Not all yogis are hyper-flexible gymnasts and dancers. Many athletes and trainers are noticing the benefits of yoga for all athletes, and it is way more than a good stretch.
I began taking yoga to compliment my running and kickboxing 15 years ago, and it has been so valuable. Mindfully practicing yoga as a cross training activity can help in several ways.
1. Yoga is a practice in focus.
Every athlete from golfer to fighter to runner will benefit from an increased ability to focus. Each and every yoga practice requires a great amount of focus.
Pranayama (breathing exercises) are common in most yoga classes. Learning yogic breath can give an athlete tools that calm the nervous system and give them a greater ability to focus. Combining yogic breath with yoga postures is great for athletes. Long held or challenging sequence postures that require balance are a great new way to challenge the ability work while remaining calm.
2. There are different practices for different occasions.
It is important to choose the correct practice that fits your training schedule. You wouldn’t want to do a challenging workout followed by a difficult yoga class or take a long run followed by a hot Bikram style yoga class. It is important to choose the right practice for the right time.
Save the challenging yoga classes for warm ups or cross training days or at least take your effort down a notch. Your yoga practice should change based on your needs for that particular day. Consider taking a yin or restorative class if your body needs rest. Take sun salutations as a warm up. Either way, allow your yoga mat to become a competition free zone. Connect with your own body and take rest as often as you’d like.
3. Yoga is great for injury prevention.
Let’s be honest, most athletes don’t stretch as much as they should and many have overuse of certain muscle groups. I’ve been that person who goes straight to and from a workout without a proper warm up, cool down, or stretch.
The thing that saved me from injury was the fact that I was also practicing yoga at least two hours a week. Tight hips, hamstrings, IT bands, and shoulders can all benefit from a regular practice. Time on the mat may prevent time on the side line.
4. Yoga is great for core strength.
Training your core is so much more than crunches and six-pack abs. A yoga class will work all of the muscles that support your spine and challenge the muscles that help you balance. Core strength and general stability are key factors to happily and healthfully practicing your sport for years to come.
If you’re still not sure that yoga is right for you, I’d recommend trying a variety of classes at different times during your training. As a yogi, there will be times when you want fluid, breath-centered movement. There will also be times that you need rest, and then, times when you want to push a little harder or hold poses a little longer.
The more you know what is available, the easier it will be to fit yoga into your training schedule. Take the time to build a practice that will support your sport and your life for years to come.
If you've already found your perfect blend of yoga and sport, share in the comment section below!