After doing my Yoga training and starting my new journey as a wellness coach, I have experienced the holistic benefits of incorporating yoga stretches and breathing practices into my athletic training. Yoga is not achieving one thing. It is about striking balance in all walks and levels of our life. Being a master track and field athlete and a member of the Singapore Masters Track and Field Association, I have been participating in various regional and international meets since 2016. By practicing various yogic techniques along with my regular track training, I noticed improved levels of my performance with minimal risk of injuries.
With the knowledge I gained through my yoga training days and the experience I gained by applying the techniques to myself, I devised a special “Yoga for Sports” program to maximize athletes maximize their performance and minimize the risk of injuries. At the start, many had an apprehension as to how yoga supports their strength and conditioning training and help to increase their athletic performance. Within 3 to 6 months of our yoga sessions, they got strongly convinced that yoga certainly complements their performance and also made them less sore after the training giving them injury-free experience in the competitions. It also helped them to gain better focus and regain composure during the competition.
Let me explain to you the science behind how yoga strikes a balanced approach to sports/strength/fitness training. Muscular Strength, Muscular Flexibility, Joint Mobility, and Body Balance are the four components of the Musculoskeletal system that need to be worked upon in a balanced way at all times. Where there is a balance between these four aspects then our musculoskeletal system facilitates free movement. When the body is balanced, flesh feels like flesh. It is neither too hard to susceptible to injury nor too soft to be incapable of supporting the skeleton properly.
There are various schools of yoga and each of them is based on certain scientific principles. Iyengar’s school of yoga is based on the central principle of balance. Psychologically balance means several things
· Each individual muscle is capable of contracting, lengthening, and relaxing
· Corresponding muscle groups are equally strengthened and stretched.
· The joints when surrounded by balanced muscle tissues, are free to move in their full range of motion.
· Alignment of the body makes it possible to accommodate full breath.
· Energy flows equally to all parts of the body.
The power of athletic movement is produced by the contraction or shortening of muscles. All kinds of strength training involve contraction and shortening of muscles. When you bend your forearm, the contraction of the biceps (upper arm muscles) draws up the arm. To reverse the action of the arm in straightening the elbow, the contraction of the opposite muscle the triceps must occur. The muscles act as levers and the joints as fulcrums when the muscle contracts. All athletic exertion or strength training exercises can be viewed as a repetitive and coordinated contraction of muscles and muscle groups. Such continual contraction determines the resting length of the muscle spindle, the message center of the muscle. When the spindle learns that the muscle is continually being asked to shorten, it adjusts to the demands placed upon it and becomes increasingly resistant to stretching and lengthening. Muscles that are worked persistently without stretching can thus become hard and short.
The bulging hard muscles impair the range of motion by inhibiting joint mobility. It further decreases the body’s efficiency and increases the risk of injuries.
To counteract the negative effects of continuous contraction/shortening of muscles relaxed stretching is a must.
Personal Case Studies:
Yoga stretches for flexibility and joint mobility exercises (Yogic Sukshma Vyayama) were taught to one of the track and field athletes who was a javelin thrower. He was into fitness and strength training and had hard muscles. Initially, the binding of hands from the back (Gomukhasana hands) was very challenging. With constant breath coordinated practice, he was able to open up his shoulder joint in a couple of months and the bind became easier. This increased range of motion combined with his existing strength helped him to better throw with his Javelin.
Yoga helped hurdles achieve flexible hip flexors as well as open up their hip joints. This helped in the better clearance of hurdles with more ease.
In a nutshell, Yoga stretches aid to provide a balanced approach to fitness and can be used to complement all kinds of athletic or fitness training routines in the form of warmups, cooldowns, restorative practices, cross-training routines, relaxation techniques, and many more.
References: The Runner's Yoga Book by Jean Couch