If you’ve ever been around an Olympic-level athlete or competitive triathlete, you’ll always notice something different about them while they are competing. In yoga, I like to refer to this as “being present” but coaches and fitness experts call it any number of other things too. This state of “being present” means chasing out all invading negative thoughts and focusing at the feat at hand, whether that is sinking a basketball, skiing a black diamond mountain, jumping hurdles or simply doing a full, pain free backbend. It takes some training (consistent yoga practice), but anyone who comes to their mat to cross-train can start becoming evermore present and excel at athletic events.
Some of the benefits to athletes and aspiring athletes are:
• Many poses put the body in positions in which normally it wouldn’t be, training the proprioceptors in muscles and tendons to be more reactive. The muscle fibers located around the joints sense and accommodate for weight shifts. With any sport, having a greater awareness of body in space and in motion cannot help but improve overall endurance and performance.
• My own teachers have said that busy or stressed humans only use 10 to 20 percent of their breathing capacity under normal circumstances. With yoga, you start tapping into your pranayama, or “breath control” which works on pushing out the dead air, to set a slower breathing rate that mimics peak condition in endurance sports, allowing the body to become more efficient in oxygen uptake and performance.
• Practicing the postures even for 10 minutes allows the brain to function and focus on the task at hand and reduces the hormonal “fight or flight” response of the adrenals and give you a better sense of calmness. This calmer sense of purpose, or being present, is very important to transfer to athletic performance on the field or anywhere you compete.
• Most full-on athletes have already been injured in competition; it’s only a matter of time before you are when you sue your body to such lengths, so it’s helpful that yoga can be used for general pain relief. Studies show that practicing Yoga asanas (postures), meditation or combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension, as well as arthritis, back and neck pan, and other chronic conditions. Yoga helps to improve flexibility and mobility, increasing range of movement and reducing aches and pains.
• In yoga, to help balance and quiet the mind we often focus for long periods on a triste, or eye focus-point to still the thoughts of the mind that may normally cause anxiety. So, yoga helps an athlete become better equipped at dealing with the mental and physical challenges that athletics requires through training and competing – before kicking a soccer ball into a goal net, for instance, or focusing on a point before diving into the water off a high dive.
• Focus on the Present: Yoga helps us focus on the present, to become more aware and to help create mind body health. It opens the way to improved coordination, reaction time and memory.
Most of us know that physical exercise is good for our general health, but now, more than ever, studies show – and doing yoga proves – that physical exercise is also good for your brain. If you think you’re going to get smarter sitting in front of your computer or watching television, think again! Instead, grab your mat at the end of any workout and do some yoga to empower your body and your mind.