Yoga - Debunking The Myths
Yoga Helping Your Training Routine
When most people think of yoga they get images of incense, chanting and mystical gurus from faraway lands sitting on the floor cross legged and chanting OM in a state deep relaxation. Well yoga isn't exactly what you think it might be. It's no longer just a gentle exercise for your grandma, people with injuries or those who can't handle a 'real' workout.
Images in magazines portray yoga to be so calm and tranquil, if you ever see my boyfriend doing yoga you would beg to differ. Beads of sweat dripping from his brow and a sticky mat so wet you could just about make a slip'n'slide out of it!
Now not everyone finds the down dog as difficult as my dear boyfriend (bless his tight hamstrings) but be aware there may be more of a challenge in it then you may think.
In the last few years yoga popularity has exploded with some 15 million people doing it in America alone.
Everywhere you look there's yoga paraphernalia; books, clothing, videos, magazines and it just keeps on coming.
So, What's The Big Deal?
Why has this 5,000 year old science suddenly become so popular?
Yoga does a lot more for the body than most people realize, it is not just about increasing flexibility or developing a calm mind. It is not necessary to sit in the crossed legged lotus position, chant OM, or be able to put your legs behind your head (but it does make for a very cool party trick!).
Practicing yoga also develops strength and endurance, enhances your focus, improves your balance and increases your performance in every aspect of your life. It works the whole body synergistically, working every joint, muscle and fibre improving all of your bodies functions.
Yoga is the best medicine for preventing injuries and aiding muscle recovery and repair. When the muscles and surrounding tissues are lengthened and relaxed during yoga asana (Sanskrit word for postures) it creates more room for blood to flow.
This in turn attracts more oxygen to the area helping muscles to heal and grow, making them more effective for your next workout (and less sore in everyday life). As an added bonus yoga also helps to flush lactic acid from the system. The squeezing and releasing motions the yoga postures create invite the good stuff in and push the bad stuff out.
Practicing yoga also increases your range of motion (ROM) which is beneficial for all activities allowing you to swing further, reach higher, dip lower, step wider etc. With this increased ROM it is easy to see how you would be able to put more power and explosiveness behind your movements. With increase in muscle elasticity on top of this you are going to decrease you risk of injury tenfold.
Bulk VS. Total Body Consciousness
Weight training and cardiovascular activity such as running tightens and shortens the muscles while yoga lengthens and builds functional strength. It teaches you how to use this strength effectively so you develop muscles that not only look good in the gym but are also useable in the real world.
Take a simple yoga class for example, here you will find tiny ladies balance up in full handstands while standing beside in frustration are big muscular guys who can't even hold themselves and inch off the floor.
What is the point of having all this strength if you can't use it? The level of concentration needed to maintain balancing postures also gives you a great lesson in focus and the importance of having a calm mind.
Why Doesn't Static Stretching Achieve This Result?
Yoga is different from standard stretching because it works on full muscle groups and not just isolated muscles, bringing all the little supporting muscles into the game as well. In a recent study done by the Australian army, results actually showed that static stretching did nothing to prevent injury. (1)
Not only does yoga decrease the risk of injury it also can increase your muscle endurance and pain threshold. In yoga you learn correct breathing techniques that teach you how to have better control of your oxygen intake, monitoring the inhalations and exhalations allowing you to use the breath more efficiently as well as using it to move through pain.
So having said this it is clear to see that along with increasing your productivity in the weights room, yoga can also enhance your cardio performance.
Along with all the benefits you will gain physically it is also important to mention the mental clarity and focus gained from a regular yoga practise. Jumping on the mat allows you to draw the senses inwards for awhile and regain your composure and sense of self. It puts you back in touch with what is true for you and allows you to reassess where you are, and to start fresh everyday.
It teaches you to work with what you have on that day because everyday the body has something different to offer and to teach. By coming more in touch with your body you are able to work with it, not against it. When you can hear what the body needs you are able to work together to go beyond your boundaries in a way you never considered before.
So instead of asking me why you should be doing yoga perhaps I should ask you why you are not doing yoga. What have you got to lose? Jump into the class at the gym or for a real yoga experience head to a studio.
- John Capouya - Real Men Do Yoga 2003 Health Communications Inc
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