Stretching should be an essential part of everyone’s workout routine especially those who engage in vigorous exercise and people in the athletic arena. Yoga is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise around the globe. So many people nowadays look at yoga as a form of physical exercise and we have seen a real surge in classes like power yoga and vinyasa flow classes. However for people who do a lot of strength training, athletes or people with postural issues because of sitting at a desk all day a more therapeutic practice can do wonders.
I have a real alpha personality and like most athletes I like to push my body to its absolute limit. Before I became a trainer I used to do quite intense workouts and then just walk out of the gym. I never understood the importance of stretching, barely spending a couple of minutes on my stretch before running out to get on with my day. After several months of training in this way I suddenly found myself severely injured. I got a nerve impinged in my neck and as a result was practically paralyzed for several days and barely able to walk from my bed to my bathroom.
It was a terribly frightening and frustrating time in my life but as a result it made me realize the importance of incorporating yoga and deep stretching into ones training regimen. What I also realized is that people who are strong are also extremely tight so it was important to approach yoga from a different perspective. Most type A personalities would want to throw themselves into a yoga practice that is going to challenge them because they want to feel like they have had a workout. If they don’t feel exhausted or built up a good sweat in the class they don’t feel as though they have been adequately challenged. However, the problem with moving in and out of strong postures at fast pace for someone who suffers with extreme tightness is that it can do more harm than good.
A yoga practice for active people and athletes is different than athletic yoga. Nowadays more and more top athletes are incorporating yoga as part of their training regime because they understand that flexibility prevents injury and enhances performance. Top athletes from Basketball players and Rugby and American football stars are all seeing the benefits from including yoga as part of their weekly training schedule. I am the yoga instructor for the Sri Lankan cricket team and one of the things that I have had to help the guys to overcome is their natural tendency to be competitive. All athletes and type A personalities want to be the best. It’s in their genetic make up that they want to be better than the person who is on the mat next to them. They often hate doing postures that they struggle with but most of the time it’s the postures that they hate that are best for them. I have had to help them to understand that yoga is not about being competitive but rather about self observation and accepting ones own limitations. What I have had to do with these guys is slow them right down. I try to show them that they need to challenge themselves in a different way. I focus on breath work, alignment and long held postures. I find myself having to constantly remind these guys that they don’t have to be the best at yoga but instead use yoga as a tool to become better athletes.
They are learning about endurance and mental strength by doing long held postures. To people who suffer with extreme tightness it takes a great deal of mental and physical stamina to hold a posture for an extended period of time especially when they are feeling such intense feelings of discomfort. I have recently become a huge fan of yin yoga because I find its benefits become apparent in a shorter period of practice. Yin Yoga postures are held typically for 3-5 minutes in each posture. Once you are in the posture you then incorporate breath work to help you soften into the pose. Yin not only stretches the muscles but goes even further to stretch connective tissue, fascia, tendons and ligaments.
I have seen great results from the work I have conducted with some of the players I have worked with. Helping some of them to return to playing matches after just a few weeks of work. No matter what your lifestyle may be, athlete, gym rat, office worker or stay at home mum, we can all benefit greatly from including a couple of sessions of yoga into our routine on a weekly basis. Our bodies naturally tighten up whether it’s through high intensity exercise or through being sedentary. My advice is to get on your mat and do some work that helps to alleviate your bodies natural instinct to tighten up.
By Tanuja Perera Raymond