In what way can yoga help help your sports training? Today’s post comes from Kula instructor Emily Thomas.
Speaking from personal experience having a cyclist fiancé who usually prefers to reserve yoga or weights cross-training for the odd, dangerously stormy day when he has no other choice, I believe it’s safe to say that most athletes would rather be doing their chosen discipline itself than doing yoga, as for some this is the ‘boring’, ‘painful’ or ‘unnatural’ part of training (and this sentiment has everything to do with consistency!) Balancing your sport with yoga practice at least twice a week can be the difference between recovery, injury prevention, longevity and peak performance. So let’s just unpack a few reasons why yoga is crucial for athletes.
1. Yoga teaches increased awareness and control of breath and body
By doing yoga practices (like Hot and Basics) that ask you to really focus on functional alignment cues and specific positioning of the body, you return to your training sessions with increased awareness and a greater sense of refining your technique, and furthermore, greater control over your breathing for increased stamina. Yoga is all about building this consciousness and becoming more aware of your body, and more specifically the mind-body connection. Here also is where the breath comes in. Elite athletes are masters of their breath, and know how to control it during crucial moments. One of the crucial 8 limbs of Yoga is exactly that – Prana (Breath) Yama (control). Dana Santas who is the team yoga trainer for multiple major American baseball, football and basketball teams explains, ‘Proper diaphragm use and breathing biomechanics are not only paramount for leveraging the autonomic nervous system but also facilitate integrated core strength, pelvic floor function, shoulder girdle integrity and shoulder mobility’.
2. A yoga practice encourages balance and coordination
Focusing on these two aspects in yoga practice means enhanced control over how you move your body, which consequently leads to better technique and form. This is what every athlete spends an entire career refining.
3. Through yoga, we improve mobility and range of motion, as well as enhanced muscular economy
Often referred to by most as ‘flexibility’. Indeed it is totally true that enhanced range of motion that yoga increases performance latitude in movements. Elite Triathlete Rich Roll explains, “For example, a swimmer with supple shoulder and hip joints is able to capture and pull more water than a swimmer with a more limited range of motion. The result is more forward movement per stroke as well as enhanced muscular economy.”
However, contrary to popular belief, while crucial to the general structural soundness of the body, the ‘stretch’ factor of yoga isn’t necessarily the number one priority for athletes. Yoga for athletes expert Dana Santas has said “Once I recognized the real reasons I was positively impacting them—which had little to do with stretching—I went from providing temporary relief of tension to creating lasting increases in functional mobility, stability, and mental stamina.” The inhibition and activation of certain muscles in yoga poses is actually what many athletes find even more beneficial than the increased flexibility.
About the author Emily Thomas: Ever since her first yoga teacher claimed that all such high intensity activities were ‘bad’ for the body and having a strong reaction to this notion, Emily has had a particular interest in the balance that yoga can bring to those who practice other enjoy both as part of a healthy lifestyle. Like many at Kula, she is a yoga teacher who enjoys weight training and cycling as complements to yoga.
Catch Emily at Kula’s “Yoga For Athletes” workshop on Saturday May 23, 1-3 p.m. More info and to book online see https://kulayoga.com.au/workshops.