a greater risk of tearing due to the muscle’s resistance to movement; more pliability and flexibility in the muscles can prevent injuries. Yoga is designed to work the muscles around the joints for stability and full mobility and rotation in the joints, making an athlete’s movements more fluid.
2.) Increased Performance.
Better flexibility and range of motion can translate to increased performance in athletes. For example, one female athlete said she could lunge lower for ground balls in her softball games with her new flexibility and she could throw farther distances with more complete shoulder rotation. She also found that she had a quicker response time with an improved mind-body connection.
3.) Body Awareness.
Proprioception is often referred to as the sixth sense. It is the ability to perceive our body internally without our eyes, but with our minds. We can perceive the body in its position in space, the direction and speed of its movement. Through subtle actions addressed throughout a yoga class we gain an understanding of how our body moves in various ways in relation to its parts with a sense of keen awareness. This understanding of anatomy and body mechanics not only helps with reaction time, but with balance and injury prevention as well.
Yoga is designed to alleviate the law of compensation. The law of compensation states that our bodies will default to the path of least resistance when unconscious in our activity. Generally, the path of least resistance is the most flexible and often weakest area in our bodies. Yoga allows us to see where we have been compensating and helps to balance the body by placing special attention to symmetry. In aligning our body and stacking our bones, we discover our weaknesses as well as our strengths. A martial artist said his improved balance greatly increased his abilities to perform, especially with high kicks.
Stretching and strengthening of the abdominal, paraspinal, and pelvic muscles, commonly lumped into the term “core” are extremely important to maintaining a healthy spine. When muscles in these areas are healthy and strong, they can take pressure off the spine and help prevent injury. Core strengthening is one of the cornerstones of yoga.
6.) Breath Awareness.
Yoga teaches us to become aware of the quality and length of our breath. It allows us to gauge when we are active or relaxed so we can accurately manage our own nervous systems and bring them back to balance in any situation. This attention to breath also allows us to strengthen the diaphragm and expand our lung tissue to its full capacity. When we breathe at full capacity, we increase the amount of oxygen that feeds the body and the muscles which also aids in increasing our endurance.
7.) Mental Focus.
Yoga is a listening exercise and an opportunity to be present. In a yoga class, we listen to the teacher and then translate the information into our bodies. Having a yoga practice forces us to be present and to focus our minds on the tasks at hand. When we can learn to observe our minds and its patterns we can start to remove obstacles that would otherwise hold us back if we weren’t conscious of them.
8.) Stress Relief.
Yoga teaches us how to calm the mind and the nervous system while faced with stress and physical challenge. Yoga is called a moving meditation. Since training and competing can increase stress, not only on your body but also our mind, it’s important to be able to perform in a way that does not feel stressful. “In the zone” is that state of complete surrender to mental focus, clarity and calmness of being that allows for optimal performance. Yoga is a great practice before and after any competition. You can adapt a yoga practice to be stimulating for energy or calming for tranquility, but either way, it will be great for mental focus.
9.) Recovery Time.
You can find countless case studies of athletes who came to a full recovery from injury through yoga practice. Some of the founders of the Western yoga, such as Iyengar and Bikram, became such proponents of yoga because it cured them of illness and injury. Yoga therapy is a growing method of physical therapy for injury recovery widely recognized by Western medicine. Not only is yoga a great method for injury recovery, but also helps with post-workout recovery time. After a vigorous workout, athletes often have sore, energy-depleted muscles. Yoga can help move energy through the body and relieve what could have been several days of muscle soreness, with a few poses and some breath work.
Endurance of an athlete is measured by the overall physical constitution of an athlete. Yoga aids endurance through all of the benefits offered above. With all of these benefits assisting an athlete, he or she will have increased stamina for competition and a longer career living in a much more healthy, balanced body.
Nicole Doherty’s mission is to facilitate a deep inner exploration, life-changing breakthroughs, and the self-empowerment you need to reach your highest potential. Nicole is the yoga expert columnist for American Athlete Magazine and teaches in Los Angeles. Visit her at www.nicoledoherty.com
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Ed. Brianna Bemel
Assist. Ed.: Sarah Winner