By Christina Drew, reprinted with permission from GORGO Magazine
I was introduced to yoga in 2006, by a client who practiced regularly and consistently. She told me how yoga had transformed her body and mind, reduced her stress, and helped detox her body.
I was initially skeptical because I didn’t identify yoga as an activity I would consider a “workout”. My skepticism most likely arose from the fact that yoga differed greatly from the workouts I was familiar with as an athlete. Let me give you a little insight into my athletic background. I was an elite soccer player, basketball player and frequent gym goer, working out 6-7 times a week. My idea of a “workout” was anything that pushed my limits, it had to be extremely challenging, and leave me soaked with sweat!
I finally found my way to a yoga class to appease my client, and wow what an incredible experience it was! I quickly discovered that yoga is very much in alignment with my idea of a great workout. What surprised me the most was all of the benefits I gained through yoga practice that left me saying, “I wish I started doing yoga a long time ago!”
Here are some of the many benefits of yoga for athletes and gym goers alike:
1. Breath: Breath is a major component of yoga. The most common type of breath is Ujjayi breathing, usually translated as “victorious” breath. Ujjayi breath is performed by constricting your throat as you inhale and exhale through your nose, keeping the lengths of inhalations and exhalations equal. This breath helps focus on the task at hand, strengthens your diaphragm, increases the amount of oxygen you intake, thus feeding your muscles with more oxygen. Oxygen is valuable to performance, as it is used in converting glucose into energy needed by your muscles. As we workout the demand for oxygen increases, therefore our breathing must be efficient to deliver oxygen to the muscles to avoid glucose converting into lactic acid. Breath helps you focus on the exercise you are about to do, and helps you push through that last rep.
2. Balance: There are many poses in yoga that focus on balance. Good balance is a key component in injury prevention. By working on balance, your body’s joints become more reactive to situations that predispose your joints to injury. These balance postures also help strengthen your core by challenging it to stay engaged during activity. A strong core will also keep your spine strong and posture in check in order to optimize your athletic ability. Balance is important for strength training, especially those exercises that are done on Bosu balls or single leg stance such as Romanian Deadlifts.
3. Flexibility: Yoga uses both long held postures and dynamic stretching. Majority of yoga postures use eccentric contractions, where the muscles stretch as they contract, elongating the muscles. With regular yoga practice, you will notice your muscles are more flexible, however strong as well, so your joints are better protected. Flexibility allows you to go through a larger range when doing a strengthening exercise. For example, you can lower down further during chest press.
4. Core Strength: Your “core” is a group of different muscles that help support your spine and pelvis, and create a powerhouse from which your extremities can move around with efficiency. Building core strength is major component of most yoga practices. One way is by utilizing Ujjayi breath, the simplest form of core activation, to help tighten your midsection. Another large contributor to strengthening your core is through postures. There are many postures such as plank, crow pose, boat pose, and many others that utilize the majority of the muscle groups that make up your core. Core strength is key for preventing back injuries while lifting, and allows you to lift heavier weights because it stabilizes your spine to provide more power to your arms and legs.
5. Strength: Yoga, is a functional form of exercise, using body weight to help tone and lengthen your muscles. By using a form of exercise that is flowing through different postures that are usually not performed during sport or at the gym, you are working on strengthening all muscles in a new way. This form of cross-training, helps the body balance out any imbalances that occur from performing one type of exercise or sport. Balancing strength in our body also helps prevent injury!
So if you are asking yourself if you should give yoga a try, I strongly suggest you DO IT! You will be happy you started incorporating it into your workout regimen.
Christina is a Registered Physiotherapist, Yoga & Pilates Instructor. She is the owner of Kinetic Physiotherapy.
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