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How Yoga Can Prevent Injury and Assist in Athletic Performance

In this blog post we discuss how and why a regular yoga practice can improve performance in other areas of physical exercise and how to use yoga to compliment other styles of training and prevent injury.

We all know that some form of stretching is an important part of recovery after a heavy workout or a long run, as a way to help cool down the body and lengthen muscles that have been repeatedly working. But five minutes of stretching after an hour-long workout session is unlikely to have the kind of impact we could really appreciate when it comes to recovery and improved performance with future training. This is where understanding and including a regular yoga practice in our routine can be far more effective.

Yoga Helps Us Become Aware of Imbalances in the Body  

Although Yoga has a rich history as a practice to facilitate meditation and spiritual development, there are many physical benefits which surpass those of just stretching.

One of its main benefits to anyone serious about body conditioning and performance is the fantastic ability of yoga to make us more aware of any imbalances in the body and help us to correct these imbalances before they lead to injuries.  

Corrections can come both in the form of strengthening loose/weak muscles and elongating tight muscles which are pulling on other areas of the body, restricting movement or creating further imbalance.  

Many injuries are caused by imbalances in the body which have existed for a long time before the injury itself manifests. We are often not aware of these imbalances as they can start out small, or because we have not trained our brain to have sensitivity of awareness in how we are holding our bodies, how each side of the body feels in comparison to the other and how to detect the smaller signs of imbalance before they become physical pain or discomfort.

Yoga is a unique practice which involves a combination of various asymmetrical physical poses with long holds, breathwork and awareness exercises. This practice not only helps us to lengthen and strengthen our body simultaneously, but gives us the time, space and training to fully scan the body and become aware of how we are feeling in each area of the body and to then compare to how the same pose feels on the opposite side of the body.

In this way we can begin to become very aware of whether one shoulder or hip is tighter than the other for example, and we can then begin to correct this asymmetry by spending longer in a stretch on one side. Similarly, we can become aware that one side of the body can more easily achieve an asymmetrical pose whereas the other can’t, and in this way, we can incorporate more exercises specifically to strengthen the weak side to support it on the way to bringing back symmetry.

There are many sports which focus on developing certain areas of the body specifically for certain actions, which may have benefit in the sport itself but have the potential to create irregularities, for example bowling or kicking sports which rely on a dominant arm and repetitive movement of only one side of the body.  Yoga in contrast is a holistic practice, and every exercise is always focusing on balancing the body as a whole, which makes it a fantastic compliment to other styles of isometric training or sports.

Other Ways Yoga Benefits Performance

As we have discussed, yoga’s unique approach helps to bring awareness to our body and alerts us to imbalances we can work on correcting before they lead to injury. These imbalances can also affect the range of our physical ability such as how heavy we can lift, how low we can squat and how fast we can run, so by continually practicing yoga we can train our body and mind to become sensitive to these imbalances and work to correct and support them, thereby improving in our exercise and performance goals.

Yoga is also unique as a physical exercise for its particular focus on calming the nervous system. Through it’s combined meditation and breathwork exercises with the physical poses it promotes reduction in the sympathetic nervous system leading to greater relaxation and ability to sleep while also helping to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body to focus in a relaxed way.

Sleep is arguably the most important process for recovery after training and yoga can help promote a more restful and deeper sleep.  Meanwhile it also provides the tools for better mental focus, more effective use of breath and thus greater energy and care in performance.

Stretching as a way to cool down and recover from a training session is beneficial, but you need more than just stretching to have a balanced body and as we can see yoga is a practice which can provide those benefits and so much more.

Timing of Yoga Practice Around Other Training

If using yoga to supplement other forms of training it can be helpful to consider what style of yoga you are doing, and the timing in relation to the rest of your schedule. Yoga sessions vary differently and should not be treated as all the same.

A common misconception is that a yoga practice focusing on stretching is all about recovery. While it does promote recovery, it’s not always the soul focus – stretching is also about creating length in the body and therefor change in the muscle itself. A long stretch focused session can be taxing on the muscles in the same way that a strong strength workout can be. Just like muscles microtear and regenerate to become stronger after lifting heavy weights, long held stretches also cause microtears and require rest and recovery for the muscles to adapt and adjust. For this reason, flexibility focused yoga routines are not usually advisable on the same day as other heavy training but should be practiced on separate days to get the most benefits and to avoid over straining the muscles.  

Suggestions for working yoga into your routine:  

– Slower yoga focused sessions before sleep to assist in peaceful rest and recovery

-Shorter, faster sessions before other styles of training to help prepare the mind to focus on exercises and warm up/limber the body (the type of session should involve more quicker dynamic stretches like vinyasa flows)

– Longer Yin style sessions (longer holds on stretches and/or focus on flexibility) on separate days from other styles of workouts

Yoga is a practice which offers many compliments to other styles of training, and the more we understand the benefits the more we can personalise our practice in a way which complements our own unique bodies and training goals.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Always check with your health professional before changing your diet, taking supplements, or starting a new exercise routine to ensure their suitability for your individual situation.

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