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Yoga for Athletes - 'Tis the Season!

One of my favorite weekly classes I teach is at a local strength and conditioning gym. The mats get tossed onto astro turf and we bust-a-move in an open warehouse. There is no added superficial heat, only bodies. My students are strong and muscular, training their bodies for competition and medals. They are incredibly motivated and powerful. They inspire me to challenge myself and be unafraid to get strong within my own body.


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The classes I teach here often include less strength-building and much more about mobility. We focus on maintaining a balance; increasing flexibility, breath work, longer holds for balance, and bringing awareness to the importance of body recovery. We often share what works and what doesn’t in their bodies and how to best complement yoga with their daily routines which are guided by WODs (workouts of the day) and coached by talented performance experts. Much of my relationship with my students here feels more one-on-one, designing sequences or breaking down postures based on their interest. It is nothing short of fun and great learning for them and myself.



Some tips


Start slow. Do what you can.

Allow your breath to guide.


No need to get it perfect, it is a practice.


Use props; grab a small blanket, block, if you have one, or a pillow.



 

Toe-stand

Roll up a blanket like a mini burrito. Place your knees on top of your blanket burrito providing a soft spot for your caps. Tuck your toes beneath you. If it feels intense on the toes, keep standing on your knees or walk your palms in front of you, with your hips high, melting the chest toward the floor. Another option is to sit on top of your heels with your palms resting on your thighs. Stay here allowing your toes to open. As the time passes, it may begin to feel quite challenging. Breathe in for a 4 count and exhale out the mouth to 4 for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Slowly, come up off from your toes, laying down on your back, resting in a Savasana position to rebound. 



Our feet can hold a lot of tension. Part of practicing yoga barefoot is to allow us to feel the earth, to open the feet. There are pressure points that can offer sweet releases from our toes and feet. 

 

Supported side plank

From a plank position, drop your left knee down from your left hip. Place the edge of your right foot down. As you inhale, keep your left palm pressing down into the earth as you lift your right arm high. Lift your hips up, pressing your belly slightly drawing strength from your midline. Begin to reach your right arm up and over your head to get an active side body stretch. Stay here for 5-10 breaths. 

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Gate pose

From supported side plank, using your core, begin to lift your upper body back to center and then over to the right. Take your right palm to the top of your right leg. You can keep the same foot placement or plant your right heel into the earth, flexing your foot with your toes up. This is a nice calf stretch. Stay here for 5-10 breaths and then transition to the second side. 



Sometimes, we neglect our side body stretching. It is important to open the side body; from armpits to hip crease, the psoas, and legs. The intercostal muscle is an important component in expanding lung capacity, helping with your breath in the practice. 

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Nontraditional half pigeon pose

From a plank position, bring your right knee toward your right wrist and lower the knee to the ground. You can rest your pelvis toward the earth, black, or blanket (helps to place underneath the meat of your right cheek). Lean your upper body over the right, as though you are supporting your weight on the thigh and cheek. Bend your back knee so much that it feels comfortable in a place you can bring your torso back to center. Take your right shin parallel to the top of your mat. Begin to walk your palms forward, resting the forearms down on the earth, block, or pillow. This half pigeon is meant to be passive. No need to square the hips or send the back leg straight back behind you, this is non-active. With your greatest effort, relax here for 3-7 minutes. 



This is especially great for athletes that have tight hips, pelvises, and hamstrings. 



Teaching yoga at a conditioning gym has helped me become a better coach. Sometimes in this one-hour class, we will spend more time breaking down mobility and function, understanding the importance of getting into the connective tissue, beyond the superficial or muscle, if you will. We get into the ligaments, joints, and bones. Together, we’ve come to great discoveries when complementing the yoga with athletic training. Many times, it has challenged me in ways to teach outside of the yoga box when it comes to sharing the practice. I believe it is a powerful support system for all athletes that can be a conduit for uniting breath, body, mind, and spirit. I will always be an advocate for bringing yoga to anyone, anywhere.




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