I was enjoying a Facetime conversation last week as is the norm under quarantine and quite randomly the conversation moved to what exercise we have all been doing since movements have been restricted.
To my surprise yoga appeared to be the clear winner, beating our rivals such as running, circuits and other bodyweight exercises (The Bodyweight Beast being the clear exception).
After a few minutes of conversation it was becoming evident that regardless of why they had gravitated towards yoga; whether it be it mindfulness, flexibility or strength, the benefits of daily practice had surpassed all expectations. Almost simultaneously, we spurted out ‘why didn’t we do this before?’. In truth I wish I had started it years ago and I wish I could continue to do a more consistent yoga practice. It is only through my own inability to prioritise, that I don’t. But I should, hell we all should.
‘In my opinion, EVERY athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice’ I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance’ Ultra Athlete
So why do Yoga?
Routine and consistent practice of the various yoga asanas (poses or postures) can help build strength and improve lean muscle mass (most notably with respect to several muscle groups often under-utilised in conventional training). One particularly important benefit is an enhanced core body stability, which can significantly impeded overuse injury by strengthening the supportive but otherwise under-developed muscles surrounding the more utilized muscles. This in turn creates a more balanced and optimally functional physiology.
Better balance and coordination means enhanced control over how you move your body, which in turn leads to better technique and form. Improved form and control in stressed positions leads to a reduced risk of injury and greater proprioception. You could argue that balance underpins movement.
Yoga invariably improves joint and muscular flexibility, which is crucial to the body’s overall structural soundness. Enhanced joint and muscle pliancy translates to greater range of motion, or an increase in the performance for a particular movement or series of movements. In turn, this increased range of motion provides a greater ability to strengthen and condition a muscle group. The only caveat here is that any improvements in flexibility, on the activity, needs to be complimented by sufficient strength. Too much of one and not the other can lead to problems, often with people who distance run.
The physical benefits of yoga for the athlete are clear, but they often cloud the more ephemeral benefits. Most people, particularly athletes or those with personalities that chase adrenaline, tend to think of yoga as a great ‘workout or session’. A way to get a tight core, flatten the stomach and tone that butt. Yes done enough with a good diet, it does that. However, as soon as the rigorous portion of the class comes to a close and it’s time to bring the heart rates down and lay on the floor to enjoy part of the class known as Savasana or the meditative portion of the session, people flee for the door.
In this they miss one of, if not the most, important aspects of Yoga; the ability to teach mindfulness. Now this is where you usually get looked at like a tin foil hat wearing hippie but for someone who is a natural cynic, I can assure you IT DOES WORK. Work is probably the wrong word to use as that implies that it has a beginning, end and its design is to address a task that needs doing. That’s not it. What it is, is something more entirely. It connects the mind with the body and brings you into the present moment. Something that is not only intensely relaxing but liberating of the following conditions; stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and any issues relating to mental health. Now supported by scientific studies, these claims are no longer anecdotal. A cursory search online will reveal numerous studies into the virtues of this ancient discipline.
It isn’t a quick fix; the advantages are felt in consistent practice and commitment.
Allowing yourself to accept that performance is both physical and mental and that you can’t have success of one without the other. Fuel the body, train the muscles, quiet the mind. If you haven’t already tried yoga, I strongly urge you to consider adopting it as part of your weekly routine.
For more information on the topics covered above head over to our podcast page to hear our in-depth discussion with SPC Yoga instructor Annette (classes at 10.30am every Sunday accessible by Zoom).