Many people think that yoga is synonymous to stretching. The truth is that yoga goes far beyond increasing flexibility. In fact, it could be the secret weapon you need to improve your performance!
"Yoga" is a Sanskrit word meaning "to yoke or to integrate." Ancient Yogis believed that in order to be in harmony with self and environment, the body, mind, and spirit must be integrated and emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance. To achieve and maintain this balance they formulated three main structures; exercise/postures (asana), breathing (pranayama) and meditation. This form of yoga is known as Hatha Yoga, and is the branch of yoga most popular in the west.
The physical postures or asana increase strength, stamina, circulation, balance, range of motion and coordination. A heightened sense of body awareness, alignment, posture and subtle muscle activation are also gained from a consistent practice. For the athlete, these gains improve fitness, performance and reduce potential injury.
As if that weren't enough, yoga practice teaches the use of breathing techniques, (pranayama) helping to expand and deepen breathing capacity, retention and efficiency. These techniques are tools that, not only improve oxygen supply, but can be used to calm, energize and focus the mind and body in any situation.
Last but not least, meditation helps to still and sharpen the mind, reducing distraction, anxiety and stress. A clear, calm and focused mind is a big asset during training and competition.
There are many different styles of Hatha yoga,( Hatha, being a kind of umbrella term for different styles that incorporate asana practice.) Some styles such as Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Vinyasa flow and Bikram tend to be more physically demanding. While Iyengar, Yin and Vinyoga are more restorative and therapeutic.
It is a good idea to explore various styles, classes and teachers to find what works best for you. Making yoga practice a regular part of your training program will help give you that winning edge!
Carol Porter is a personal trainer and fitness guide in Ashland, Oregon. She is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and performance-training specialist, and yoga teacher. Her sports interests are cycling, running, yoga, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and cross country skiing. You can reach Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org