Yesterday I practiced yoga for the first time in months. It was a basic practice – relatively speaking. Very different from the forms of power yoga that I prefer. But this practice was a gentle reminder of what I have been missing in my training regimen. Yoga. Stretching. Lengthening.
What we often miss
Stretching. Lengthening. Decompressing – both physiological and psychological.
I am guilty of not stretching as much as I should. I diligently stretch after running – other than that, rarely.
Our muscles need stretching – especially if we are putting in the work. Weight lifting involves continually contracting muscles. While proper form also includes lengthening, this is not always enough to allow the muscles to reach full length. I will not pretend to be a yogi – I am far from being a yoga expert. But I have done my research! (Don’t I always?)
Injury prevention – Research has shown that yoga has injury prevention properties. I would attribute this to the lengthening of muscles. The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Corrective Exercise protocols incorporate lengthening into the four step program design. Unfortunately, corrective exercise is often only incorporated into training regimen after an injury has occurred. Why not use yoga as a tool for injury prevention?
Yoga & mental health – Yoga is known to be a ‘mind-body’ fitness practice. Some view this as getting in touch with your soft, gooey insides. I argue that ALL exercise requires mind-body awareness (Markula, 2004). Yoga has been shown to improve self efficacy and confidence and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms (Junkin, Kowalski, & Fleming, 2007; Markula, 2004; Rahimi & Bavaqar, 2010).
Relaxation – At the core of any yoga practice is centered breathing. This necessitates focus on breathing. This allows our minds to relax and be free of the thoughts and worries that bog us down. Further, focusing on lengthening muscles allows those and other muscles to relax. Tension melts away.
Pain management – The benefits of pain management are well known and widely accepted. Time and time again, research has shown that yoga reduces back pain and other chronic aches and pains.
We could all use a little more stretching. I like the structure of incorporating a consistent yoga practice – and now realize I need to add that focus back into my program. As with all fitness professionals, not all yoga instructors are created equal. I would strongly urge you to read the American College of Sport Medicine’s resource on Selecting and Effectively Using a Yoga Program. Further, it is my personal opinion that instructors with 500+ hours of training are leaps and bounds ahead of their counterparts.
Looking for yoga that you can do at home? Debbie Williamson is your woman, with both DVDs (kids too!) and downloads. After traveling the country and experiencing many different styles of yoga and instruction – she is by far my favorite!
Junkin, S. E., Kowalski, K., & Fleming, T. (2007). Yoga and self-esteem: Exploring change in middle-aged women. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29S174-S175.
Markula, P. (2004). “Tuning into One’s Self:” Foucault’s Technologies of the Self and Mindful Fitness. Sociology Of Sport Journal, 21(3), 302-321.
O’Donovan, G., Blazevich, A. J., Boreham, C., Cooper, A. R., Crank, H., Ekelund, U., & … Stamatakis, E. (2010). The ABC of Physical Activity for Health: A consensus statement from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Journal Of Sports Sciences, 28(6), 573-591.
Rahimi, E., & Bavaqar, S. (2010). Effects of yoga on anxiety and depression in women. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 44i68-i69.