As a former athlete, I especially understand not only the sheer importance of stretching. But I also understand the importance of relaxing the mind. Professional athletes place their minds and bodies under extreme pressure every day, thus, they may be more likely to suffer from mental health related problems or experience negative emotions more frequently than anyone else, which in addition to the rising statistics of mental illness is a cause for concern. Amongst other things, athletes may also suffer from injuries; the hips, hamstrings, and calf muscles, as an example, are strained excessively during heavy training and constant repetitive movement. Without proper stretching and elongation of those specific muscle groups, injuries are sure to occur over prolonged time.
This is a subject that hits close to home for me; during my years as a professional athlete I too was quite skeptical about yoga preferring the punching bag to the mat. At the very beginning of my yoga journey I used it not as just as a physical practice but more so as a means to meditate. I began using long, continuous stretching that would allow me to focus on my breathing while clearing my mind of countless restless thoughts that consumed it and made it hard to focus on my ultimate goals. Not allowing my mind the time in needed to rejuvenate meant that the pressures of life and competitiveness were clouding my vision and depriving me of my motivation. Integrating yoga into my practice went a long way in helping me regain drive and ambition.
In the modern era, yoga styles which are focused on shaping the body and growing muscle are much more popular. Though is this a good thing? Who benefits from these styles? And is it an appropriate workout after constant heavy training?
When we talk about power yoga, we discuss building strength and stretching the body specifically through activity and conditioning. The class moves quickly, without many points of rest. We work with the muscles of the body, using different groups for different poses. By doing so we begin to form a more athletic body with lean muscles and a good stretching ability. These classes are perfect for the majority of the population, which is a large factor in why they are so popular. It helps those who may typically do low or medium amounts of exercise increase their strength, flexibility, stamina and loose weight. These classes provide achievements in shaping their bodies and are thus perfect for them.
However, athletes will work out multiple times during the day, placing all of their energy into their practice. Most likely an extra chaturanga will not be life altering. To athletes, the number one thing is improving their performance, being better than before.
Athletes will benefit most from a much slower yoga style that focuses on flexibility training, balancing, strengthening and whole body recovery. Athletes require gentle stretching with the focus on the joints, ligaments, connective tissues and muscle stretching. A friend of mine, also an athlete, sustained a knee injury during a match, which resulted in him being unable to bend his leg. By giving him daily classes and focusing on very gently stretching the ligaments and elongating the leg muscles we were able to substantially improve the motion in his knee. In addition to which he also said that after each class his body felt lighter, more energized and his mood improved.
By focusing on these vital elements, in a class that also combines the atmosphere that relaxes the mind. Allowing for more calmness and mindfulness and therefore maximizing their emotional and psychological benefits, yoga can aid in much faster recovery post workouts, find and clear parts of the body that have been made tight and hinder performance. In addition, this type of practice provides the athletes with more mental rejuvenation as most find their capability to focus, keep motivated and experience an array of other positive emotions increases. Meditative poses and poses in series where one has to hold for a long period of time are the core of what will improve your ability to sleep, to find quiet and control within your mind and impulses and help you restore.
Regardless, both styles are adaptable and depending on when and how integrated can always be beneficial. So whether you are just somebody wishing to tone their body and integrate power practice into your lifestyle or an athlete wishing to better themselves through balance and flexibility, you can be assured that yoga is there for you.
So why not give it a try!