Training intensively for a specific sport is not always good for your body – there is a distinct difference between a body fit for sport and a body fit for life. Trying to get the message across to athletes, sports people and team players that they need to stay flexible often gets raised eyebrows. When I tell them my specialist area is yoga for sport, they look a little more interested!
It is logical that if the body is inflexible it will be injured in its most vulnerable areas, such as the knees, lower back, groin and shoulders. The same rules apply to the mind.
Opening the mind of an athlete to the benefits of yoga used to be tough. In the last 35 years that I have been teaching and training, I have seen a marked move towards understanding yoga and its role in sport. A good sports person needs more than a good body; they need a sharp focus on the goal, a keen sense of body awareness and the understanding of good breathing to pull it all together.
I have trained cyclists in the Tour De France, international rugby players, Olympic hurdlers, Paralympics basketball players and the Chicago Bulls academy. An intelligent training programme is essential for good performance, injury limitation and gaining a personal best. Working with people who want to get the best from themselves is an inspiration and I use more than just yoga poses; I also use meditation to help deal with the stress and anxiety competitive sport can cause. Resting the mind as well as the body is a major key to optimum health and fitness and performance.
As a functional anatomist, I know how the body works and why injuries are often not understood by physios and doctors. What is missing is the innate understanding of the nerves in the body and the relationship to the mind. I look at the function of the knees in a footballer, or the ankles of a basketball or tennis player. Each part of the body needs to be part of the training, so two sessions of gentle yoga introduced as cross training balances all parts of the anatomy.
Muscular imbalance is a road to injury; balanced training is essential for a good working relationship with the person and the athlete.
Cycling is known to be one of the toughest sports on the body and ageing can be seen due to a very strict diet high in protein and very low in fat, plus relentless training. In this last year, I have seen cyclists battle with tight joints, tight muscles and a tight mind. A professional competitor competes every second of every waking moment.
It was with this mindset that I saw how difficult it might be for any sports person to respond to yoga.They are often impatient and want results yesterday. I often had to remind them that yoga is non-competitive and that what is needed is to focus on the breath to get as much oxygen flowing in the bloodstream as possible and, therefore, to relax before they could really begin to respond to the yoga practice.
We can’t live without breath and yet we give it little or no respect. A good oxygen flow though the blood stream is imperative to good performance and essential for avoiding severe muscular strain after competing. Yoga is the one exercise that concentrates on efficient breath control and mind-full awareness to achieve optimum output.
The USA and some European countries have accepted yoga as part of cross training and I am still battling to have it accepted here in the UK. Therefore, it was wonderful to be asked to work with the Chicago Bulls academy last summer at Loughborough University with Luol Deng. He managed a 162-game season that year with no injuries and attributed it to his yoga cross training. He wanted to educate the UK Academy with this knowledge.
I have been working creating yoga for airlines with the Olympic team in mind, travelling long hours to limit deep vein thrombosis for instance, performing seated yoga and audio meditation sessions. Yoga is beginning to be recognised for the key role it can play in improving athletic and sporting performance.
Anne-Marie Newland is the founder of Sun Power Yoga www.sun-power-yoga.co.uk
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.