In my humble opinion, high performance athletes such as soccer players and track and field athletes should be doing some form of Yoga. Yoga enables endurance athletes to become more in tune with their bodies, and as such, can be a very effective tool in balancing their performance from a holistic perspective through concentration, stress management and the development of mental toughness. From a physical perspective, Yoga is a great practice for cardiovascular health, preventing injuries, increasing flexibility, balance, core strength, performance and post workout recovery. Muscles do not grow in the gym; they grow after. When you lift heavy, muscles suffer microtears and are actually broken down via a process called catabolism. Immediately after you lift, your body begins repairs, but it needs your help, and Yoga is one of the best ways to optimize this.
One of the best forms of Yoga for endurance athletes is Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa Yoga is a type of Yoga that aligns movement (Prana/Yoga pose) with breath (Pranayama). The movement here flows concurrently with each breath into challenging postures at a faster pace than other yoga forms. As such, endurance athletes benefit from core, upper and lower body strengthening, dynamic cardio, and intense stretching.
Reasons why you should get on the mat and start practicing Yoga:
It is important to note that in Yoga, the emphasis and concentration on breathwork can help athletes increase their cardiovascular and physical endurance. “A large number of studies show that Yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health,” says Hugh Calkins, M.D. , Director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins. “There’s been a major shift in the last five years or so in the number of cardiologists and other professionals recognizing that these benefits are real.” One of Yoga’s most obvious benefits to the heart is stress management; relaxing the body and mind. Emotional stress can cause a cascade of physical effects, including the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which narrow your arteries and increase blood pressure. The deep breathing and mental focus of Yoga can offset this stress. By lowering the heart rate, Yoga helps you to create more mental alertness and improve proprioceptive balance, which helps the body control the position of an injured or deficient joint and reduce anxiety.
A regular and well-rounded Yoga practice can help you prevent injuries since poses emphasize whole-body stretching, strengthening and balancing. The practice helps to bring the body into symmetrical alignment firstly by harnessing self-awareness to identify skeletal misalignments and soft tissue imbalance, then by correcting the misalignments and imbalance through improved flexibility and strengthening.
When training a lot, the body becomes stressed, and this can potentially impact the sympathetic nervous system (which prepares you for fight or flight) and the adrenal glands (which produce hormones to regulate stress response). A consistent Yoga practice can help you engage the parasympathetic nervous system (which allows you to relax and save energy) and restore balance within the body, which in turn can help you to sleep better & recover faster whilst also addressing underlying problems and instabilities that lead to muscle overuse injuries.
Flexibility is an important aspect of Yoga. Practicing the different postures (Asanas) will help to stretch tight muscles and improve your range of motion. Tight muscles are more susceptible to acute injuries such as muscle strains and tears, hence, loosening up these tight muscles and increasing flexibility will help prevent and repair such injuries.
In addition to physical flexibility, Yoga helps to increase flexibility of the mind (focus) as it aligns the poses (Asanas), with breathing (Pranayama) and meditation practices to improve concentration.
Yoga helps to bring the body and mind into alignment. It heightens the awareness of your “body center” through balancing postures and controlled breathing. The body’s center of gravity (COG) is a theoretical point where the force of gravity seems to act and the mass of the body seems to be most concentrated. Becoming more aware of your body's center of gravity and how to move as a unit can increase endurance, performance, and stability, hence the reason people say they have a strong center of gravity; they are usually referring to having good balance. Yoga also makes you aware of areas that have been compensated as a result of incorrect practices, as such, corrective measures can be put in place to restore body symmetry and balance.
Yoga focuses on all areas of the body including the smallest of muscles, eg. those in the wrists and ankles. Yoga leverages unconventional contraction as the muscles are stretched, making them stronger and more elongated. This also increases endurance as the postures/poses are typically held for a period of time for numerous reps. Through the practice of Yoga, muscles and tendons are trained to stabilize the joints, and more stable joints allows for stronger athletic performances. Yoga builds core strength, and the core muscles protect the spine, especially in the lower back area, hence preventing critical injuries.
Yoga emphasizes efficient and effective breathing techniques during ‘intense and uncomfortable’ postures, which are major tools to mastering the mind. A well trained mind is imperative to every athlete’s career as it helps them to remain calm in ‘intense and uncomfortable’ (high stress) situations while training, competing or merely going about everyday life.
By Marsha ‘Maharri’ Lodge
Yoga Instructor & Wellness Coach
Author of Soul Expression
Curator of Rastafari Way Wellness Retreat
IG: @wellnessrebirth FB: Wellness Rebirth