Updated: Aug 1, 2018
The amazing benefits of yoga: for everyone from the couch potato to the elite athlete!
Sports by nature are multi-dimensional and therefore in order to exceed in our sport we often need to take part in other activities. Yoga is rapidly becoming the go-to activity for many people and is something that we are all familiar with: from friends, family, magazines, it is an accepted part of our everyday culture. In spite of that, many people still believe that it is merely more than stretching. In fact, it is a lot more than that and elite athletes are now touting it as an irreplaceable part of their training regimen. For people who have less of an athletic background it can be a gentle way to break in to the realm of health and fitness.
Yoga teaches you how to use your strength in a different way, and in contrast to weight training how to be super gentle and smooth with all of your movements. This actually requires a lot more core strength and balance and is extremely challenging! If practised correctly, it can in fact improve every element of physical performance, from stamina to power to pace, while also encouraging general health and wellness.
Learn how yoga can benefit your mind and body:
Strength: Rather than focusing on moving weights, yoga helps to develop pure strength by working with our own bodyweight. There is no weightlifting routine that will give us the same strength threshold that consistently holding up our own bodyweight can provide.
Flexibility: is a critical component of a balanced fitness regimen that is often overlooked, particularly by those who have tendencies to gravitate to strength-based workouts. A full range of motion around your joints is extremely important and necessary if you want to execute loaded movements. The inclusion of joint stability and mobility work (through yoga) can also tackle prevailing muscle imbalances and allow for greater ease and proficiency when performing any activity.
Balance: Another benefit of yoga is an enhanced body awareness, this includes balance, stability and proprioception. This results in greater performance and efficiency in movement. A greater sense of stability can do a lot more than protect us from future tumbles. It can lead to greater mobility, reduced injuries and even an increased capacity to push harder!
Endurance: Yoga can play an instrumental role in teaching us how to pace ourselves: slow and steady. The meditative properties allow us to relax the body and mind, this can help most sports as tense muscles tend not to react as quickly.
Core: Yoga is a great tool for developing core strength. From standing poses to twists, inversions and balance poses, yoga moves you through poses that demand balance and stability. The key is strength through flexibility, which requires a well-developed core. It also forces us to engage our core through dynamic movements, which is an essential tool for all athletes. A good teacher will show you how to engage your core correctly throughout your practise which translates across into all sport disciplines.
There is still a misconception that core work is all about doing sit ups and crunches. The truth is, you can engage your core in many ways that don’t involve any sit ups! Irrespective of the style of yoga you practise, it is guaranteed that there will be poses that consist of core strengthening exercises. The raising and lowering of your legs, seated twists, even standing poses will work the muscles of the core while developing strength and stability.
Recovery: It is a brilliant tool for both passive and active recovery. It can alleviate both physical and mental stress, help to release tension, and give your body a rest from the demands of your sport. Additionally, a consistent practice can help to boost your circulation and lymphatic flow, which in turn helps to speed up healing time and allows for faster recovery.
Injury Prevention As we all know injuries can bring our training regimen to a grinding halt. Yoga can radically lessen the chance of injury, by improving both body mechanics and awareness. Many people actually start yoga post injury as a part of their rehabilitation process (myself included!). Paradoxically, yoga could have prevented the injury in the first place! Consistent practice can maintain healthy and flexible joints and muscles. Time invested in yoga should not be considered a treat or a chore, but rather an indispensable part of any training regimen.
Breathing Work Yoga teaches us that our breath can be regulated and controlled, and this has multiple health and spiritual benefits. This is essential practise for many sports, it also allows for a sharper focusing of the mind which can be enormously helpful in high stress situations. One of the goals of yogic breathing is to allow us to choose the relaxation response over the stress response.
By breathing deeply and slowing our body and minds down we can calm any anxieties.
With a significant focus on the breath, yoga actually has the ability to increase respiratory capacity, which is invaluable to athletes. Beyond helping with other sports, breathing techniques can also be a fantastic way to combat stress and anxiety. By focusing on our breath (this also applies to balance work or holding a posture) we can learn to find moments of quietness and calm and tune out the other stresses of life.
Cross Training It is a fantastic, low-impact way to cross train. Cross training is essential for athletes who practice the same sport or exercise routine continuously. The addition of new movements can help decrease the risk of injury, alleviate training monotony, add variety and help recover from heavy workouts.
There are many forms of yoga, ranging from low intensity to high intensity and hundreds of postures that can be adapted to deliver a workout for athletes of any sport. Personally, I started practicing yoga due to a sports related injury. At the time, I saw it as a way to keep moving (and to keep sane!). As soon as I was able to start fully training again, I saw immediately how yoga had directly improved my performance. My balance, core strength, body awareness, breathing techniques, ability to stay calm and focused had all improved enormously. For athletes of all levels yoga can be an instrumental part of training and the benefits are far reaching.
At Nefeli Nine we want to introduce yoga as a solid part of a training regimen. Our fantastic yoga teacher Myrto will teach three flow classes during the week. Myrto has studied under a number of teachers and has created a unique style that is strong, powerful and very well suited to people of all levels. See you on the mat!