YOGA FOR ATHLETES

YOGA FOR ATHLETES

yoga certificationBy Andrea Soles

Looking for a new way to get in your resistance work? You might be surprised to find that Yoga is a fantastic complement for athletes of various sports as well as fitness enthusiasts to do just that. As yoga has increased in popularity over the past years, athletes are looking at incorporating the practice of Yoga into their training program to fix potential imbalances in their body and to improve their performance in their chosen field of sport.

Yoga is the ideal way to bring balance exercises into a performers training regimen. Most athletes are involved in some form of weight training and other resistance training that uses repetitive motions that only develop certain muscle groups, while ignoring others. Also, intense sports training might build strength in certain areas of the body but leaves the athlete inflexible and even weak in others. That creates imbalance in the body. Yoga is able to fix this imbalance and help to develop the muscles that have been ignored through the contraction of these muscles in the various poses.

Whether you are a golfer, skier, windsurfer, or soccer player, the mind body connection in yoga is an important element in producing peak performance.  Yoga can assist the athlete with developing a better way of breathing while improving balance, flexibility, core strength, and endurance.

Although proper breathing technique is the foundation of many sports, it is often ignored by many athletes. Yoga will help fix this lack of breathing skill and develop the correct breathing technique that is very much required in any game of sport. The integration of mind and body through correct breathing patterns helps to build stamina and endurance in an athlete. Proper breathing techniques also bring more focus and attention to the mind and sharpens one’s intuition. This gives the athlete an advantage over his fellow players.

The various poses in yoga help to build a strong abdominal core and the different types of contractions of these poses and movements act as a complementary form of resistance training to the typical gym-based workouts. However unlike in a gym, Yoga can be practiced outdoors without the use of heavy equipment. A perfect Yoga background could be a sandy beach with the sound of waves in the background or on a mountain top with blue sky within reach of your finger tips.

Frequent yoga practice increases flexibility and range of motion and the slow movements are perfect for athletes. Many sports enthusiasts are already using yoga movements as warm up and warm down routines in their practice to maintain flexibility of the muscles and joints as well as creating an excellent low-impact cross training technique.

When teaching Yoga for athletes, instructors are asked to give consideration to their students’ requirements; encouraging the practitioners to take it easy and to leave their competitive mindset out of the game. A “win-lose mentality” is surely to lessen anybody’s yoga experience and potentially reduces the spiritual benefits received from Yoga practice, such as quieting of the mind, to feel at peace and come to a still point of contemplation within the Self.

With the help of some teachers’ guidelines specifically geared towards athletes, Yoga practice can add variety to aerobic or strength workouts, reduce training boredom and provide a workout for any sportsman’s need.  When teaching Yoga to athletes it is important to understand the athlete’s body. Athletes is a broad term, covering everyone from recreational golfers to professional basketball players, and each sport will have a different effect on the player’s body.

Yoga teachers should assist students adapt their practices to suit their individual needs and requirements as well as reduce chances of injury and help recover from tough aerobic or strength workouts.  Talk with the individual students about their bodies, and show them a range of poses to bring their bodies into balance.

A class including, or specifically designed for, athletes should begin with a slow warm-up and proceed to moderate heat-building poses, such as Sun Salutations and standing poses. These asanas and sequences will prepare the body for the flexibility work to follow.

Athletes are usually goal oriented individuals who need to feel successful in their training. Poses such as Bakasana (Crane Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or a carefully executed Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) at the wall can play to athletes’ strengths and sense of accomplishment. Such affirming work in strength-specific poses salves the ego and helps students handle the flexibility poses that are more challenging for athletic bodies.

Athletes also benefit from yoga’s holistic approach to core strength. Properly strengthening the muscles of the core using poses such as Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) will improve alignment and lessen imbalances that lead to overuse injuries.

After generating heat in Sun Salutations, standing poses, and core work, the forward-fold version of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) is one good choice, as it targets many of the muscles that constrict athletes’ hips. Throughout the practice, athletes should use breath awareness as a way of managing the intensity of the poses. This skill will serve them in their sports as well.

Consider progressive sequencing both from class to class and from month to month. Be aware of the seasonal intensity of your students’ athletic training and help them conserve energy. If athletes complete too many tough workouts on and off the mat without time to recover, they’ll stress the body beyond its ability to compensate. Serious athletes should be especially careful during their competitive season, scheduling yoga in inverse proportion to the intensity of their training. The off-season is a good time for a strength-building practice; periods of intense sports activity are better matched with gentler, flexibility-specific sequences.

Some athletes will come to yoga because of an overuse injury. Others will be at risk for new injury because of their tightness. Use a gentle approach, demonstrating and encouraging modifications.  When athletes do arrive in class injured, explain to them that yoga is not a quick fix. Athletes are eager to return to their sport, but they must allow time for injuries to heal and for deeper changes to take place in the body.

When teaching Yoga to athletes, discourage competition in class. Yoga is not a performance-based process, as a sport is. It would be wise for students to take special care to focus on what they themselves are experiencing from moment to moment, instead of comparing their poses to those of others. Teachers are wise to encourage their students to stay focused internally and to work at a personally appropriate level. Yoga’s emphasis on mental focus and being in the moment has direct application to sport as is about learning to pay attention and focus ones energy.

As for the many benefits of practicing Yoga, in general classes and in those specifically geared towards athletes, it increases awareness of the body and empowers the practitioner to address his pain and limitations with gentle techniques rather than raw strength. While much of the positive results from Yoga is still based upon subjective feedback from participants, more research is looking closely at positive health outcomes from Yoga which has been linked to a decrease in low back pain and less reported chronic pain from arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as lower blood pressure, heart, breathing rates, and reduced insomnia.

After all, the most successful athlete is a healthy and relaxed athlete.

© Copyright 2011 – Andrea Soles

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