Although many people know that yoga can provide health benefits, they may not associate it with improved athletic performance. Ryanne Cunningham, author of Yoga for Athletes, due out in November, outlines the benefits of yoga for athletic performance:
The goal of recovery is to clear muscles of waste products including lactic acid, to allow the fibers to fire again. While proper hydration helps by flushing waste products out of the body, proper stretching of muscles, as is taught in yoga, more rapidly restores function. Deep breathing practiced in yoga helps bring oxygen to muscles, helping them create energy to burn.
Five main causes of sports injuries are lack of warmup, twisting or sudden quick motions that stress joints, strength imbalances, tightness of highly trained muscles and overtraining. Yoga emphasizes lengthening of muscles, which in turn can help lessen injury risk and improve flexibility.
Reduce stress, increase focus, relieve tension and improve sleep
Practicing a series of focused movements, poses and deep breathing as part of a yoga sequence decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping an athlete feel more relaxed. Techniques learned can be used before sleep as well.
Strengthen underused muscles
Strength imbalances occur when some muscles are consistently trained more than others, as often happens with sports training routines. Yoga poses focus on all areas of the body, including small muscles like those in the wrist that actually take most of the weight and do most of the work.
Build your core
Yoga strengthens the entire trunk, improving posture and helping to protect the lower back. Balance needed for holding the poses and stretches involves the deepest muscles of the body. All three layers of the core must be strong and work together to provide a balanced, effective yoga practice.
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You don't need to be athletic or in great shape to practice yoga, and experts will tell you that it can be as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. Yoga, when practiced on a regular basis, provides a sense of awareness of the body's strengths and weaknesses, which can then be addressed at your own pace.
Marjie Gilliam is a personal trainer and fitness consultant. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared in the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News.