Yoga for Sports: Mental and Physical
Achieving High levels of Fitness
CSOCS 3452 Yoga
November 15, 2010
The focus of this research is to prove the transformation of yoga into the Western world should not be seen as negative but rather a positive way to conform to a healthy lifestyle. Sports teams and athletes no matter their interest have discovered the use of yoga as a way to have a complete balance of the body. The focus of this physical style of yoga is to practice constructive breathing techniques as well as specific poses to build up the strength of muscles naturally and increase elasticity within the connective tissue. This practice has been used on NFL teams as well as the everyday athlete. This style of yoga has been proven to prevent injuries and making the body feel naturally better. Yoga has been seen as a breakthrough within medicine as well and as seen as a means for helping arthritis victims instead of resulting to numerous pain killers. Certain poses can be used to be beneficial to the athletic body, especially for soccer players. Within this research, the styles and stretches used to increase flexibility within the legs and back muscles ensuring that the body is fit for a 90 minute match. Without the use of strength training and weight lifting the body can naturally build muscle through the use of yoga.
“Yoga is not a religion or cult, [but rather] a 5,000 year old exercise system used by people to achieve higher levels of health and fitness” (Anthony 2008). Yoga has been categorized as a way to fulfill a physical and mental state of mind, but our western view of these exercises focus more on the body than the mind. “Yoga trains the body, mind and spirit to become strong and flexible, release stress and create inner peace” (Anthony 2008). All of these are necessary for living a healthy and balanced lifestyle, but the mind and spirit aspect can be forgotten with our society’s obsession with the body. “Yoga is not an aerobic exercise; it does not burn calories” (Anthony 2008). There are ways that yoga can be used to stabilize the body physically, and this practice has been modified and accepted by athletes in all different levels of activity.
“Many poses are held from 1 to 5 minutes so that muscles and deep connective tissue are simultaneously stretched and strengthened giving them a rubber band memory not achieved in traditional exercise” (Anthony 2008). This has nothing to do with weight lifting or strength training; this is a natural way for the body to build connective tissue to the muscle that stabilizes to the bone. The importance of this elasticity for the muscles is to reduce the amount of injuries for athletes due to poor body health. Strength training and weights can create more muscle mass, but with that comes less flexibility. The less flexible the muscles are for an athlete in motion, the higher the chances for injury. By practicing these forms of yoga to “increase flexibility throughout the muscular system” muscles are more likely to form memory (Anthony 2008).
It is important for athletes to have healthy muscles because of the extensive practice and match regiments they must adhere to. Using yoga for this purpose helps with balance and can help center the body for peak performance. While building muscle strength and working on the center of the body, yoga can also be beneficial internally to the body. “As the practice of yoga focuses on deep breathing while stretching, this diaphragmic breath not only helps with sinking into a deeper stretch but also circulates the body's lymph fluid which increases the bodies capacity to cleanse and detoxify by 15%” (Anthony 2008). By using this type of breathing as a cleansing process and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the body’s immune system is boosted and an athlete can compete to their fullest potential.
Baron Baptiste, a well-know power yogi has been focusing on yoga as a healthy fitness practice. He has even worked with professional athletes and was considered the "specialist in dynamic stretching and injury prevention” for the Philadelphia Eagles, a NFL football team (Kennedy 1998). His goal was to take his teachings and bring them into the sports world, where yoga was mostly seen as a joke. The team responded to him very well and saw his poses as useful rather than bothersome. Many of the responses to his practice were that it helped with focus and concentration and admitted that they are not just stretches. Using football as a crutch was a great way to make a break through into the sports world using yoga. However, some were not thrilled by his theories.
"He's a showman," says one Midwestern yogi who's been watching the scene
for years, and who worries that Baptiste's fast-moving, sweat-inducing
"power-yoga" is just aerobics without the pumping, beat-box soundtrack. "I
think he's diluting traditional yoga just to make money, and I don't agree
with his concept of yoga. Basically, I think he's giving my profession a bad
name” (Kennedy 1998).
Baron’s practice became more popular with the mainstream yoga culture, but shied about from the traditional practice that some were so used to. He retorted back by saying,
"If you try to take the majority of people in America into a quiet, contemplative
environment — if you bring something in too pure of a form, something too different,
people have fear. But with power yoga, more active yoga, it brings them into a whole
process where their hearts are pumping, they're breathing, they're working their muscles.
It's an easy crossover from traditional fitness, it isn't too different, it makes sense, they're
getting a good physical workout. And then suddenly — and you hear this from nine out
of ten people — they've tapped into an inner calm, a poise, an equanimity, an inner peace
with themselves that they've never experienced before in their lives."
His style of yoga is about being attached to your outcome and reaching your goal. His style has been extremely influenced by western culture but for the purpose of physical activity, it is perfect. This might look like the latest gym craze for many, or may be the next best thing for active people. A body in motion stays in motion, and with his practice the muscles are constantly being tested and strengthened. Even though this practice shies away from the eastern aspect of mind, body, and spirit, it still works to keep the body centered and help create a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle.
“Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic disease of cartilage” (Kolasinski and Mishra 2010) and is the leading cause of physical disability in many men and women alike. Women are more likely to develop it than men, but men have a higher risk over the age of 50. The idea of using yoga for physical rehab is a new concept within our culture, but not entirely fanatical idea. “Yoga to reduce symptoms in the knee may include specific asanas that strengthen the quadriceps and other muscles that can help relieve physical stress on the knee joint” (Kolasinski and Mishra 2010). Certain poses and exercises can be beneficial to the muscles to help strengthen the problem areas. “Different postures might focus on flexibility and increased blood flow, presumably by aligning joints, including the ankles, knees, and hips. Standing postures could strengthen and align bones and muscles, particularly of the lower extremities” (Kolasinski and Mishra 2010). The stretching and allowing of the muscles to become flexible can act as a break though to the arthritis and lessen the stiffness and pain. It is another option to choose besides medicine, resulting in a natural way to heal. This can be considered a new wave of physical therapy. Instead of using medicine to cover up the pain, why not attack it full force and make the problem better.
“The word ‘yoga’ is translated as ‘union’, referring to the union of the body and mind that this therapy brings about. Thus, yoga can help make your body and mind fitter to play a demanding sport like soccer” (Patricia 2009). Soccer is a very intense and hectic activity and sometimes the mind can get distracted by the negative factors influenced by the game. One bad pass or one missed shot can throw off a player’s entire game; that mistake can carry with them over the course of the game. However, allowing the mind to be healthy and positive throughout the match can be attributed to the practice of yoga. “Yoga places a huge emphasis on balance, flexibility, and mental discipline, traits essential for a sport like soccer too” (Patricia 2009). Balance is a key element to the finesse of the sport. Without balance, the athlete cannot glide down the field making swift movements around opponents to achieve their goal. Simple techniques used that are specifically designed for athletes are “the spread-leg forward fold or ‘Upavista Konasana’ [and the] dog pose or the Adho Mukha Svanasana” (Patricia 2009). The spread-leg forward fold is used to stretch the hamstrings and calves and make them more flexible. “In this pose, you sit on the floor with your legs parted as wide as possible. Then lean forward and place your hands on the floor. Maintain this stretch for 15 seconds and rise back up. Repeat this about 10-15 times” (Patricia 2009). The dog pose is designed strengthen your back muscles. In order to have strong legs necessary to play a sport like soccer the back has to be equally as strong. “To do this pose, you sit on the floor on all fours. After this, gently lift up your hips alone while keeping your legs and hands completely stretched out. Make sure that your back is fully straight. Return to the original pose and repeat this 10-15 times as well” (Patricia 2009). These are just certain poses necessary to complete the full physique, mental and physical, of the athletic body in a demanding sport like soccer. Yoga is not only used as a means of meditation, but as a way to increase flexibility to protect the body from harm. This is a western practice, but has been adapted to work and be beneficial. Some can criticize saying this style takes away from what yoga “should” do. In yoga, every experience is different and every practice is different; there is not right and wrong. It’s how one chooses the right method for their body and for their lifestyle is what is important.
I am an athlete and have been for many years and have changed my method of strength training over and over again. I could never find a system that didn’t hurt my body for days afterwards while trying to strengthen my muscles. Game after game no matter what sport I was playing I would constantly complain of aches and pains and how my body would just feel worn down. I needed a lifestyle change just to see options of how to better treat my body. I play soccer and softball; after ever game different parts of my body was sore and aching just from overuse. It is typical for athletes to automatically ice down their bodies after use to prevent too much inflammation. This method is all well and good because it reduces pain but it tightens everything up in the process, therefore making the muscles and body less flexible. I am not a natural flexible person so I am constantly pulling muscles and have even torn a couple muscles over the years.
It wasn’t until I entered my first year of college did I expand my options to a healthier lifestyle as an athlete. During our pre season training for soccer, one of our morning sessions was dedicated to a fast paced practice of yoga to help work with our sore muscles. Our instructor extremely understood that for most this was our first time practicing and were not aware of the extensive effort that went into this particular practice of yoga. She reassured us that this was not meant to create more pain for our bodies, but rather have our body distinguish the difference between pleasure and pain and learn how to control the body. Each pose was specifically designed to hold to the point where you felt it in order to create more flexibility for the muscles. She also emphasized that these poses were also strengthening our connective tissue too. As we were holding our poses she spoke to us reminding us how important it was to take care of our bodies and make sure that each move was done correctly so it would benefit our bodies. Each pose that she chose was specifically designed for soccer and to help us play a full game no matter our position. I really enjoyed getting out of the gym and experiencing muscle building and flexibility in other ways besides weight lighting and sprints. Each one of our bodies were sore after the practice, but in a good way. We had been using muscles that had never been used before that has been weak and needed to be tested. Yoga is the practice of the entire mind and body and we took that to its fullest potential.
In conclusion, yoga has been changed and altered since coming into the western society, but even though the practices shy away from ancient tradition, not all are lacking within the wellness department. The poses and techniques used in power yoga are specifically designed to accommodate to the athletic body and the fast paced practice is ideal for athletes of all levels. Yoga is about discovering a peace fit for your body and through so many options of mindfulness and a healthy lifestyle, each area can be covered.
· Anthony, Janise. 1999-2008. Yoga 4 Sports. Retrieved from http//www.sportshealth4u.com/yogasport.html
· Kennedy, Eden Marriott. September/October 1998. The NFL Yogi: Is There More to Baron Baptiste than Meets the Eye?. Healing Retreats and Spas. http://www.baronbaptiste.com/pages/healingmag1.htm
· Kolasinski, Sharon L., Mishra, Richa. May 2010. Yoga Practice Enhances Management of Knee OA. Lower Extremity Review. Retrieved from http//www.lowerextremityreview.com/article/yoga-practice-enhances-management-of-knee-oa
· Patricia. 26 April 2009. Yoga Exercises for Soccer: Reduce Injuries, Practice Yoga. Yoga Health Benefits. Retrieved from http://www.yogawiz.com/blog/yoga-benefits/yoga-exercises-for-soccer.html