Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yoga for Athletes

Urdhva Mukha Svanasan (Upward Facing Dog)

I teach a class on saturday mornings, entitled "Yoga for Athletes". Really, that just means regular yoga, but sometimes, you have to come up with fancy names to get athletes to come to a yoga class. We come up with fancy names like, Yoga for Runners, Yoga for Crossfit, Yoga for Cyclists, but in reality, it's just straight yoga. That's the class you're attending :)

If you're one of the above athletes, I want to talk to you about total body care. I know it's easy to fall in love with the challenge of pushing oneself to the limit, but we must remember the broader focus of our goal which is overall health. I would assume that if you're eating Paleo, running 5 miles a day, limiting sweets and the like, you're doing it in the name of feeling better. There are other factors that go into overall health that we all forget. Some of those factors are stretching, massage, and chiropractic care. It's easy to see massage and the chiro as luxuries, but if you're pushing yourself to the limit physically on a daily basis, it's more than just a luxury. It's taking care of your body long term. Why am I writing this post because I'm not a massage therapist or a chiropractor? I'm writing this to talk about the benefits of yoga and why I think it's a must in your total workout regimen. I've included some points below detailing why I think yoga is super important to all of you out there.

1) Lengthening muscles: I'm not a scientist and I don't know the exact chemical breakdown of what happens when one works out, but I can tell you this; when you work your muscles by running or lifting or whatever, you're tearing them down. That's not bad, that's your goal. As they rebuild, they become stronger and also use more calories to rebuild. The challenge is if you don't stretch them. One must stretch those muscles or they are going to be shortened and less pliable. Muscles are of no use if they aren't mobile because they will snap and that's not fun. So many football teams nowadays incorporate yoga into their practice because they don't want those hammies snapping on a long run (hello CJ Spiller). The other pieces of your whole movement system that can get stressed are your ligaments and tendons. Those don't really stretch per se, but there is a way to keep them more mobile and less damaged and that's through yoga, specifically a type of yoga called Yin. We won't get into all the different styles because I'd like to just keep your focused on getting to a class, so look for more info on that later.

And I know you guys think if you just sit down after your workout and stretch your hamstrings for 30 seconds, that's stretching. There is an entire system of muscles that are very intricate and hidden and 5 minutes of stretching isn't going to get there. Do any of you runners have low back pain? Cyclists? Hello psoas! That's a hard muscle to get to without yoga or massage!

2) Stabilizing muscles: When working out, you tend to focus on large muscles groups. Even in Crossfit, where it's functional movement, you're not necessarily getting to certain areas because you're rushed in your movement. Yoga is super beneficial in getting to those little supporting muscles throughout the body. They also help lengthen while strengthening. That's why I recommend yoga over just stretching as well. I've seen lots of crossfitters come to yoga and struggle for this reason. I only say that to emphasize my point that it's an integral part of a complete workout regimen,

3) Breath: Because yoga utilizes Ujjayi breath or ocean breath during the class, the student is able to expand his/her lung capacity. You're learning how to breath into your lower lungs, a place we don't really focus on much. In your normal, every day breathing, you don't really take the time to breath into your diaphragm so you're not using all of your lung space. Ocean breath helps you do that and although it's not instant, you will begin to see a difference in your breath. You'll not only be able to breath deeper and longer, you'll also understand how to use your breath to calm yourself down. I know I probably couldn't used that doing wall balls back in the day :)

4) Getting your mind right: Yoga helps you to focus on the present moment. That sounds weird but a huge part of athletic performance is your mind. It can defeat you quicker than your opponent can, sometimes. Yoga helps you train your mind to focus on your body, your breath and your movement. You can let go of your surroundings, how much time or distance you have left, who's beating you, etc. That combined with your ability to calm yourself through breath, your overall performance will increase.

The biggest challenge, I understand, is how does one fit it all in? Make it a goal to try to get to 2 classes a week. I highly recommend attending a class with a 200 hour RYT in a gym or studio vs doing videos at home. You really need someone to help you with alignment and there's only so much you can learn when you don't have a teacher watching. There are yoga studios all throughout Greenville and they have classes early in the morning to late at night. There are studios on the Eastside, downtown, and woodruff Rd, so NO EXCUSES!

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions because I'd love to help. My email is in the contact section of my blog. I also teach at the following times, so come by and see me any time!
I'd love to have you