Although some may not consider yoga as an exercise, hatha yoga (the physical aspect) definitely meets the definition of exercise as set by the medical dictionary: ‘exercise is a physical activity that is planned, structured and repetitive for the purpose of conditioning any part of the body. Exercise is utilised to improve health, maintain fitness and is important as a means of physical rehabilitation’.
Among a myriad of benefits yoga improves flexibility, strengthens, tones and builds muscles, boots the immune system, eases back pain, decrease cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Unlike conventional exercise, yoga is not goal oriented and non-competitive. It is not about how many reps, how much weight you can lift or duration of the exercise. Yoga stresses quality of movement over quantity. No rapid forceful movements are involved. Competing and the saying ‘no pain no gain’ does not apply to yoga. Emphasis is on how you end up feeling after the session and not on how you look or how far you can stretch. Although, yoga can be quite challenging, during a typical class of yoga students are encouraged to stay with their own physical abilities and limitations.
The most predominant factor that differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is the effect that it has on a glandular level. Specific yoga movements stimulate and balance the endocrine system. An improved circulation in the endocrine glands facilitates a better function of the hormones, resulting in an improved overall mood. Yoga improves the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system that activates the relaxation response. Through it, tension and anxiety is evidently reduced.
What makes a regular practice of yoga so special is its ability to make a person feels more centred and balanced through achievable yoga postures and controlled breathing. A sense of inner wellbeing and peace is attained. One can deal more effectively with daily pressures and problems in an effective way. Life is viewed in a positive perspective and the awareness of living the present moment is increased.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular amongst athletes and sports enthusiasts. They are becoming more aware of the importance of incorporating yoga in their training programme in order to enhance their performance. Here are 7 reasons why yoga can be beneficial for those involved in sports and athletics.
- Yoga increases Flexibility and Range of Motion. By increasing flexibility and range of motion one can move more freely with less chance of injury during sports and athletic activity.
- Yoga improves mental focus and body awareness. Yoga improves mental alertness through different postures and breathing, which in turn aids focus. Moreover, one’s proprioception (sense of body positioning and movement) is enhanced.
- Yoga improves balance. Various sport disciplines are repetitive by nature, thus creating body imbalances, i.e. some muscle groups are strengthened while others are ignored. This mechanical dominance can create musculoskeletal imbalances that can generate chronic injuries. By concentrating on the body as a whole, yoga can correct these imbalances.
- Yoga increases strength and agility. Many yoga postures involve the entire body working as a whole unit, so the strengthening of one muscle group is connected to that of another muscle group. This enables athletes to move swiftly and effortlessly in sports when the whole body moves as a unit.
- Yoga enhances recovery. The majority of sports activities generate lactic acid in the muscle tissue. Yoga exercises can help in its removal. Lactic acid can negatively affect performance in future training and sports events if not removed. Additionally, yoga improves sleep patterns, thus providing proper rest which is crucial for an athlete’s recovery process.
- Yoga reduces stress. Yoga helps release stress in the body and mind. When one is stressed out, the body can hold that tension in the neck, shoulders, back, hamstrings, stomach, etc. Tense muscles decrease flexibility and increase pain and risk of injury. Through Yoga the body and mind are in top form and therefore enhance performance.
- Yoga enhances the respiratory system. Yoga breathing exercises improve the ability to maximize lung capacity. Healthy lungs are extremely important for athletes.
Whatever sport one chooses to practise, yoga can enhance and complement it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a great basketball player) says “There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga. It was yoga that made my training complete”. Ryan Giggs, a legend player of Manchester United, credits yoga for his longevity in the game. “You can feel it working and you can feel the benefits straight away. My body feels so much better having done the yoga. Wish I had done it from the start of my career.”
Although Yoga offers great benefits, athletes should be careful of the style of Yoga they choose to practise and how this is included into their training programme. Ideally, sessions should be tailor-made accordingly.
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