Yoga – The Art of Mastering The Body

“Yoga is a physical discipline which lengthens, strengthens, tightens and tones while performing a deep relaxing detox on the tissues and organs of the body. Yoga is about allowing and opening up on many levels with its foundations being in awareness itself. Awakening the ability to notice and feel the movement and muscles themselves. I was 8 years old when I first heard the word ‘yoga’. I was at church when the Pastor said India was trying to infiltrate their religion into North America by the way of introducing an exercise known as Yoga.

I forgot about this until we started this chapter. Actually, Yoga is about not controlling, or some restrictive dogma. It is the science of the body, about allowing without judgment and letting go that which does not serve you. Such as stiff joints, tight muscles and body pain. Release your invisible bonds.” – Dr. Darrell Wolfe

The Perfect Counterbalance For A Contractual Lifestyle

The art and science of yoga is dedicated to bringing you more in tune with your body. Its objective is to assist you in exercising the breath and body in unison for a greater awareness of your potential. This can be a perfect compliment to the drive and effort of other practices. In short, it is about creating balance and harmony with and throughout your whole body. Yoga’s breathing techniques can and will improve an athlete’s performance-enhancing powers along with their mental and psychological focus. Simply knowing Yoga’s breath management techniques can help build resilience. The deeper effect that comes from practice is an overall sense of well-being. That sense eventually becomes the motivation to practice; a deep part of you seeks well-being, not accomplishment.

What does basketball superstar LeBron James, tennis champion Andy Murray and all the NFL players of the Seattle Seahawks have in common? They all used this same technique to recover from their elite workouts: Yoga.

With sports such as hockey, tennis or football, we only use 10-15% of the body, whereas with yoga every muscle, joint and organ is put to the test. Yoga works every body system: cardiovascular, skeletal, muscular and endocrine. Yoga oxygenates the blood, generating more energy when you finish the exercise as opposed to draining the body of it like many other workouts.

Athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John McEnroe have heightened their performance levels through practicing yoga. By combining mental, physical and emotional strength, they became better athletes at their chosen sport. Yoga is not just an exercise; it teaches us how to calm the mind and body, enabling us to handle stressful situations more successfully.

Hockey & Yoga

Ryan Getzlaf practices yoga, he says, to “keep limber.” But what about the spiritual side of the practice? “I’m not really that kind of a yoga guy,” says the Anaheim Duck’s Captain. “It’s more just the stretching.”

Net-minder Tim Thomas says, “My whole career has been about proving to people that I can play in the NHL and be successful, so Yoga is a part of that journey.”

Retired NHL forward, Georges Laraque kept his 6-foot, 243-pound frame flexible by sticking to a strict training exercise program that included Yoga.

“I’m strong, but not because I bench-press six plates,” he says. “If you do yoga, you don’t need to do weights that much because it’s like a weight exercise, but instead you’re using your body.”

Laraque explains, “when you work on your flexibility it makes you less prone to injuries”. He adds, “I believe yoga is really something that will help young athletes get stronger, improve their core and become better athletes.”

In addition to the physical benefits, Laraque also enjoys the calming aspect of Yoga. “The game can be stressful on your body and on you mentally,” he says. “You go there and it’s just really relaxing. It’s really quiet and it’s hard to explain but you don’t think of any problems or anything else. It’s so relaxing and purifying.”

There are some top NHLers who use yoga Nidra as a relaxation practice. Yoga Nidra is a guided resting practice, a full body meditation led though audio.

Some use it to prepare on game day, after the morning practice or to completely relax (a power nap!). Some use it for post-game or next day recovery relaxation. It is a deeply restorative practice.

More and more athletes and people who just want to stay fit are realizing that with proper yoga they are able to recuperate from strenuous workouts and injury much faster, especially for those reaching middle age. Yoga also helps to prevent the typical aches and pains commonly associated with aging and an inactive lifestyle.

What Is the Counterbalance to Intense Workouts?

Professional and amateur exercisers are turning to yoga to restore their body between other sport and intense exercise programs. Even Tony Horton’s best-selling “extreme” fitness DVD series, P90X, has an accompanying Yoga program, “Yoga X.” Tony recognized this need to balance out his aging (54 year young) body and natural contraction from resistance training. Extreme workouts are contractual and shortening in nature. Yoga will counterbalance this with its strengthen, lengthen and detox techniques.

Athletes often carry tension in the core of the body. Specifically in the Illiopsoas, the deepest hip flexor. When that muscle is out of balance, or over tight, it can cause other muscles to react and so on. I know of an interesting experiment regarding this muscle, sometimes called an emotional muscle, as it can react to fear, etc. When a group of healthy people go to a scary movie, the psyche does not know it is just a movie, and the body reacts. When those people get up out of their seats after the movie, they feel ‘old’ and hunched over. That is the Illiopsoas! So, play that out in life. When there is fear, anxiety, suffering there will be a reaction in the body. Athletes need to recognize this. One of the NHLers, who has to fight, has learned to relax through the Yoga Nidra mentioned above. From his relaxing yoga practice he can relax his deep core, the pelvis and hips, and in turn the groin. He has had no groin injuries since beginning this practice. The moral of the story is sometimes we have to release muscles (especially deep in the body), instead of work them.

Pounding The Pavement

Runners in particular need yoga to counterbalance this over-contracting high-impact sport if they wish to not pay the price.

During the course of an average mile run, your foot will hit the ground 1,000 times. The force of impact on each foot is about 3-4 times your body weight. It’s not surprising to hear runners complain of bad backs, knees, tight hamstrings and sore feet.

The pain most runners suffer from is not from the running itself but from the imbalances that running causes. If you bring your body back into proper alignment through the practice of Yoga, you can run long and hard for years to come. In fact, running and Yoga make a good marriage of strength and flexibility.

Strong physical activity stresses our body similar to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response of the autonomic nervous system. Yoga has been proven to ‘re-set’ the autonomic nervous system to a more parasympathetic (relaxed) state, which is what is needed for the body to heal and recover. In its basic philosophy, the science of Yoga, it does not have to be scary, in fact it takes the scare away from life’s reactivity.

If restoration and detoxification of body tissues is the goal then an athletic yoga practice would be counterproductive. Athletes need to lean towards a yoga that calms the nervous system, rests and restores the body. If yoga is your only form of exercise then you may want to lean towards a more fast-paced, flowing style using more intensive deep stretches.

Would an athlete become too flexible from doing Yoga? The answer is no. When Yoga is done correctly using proper breath techniques and the ego is left on the sidelines, Yoga will help prevent injury and give the athlete a competitive edge at their chosen sport. A proper Yoga practice will take you to the edge of sensation, but not push through it. Very flexible people should focus on stabilizing techniques and muscle engagement in their yoga practice, rather than expansion and flexibility. The more muscular person would want to focus on lengthening and releasing. The battle of the sexes can definitely show up in a yoga class. Women tend to be more allowing, and even have a natural flexibility, while men do not. If men do not leave the ego at the door (and some women!), there will be a battle in the body. Don’t let that be you!

Technically speaking, the more athletic a person is, the tighter they will be. Especially in the sport specific muscle groups that are affected, for example: runners-hamstrings, throwers-shoulders and one-sided sports. These individuals should use caution when starting yoga. An aggressive approach without proper guidance and body awareness will only get you into trouble. Usually the more athletic a person is the more contracted their muscles are. Yoga is a valuable tool to restore balance in this situation, but must be respected; this is where aggressive becomes more passive.

If your exercise of choice were weightlifting, Yin Yoga would be a perfect counterbalance, as these classes focus on slow stretches with deep breathing.

Yoga is the best form of exercise in relieving stiffness from other sports or just life itself. When muscles become fatigued, they build up with lactic acid, and yoga, with its strengthening and lengthening postures, relieves the tension and the waste is flushed away. Yoga does not deplete energy from your body like a gym workout where your body can become fatigued after the workout. Instead, it will not just increase but restore your energy, making you feel more balanced and invigorated.

If you are new at yoga you may want to participate in a class that focuses on alignment and a balance of strength and stretching. Yoga done correctly will develop strength to the same degree as it develops flexibility. A perfect blend not just for the athlete but also for all walks of life.

When it comes to Yoga, I recommend that you do an authentic style. You want to make sure that you get the emotional and psychological benefits of yoga practice rather than just a physical workout. Yoga does not care how you look or the shape you’re in, it welcomes all. Yoga will test your personal boundaries by increasing your flexibility, endurance and muscle strength at a level comfortable for you.

Always remember, if you can leave your ego and expectations at the door, you will create a partnership of understanding with your body and you will begin your own yoga journey. For the first time in your life, you will pull back the curtains, release the invisible bonds and Master your mind and body and tap into your true potential.

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