WHY RISE ATHLETES SHOULD GIVE RISE & RENEW YOGA A TRY
I took an ‘Intro to Yoga” class in college that began my on and off again relationship with yoga…I didn’t really understand it to be a spiritual, mental and physical practice (note: practice not perfection!), but did learn how to use my breath to alleviate physical aches and pains, especially in my back from slumped shoulders and sitting a lot. Yoga helped me gain core strength again after my first son was born, and then found its place here and there depending on how I could fit it in with my increasingly busy life. Three years ago, I was laid off, and as I found myself with more time and uncertain about the future, I was drawn back to my yoga practice, this time in a way that was more holistic and helped me start making sense of the thoughts I had going through my head - that time was moving too fast and something had to give. How could I make best use of this time I hadn’t intended to have and lead me to what I should do next? What I’ve learned is that it is a journey, and my yoga continually needs nurturing and practice, but with it, I’m experiencing spiritual, mental and physical strength that makes it worth it.
You may be new to yoga, have tried and thought it just “wasn’t for you,” are challenged being still in savasana or understanding how yoga might benefit your health just as much, if not more, than the cardio the adrenaline junkie in you is craving (how do we schedule yoga into 5 days of workouts already!?). Please know, wherever you are, there is a place for yoga, and I would love to talk with you about it more. As more and more people are being drawn towards yoga, there is an ever-growing body of research on the benefits. Here are just a few that I hope might strike a chord:
Improved Mobility, Injury Prevention and Performance – Finding ways to cross-train can improve athletic ability, and yoga certainly offers opportunities for performance and injury prevention. Yoga can help you maintain good form and presence of mind through your hardest runs/workouts (think mountain pose, full breathing, mantras, drishti (setting soft gaze at fixed point bringing in awareness and balance)). A 2005 ACE study found, “yoga significantly improved the subjects’ flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and balance. After eight weeks, the average flexibility of the yoga group improved by 13 percent to 35 percent and the gains were significantly greater than the non-yoga group, especially in shoulder and trunk flexibility, and ankle range of motion.”
Reduction in stress, anxiety, depression – For those that are adrenaline junkies, the thought of a restorative, slow moving, yoga practice might bring on some anxiety. J However, our bodies simply can’t sustain a continued “fight or flight” state, also known as the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, sweating and digestion. Our parasympathetic nervous system (see below) may not be able to respond appropriately, and cortisol levels increase, inflammation, risk of injury, fat retention, etc. Ever feel like you’re exercising, eating nutritiously and still having trouble with your goals? Or pain in your hips when you stand up. Pain in your shoulder that won’t seem to go away. Arguably your body is trying to tell you something. Yoga brings awareness and taps into the parasympathetic nervous system, which conserves and restores. It slows our heart rate and decreases blood pressure, stimulates the digestive tract and restore and build tissues. Research and personal experience have shown yoga helps reduce cortisol levels, inflammation, blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Our bodies are miracles designed for the entire nervous system to be working in balance – not forcing our ego/will on it.
A Few Words on Breathing and Savasana – Consciously controlled breathing can help bring the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance. Try taking a deep inhale for five seconds and exhaling for five seconds, really paying attention to how the breath moves through your chest and diaphragm. How do you feel after the first round? After five rounds? Are you more aware, maybe a little more settled? Remember I said I learned how directed breathing during yoga could help reduce pain? Gentle movements through yoga can also help free tension in the secondary muscles used for breathing (chest and neck muscles), which will allow for more expansion of the ribcage with each breath allowing you to more fully breathe. Savasana…in my experience, people love it or are challenged by it, or are somewhere in between, and I totally get it! But it is important not to cheat yourself of this time. While some parts of a physical yoga practice may stimulate and create healthy stress, the stillness of savasana shifts us completely to the parasympathetic side of our nervous system, the “rest and digest,” allowing for a calming, sweet release and over time teaches us how we can move from a hyper-stimulated state to one of balance where our systems and restored, enhanced and ready for whatever is in front of us.
Join me on Sundays for RISE & Renew yoga! www.risefitnesscommunity.com/schedule