Yoga

The therapeutic benefits of yoga have made it increasingly popular among triathletes. Apart from reliving stress and improving circulation, it can also enhance strength and flexibility along with several psychological benefits that assist triathletes or multisport competitors with developing the mental aptitude to racing.
Created: August 2011
Revised: November 2012
Latest Feedback: November 2012

What is Yoga?

The main objective of yoga exercises is to rejuvenate the mind and body. Exercises involve various poses and postures, also known as asnas, which have a soothing effect on the mind and releases stress and fatigue from the body. It enhances flexibility and is good for realignment and balance which are common issues for many athletes. Yoga includes various techniques to improve breathing. While stretching is a characteristic of yoga, the main purpose is to create balance in the body through developing strength and flexibility. Slow exercises are performed to increase stamina. On the other hand, some exercises are done in quick succession to create heat in the body. There are several types of yoga and each one varies in its approach. However, the fundamental elements of yoga practice include breathing exercises or pranayama, poses or asanas, meditation and chanting.

Why Practise Yoga?

There are several reasons why yoga should be a part of your athletic training program. From an athlete’s perspective, yoga can be integrated in your training program in order to develop strength and agility. Athletes must have a supple body to perform to the best of their ability. Practicing various yoga postures helps to discover any instability and lack of fluid movement of the joints. One of the major benefits is that yoga covers all the important aspects of fitness namely, endurance, strength and flexibility. By performing yoga, you can master the skill of increasing awareness of your body. It also improves spinal suppleness and reduces the risk of back pain. Breathing exercises will help you develop a better breathing technique; improve core strength and endurance.

Specific Benefits of Yoga

Improves biomechanics:- Proper biomechanics is very important for an athlete. The joints require energy to facilitate movement. As an athlete you experience greater tension around the joints and therefore, need more energy to facilitate movement. Your goal is to perform at your peak while conserving energy at the same time. Specific yoga exercises help to reduce muscle tension and enhance biomechanics, so that less energy is lost. This allows you to perform at your peak for longer intervals.

Improves breathing:- Breathing techniques are an important part of yoga exercises as it helps to enhance lung capacity and breathing mechanics. A healthy pair of lungs is vital, so that they can deliver sufficient oxygen to the body, which is essential for any aerobic-based sport. When you focus on breathing exercises it helps strengthen the diaphragm.

Enhances recovery:- While you may be able to increase your lactic threshold to perform better, your recovery period is equally important, where lactic acid needs to be removed. Yoga helps circulate the flow of lactic acid from muscle tissue to the blood stream, so that it can be processed by the liver. Yoga also induces better sleep patterns, which is critical in the recovery process.

Improved blood circulation:- One of the major causes of premature fatigue is poor blood circulation. Yoga therapy can improve your blood circulation, so that oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles efficiently during the competition. It enhances blood flow to and from the heart. Some standing postures squeeze the veins in the legs and gently push blood back to the heart. Other postures help blood flow away from the heart. Twisting and bending postures, compress and release specific muscles and organs, allowing fresh blood to enter. As a result, your body receives a sufficient supply of nutrients thereby eliminating any fatigue.

Reduces stress:- Yoga has a calming effect on the nerves. Since professional sport is extremely competitive, it can take a toll on your mental strength and emotions as well. There are times when continued suppression of emotions can increase stress and anxiety levels, which can lead to poor performance. Yoga can be the perfect outlet to release any stress through stretching and breathing exercises that decreases the heart rate and relaxes the arteries as well. Resting postures allow you to release any physical and mental tension.

Improves concentration and body awareness:- Athletes need extremely high levels of concentration during training and competition. Yoga therapy involves meditation which trains you to concentrate and clear your mind of distracting thoughts. Through yoga you are trained to tune in to your inner voice. By paying close attention to each pose, you tend to clear whatever else is on your mind, which is the primary objective of meditation. In the process, it helps you become more aware of your body, as you learn to concentrate on postures.

Types of Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga:- This type of yoga involves a series of strenuous pose sequences that are performed in rapid succession. Pose sequences change with every time you inhale and exhale. Athletes that need to lose weight will benefit from Ashtanga yoga. However, it is advised to gain experience in another type of slow-paced yoga like Iyengar yoga, prior to trying Ashtanga.

Ananda Yoga:- This therapy focuses on gentle movements and postures to improve body alignment and raise your level of consciousness through controlled breathing. The exercises are designed to enhance the flow of energy to the brain, which also prepares the body for meditation.

Bikram Yoga:- Bikram yoga is practised in a sauna-like room at temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius and 40% humidity. It involves a series of 26 yoga postures performed twice, which helps to increase stamina. You need to be careful not to overstretch as the heat has the potential to loosen up the muscles.

Hatha Yoga:- This is one of the original forms of yoga with a classical approach to postures and breathing exercises that was initially intended to prepare the body for meditation. It helps you to relax and de-stress in addition to many other physical benefits.

Iyengar Yoga:- Created by renowned yoga practitioner B.K.S. Iyengar, the is one of the purest forms of yoga, where you use various props like blocks, straps, harnesses, pillows and incline boards for perfect posturing. This type of yoga is about precise alignment where poses are generally held longer than many other forms of yoga. Since is it slow paced, it is ideal for athletes recovering from an injury. Iyengar yoga works for every part of your body, giving you better muscle definition instead of mass.

Vinyassa:- This form of yoga is very similar to a dance sequence where you move in smooth succession from one pose to another on every inhale and exhale. What’s unique about Vinyassa is its diversity. There is no single sequence or philosophy that the teacher needs to follow. Many other styles like Ashtanga and Power yoga incorporate the Vinyassa method in their movements.

Power Yoga:- It is an active and athletic style of yoga similar to Ashtanga yoga. However, there is no fixed sequence, where each teacher may have their own style. Power yoga focuses on every muscle in the body, thereby increasing metabolism. In addition to enhanced flexibility and strength, there are many mental benefits as well.

Yin/Yang Yoga:- Yin yoga focuses on meditation and is used to complement Yang Yoga. The poses are passive and meant to relax the muscles and lengthen connective tissues. Yin yoga is the ideal way to prepare the mind and body for meditation. You will develop a deeper understanding of your body. Poses are held for much longer; often up from 15 to 20 minutes. It helps to release tension in the knee, hip and ankle joints, in addition to the back, neck and shoulders. On the other hand, Yang yoga stimulates the muscles and promotes strength and physical health.

Stability issues for Triathletes

Stability, is the ability to maintain a posture or position. Many novice triathletes have poor stability when cornering their bikes. To improve balance, requires repeated challenges with balancing drills. Yoga is ideal for developing and practising the necessary elements for balance and put into place with an active stability drill session on the bike, such as slalom and bottle pick-ups you will see quick results.

When running, our posture and balance is what keeps us vertical. If balance is poor, you will waste energy without even being aware of it. Since the less energy you waste, the more you energy you'll have to put into speed and distance effort, it is possible to pick up big time improvements on your run time by practise your ability to balance. Most yoga practises incorporate balance postures - Tree, Warrior 3, Half Moon, and Eagle are all good balance postures that you should practise regularly. Since problems with balance are often the result of a busy mind, trying these poses is best done duing a yoga practise, rather when you've just walked in the door after work!

Word of Caution!

Yoga offers numerous benefits for athletes. However, you need to be cautious about the type of yoga you choose and the manner in which you integrate it into your training program. There are some styles like asthanga and vinyassa yoga that are vigorous, while others like Bikram yoga can have dehydrating effects because of the intense heat. Over-training can have an adverse impact on the muscles, tendons and ligaments to stabilise the joints. Therefore, it is important to be mindful and not overuse yoga exercises. It is also essential to start with an emphasis on basic postures, breathing techniques and meditation before moving on to intermediate and advanced yoga classes. Immediately opting for intermediate or advanced forms of yoga would not give you a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the practice.

Summary:- Athletes can derive many positive physical and physiological benefits from yoga therapy. This includes reduced levels of stress, improved circulation, enhanced flexibility and strength. However, the psychological benefits are equally promising but often ignored. Yoga can play a pivotal role in balancing an athlete’s professional and personal life. Most importantly is also teaches athletes to release any stress and negative energy in the body that could hamper their performance.

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Yoga For Athletes, Types Of Yoga, Benefits Of Yoga For Athletes, Yoga Therapy For Triathletes

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