How Yoga Can Supplement Your Performance
There are two ways to look at recovery.
The first is active recovery which is a gentle movement-based recovery that isn’t as physically or neurologically taxing as full effort. It’s not smart to train really hard 7 days a week. This will cause over-training and prevent your body from reaping the benefits of your hard work.
The second is recovery in the form of parasympathetic activity. Gentle yoga that focuses on relaxing postures and breathing techniques help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. When your body is in this state it has several benefits that includes increased all of the following:
Digestion and nutrient absorption
Awareness is more of a mental benefit than anything else. When you slow down you are able to become more aware of your breath, your thoughts, and how you feel.
Athletes are always moving so fast that they don’t ever take time to check in with themselves. Generating internal awareness of yourself allows you to recognize when something is off.
If you are aware that you are breathing is short and shallow you can take control over it to take yourself out of a flight or flight response.
If you are aware of your thoughts, you can recognize when doubt and excuses are taking you off your A game and preventing you from performing to your peak level.
If you are aware of how you feel, you can take the necessary steps to focus more on recovery.
One of the more simple definitions of mobility is “the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.”
People often get mobility and flexibility confused and use them interchangeably.
Flexibility is the ability of muscles to lengthen. This is done passively where you hold a stretch and pull a muscle as far as you can. Think of a quad pull where you hold your foot and pull it towards you. This has several benefits that include increased blood flow and it reduces the risk of injury.
Mobility on the other hand is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. This means you are able to control and hold a position without using an anchor to hold your joints and muscles at a certain angle or length. Mobility also reduces the risk of injury by increasing motor control and decreasing soft-tissue stiffness.
Proprioception is the awareness of its position in space.
Our brain is tasked with knowing where the different limbs of our body are.
Balance, coordination, muscle activation, 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.
Also know as pranayama in yoga, breathing is the superpower that can unlock several doors for an athlete.
Better Emotional Regulation
Better Bracing For Weight-Lifting
Living In The Present
Better Mental Health
Breathing is a movement pattern that you can train the same way you train your squat or press.
It’s the only thing our autonomic nervous system does for us that we can take off auto-pilot and change.
For a detailed explanation of how breathing can impact your performance, check out my article on how breath work is critical for athletes.
Meditation can have a stigma of being religious and “woo-woo.”
To make it more accessible, try looking at meditation as a mental rehearsal of a practice plan.
What do you want to accomplish?
In your meditation you visualize yourself being successful.
How to stay focused on the current task?
In your meditation, practice focusing on your breath and find gratitude for everything you currently have.
Reflect on how your performance went?
In your meditation ask yourself what went well and what you can still work on.
There are also physiological benefits that meditation provide you.
It Changes Your Brain, Making You More Emotionally Stable
Your brain increases the volume of gray matter in your brain. Specifically the orbito-frontal cortex and the right hippocampus.
These regions of the brain regulate your emotions, increasing your capacity to control your emotions and be more positive.
Controlling your emotions on the field is incredibly important for avoiding penalties or downward spirals of performance.
It Decrease Anxiety, Depression, & Stress
Okay that’s three benefits in one, but these states are often correlated.
Stress causes you to breath deeper into your chest, stimulating your sympathetic nervous system, which you want to avoid unless you’re training. Anxiety and depression will compound your stress.
Using meditation as a form of focusing on things you are grateful for will shift your focus away from past or future and make you more present.
Every athlete can benefit from being more present, allowing you to focus on the next pitch, play, or shot.
Journaling is an excellent tool for unloading everything on your mind.
It serves as an external hard drive for you thoughts, goals, and reflections.
A lot of clients will site anxiety over the next day as the reason they have trouble sleeping. One of the best ways to ease the anxiety is to write down all of the tasks you need to do in your journal. This way you know they will get done and you won’t forget about them.
Journaling is also a great way to take your visions and goals written down.
This makes them tangible and the physical process of writing them down makes them more real.
All of these practices encourage you to slow down.
When you slow down, you’re able to bring awareness to areas for improvement.
Once you’re aware of those areas, you can address them and get back to working hard and fast.
Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.