4 Physical Benefits Of Yoga
I initially got into yoga because I wanted the physical benefits. There are more than four benefits, but I use these four pillars when organizing the ways that yoga benefits someone that does athletic movements like running, jumping, lunging, squatting, swimming and all other manners of physical activity used to keep you healthy. I call these pillars R.A.M.P. Recovery, Activation, Mobility, Proprioception These pillars are different from what you’ve typically heard, but they are really beneficial for athletes of every level. Recovery Yoga is a great way to bring the body into the parasympathetic nervous system using breathing drills. Check out my article on why athletes should practice breathing. Then there is static stretching to increase flexibility. Two guidelines for stretching is to do it after you workout and to make sure you stretch when you are relaxed. A lot of people come to yoga when their lower back is tight and end up doing more damage. A tight lower back is usually a symptom of a dysfunction happening when another muscle or joint nearby. Stretching a muscle(s) that are protecting you from further injury is like separating a cub from mama bear. Your body will unleash fury on you. Then there is a the presence that yoga teaches you. When you practice yoga you are practicing the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Being present in your physical body is a powerful way to reconnect with your body after trauma as well. Activation Neurons that fire together, wire together. Yoga provides a slowed down environment to connect with your body so that you can feel different muscles activating. For a novice weight-lifter it might be hard to feel the glutes working in a reverse lunge. The brain is focusing on several tasks and it might not have a strong connection to the correct muscles. Whereas with yoga, you have the opportunity to sit in a pose and explore the different muscles that control a movement like a lunge or squat. You can then take that connection from your yoga practice and use it in gym where you are no longer practicing, but competing to PR or outpace the person next to you. Activation plays a crucial role in injury prevention too. As mentioned earlier, tight muscles are overworked muscles because another muscle or muscle group isn’t doing it’s job. One of the sleepiest muscles in society is the glute since we spend so much time in hip flexion when we sit down. Activating this muscle is key if you want to run with better form, fix your posture, lift heavier with your legs, and prevent nagging injuries. Mobility “What about flexibility? I thought that was the biggest benefit of yoga.” Flexibility is a part of mobility. Mobility refers to your bodies ability to go through the joint’s full range of motion without pain or discomfort. Mobility requires strength to be maintained throughout this process. Mobility requires control and strength. Flexibility on the other hand is passive, meaning that you use a person, object, ground or other body part to get a join to an end range. To illustrate the differences stand up and lift your leg straight in front of you. Take note of the height. Then find a chair or bench that is slightly higher than that height and rest your heel on it. You will be able to get your leg higher with assistance, but as soon as you have to control it on your own, it gets tougher or not possible. Now, flexibility is important because if you lack flexibility your body becomes restricted with simple movements. Bending your legs or reaching for a cup in the cupboard becomes a difficult task because the muscle is more contracted than it should be. One big point to make here is that yoga is often portrayed as extreme flexibility. This causes people to injure themselves because people try getting into back bends, twists, or binds that the body can’t safely do. You might not be able to touch your toes and that’s okay. However, if you strap yourself into a torture chamber or simply put your joints in positions they aren’t ready for, then maybe you will touch your toes. But it will be at the expense of your health. Proprioception Stand on one foot with your eyes open. Then stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Was it harder to balance? Proprioception is the awareness of its position in space. Our brain is tasked with a lot and one of the big things is knowing where the different limbs of our body are. Balance, coordination, body awareness, body control, or body position are all terms that help explain proprioception. The eyes and the ears play a role in translating external stimuli and sending that feedback to the brain. The body, specifically the muscles are also sending feedback to the body in regards to the length and positioning of muscles and joints. The brain takes the feedback of where the body is and sends signals back to the body to make necessary adjustments. This loop is continuously happening and it is strengthened in yoga when develop a mindful practice of every movement of your body and how it feels. Another way to think of proprioception is communication pathways in the body. When you are really good at balancing on your right leg, you have a freeway of communication from your brain down your leg to your foot. When you get injured, wear a boot and struggle to balance on your left leg, that freeway becomes less-traveled. What was once a 5 lane highway is now an overgrown horse path. When you practice balancing, coordination, and motor control, you are rebuilding roads to communicate better. Athletic feats require incredible proprioception. A snowboarder doing backflips in a half pipe. A wide receiver fending off a corner back while catching a ball with one hand and toe-tapping the sideline. A soccer player performing a bicycle kick to kick a moving ball over their head. That requires a lot feedback to come in from the senses to be translated by the brain and then communicated back to the body. And yoga provides a slow-down platform to build those connections with the body and the mind. In Conclusion As I mentioned, there are even more physical benefits, but there are pertinent to someone doing athletic activities. What’s even cooler and crazier about yoga is that it doesn’t even skim the surface when you dig into the mental and spiritual benefits that can be gained from practicing.