Can Yoga Help My Race?
Written by: Jana Webb
Date: Mon Mar 30 2009
My initial reaction yoga classes was—from the perspective of an athlete—a waste of time. I was already busy with endurance training, strength training, diet, and there was neither the time nor the need for yoga. I no longer hold to that view; let me tell you why. First, some background.
Yoga consists of three components: Asana (stretching and strengthening postures); Pranayama (breath work); and Pratyahara (meditation). I host and narrate a DVD called Yoga for Triathletes. The physical postures (Asana) used in the DVD focus on isometric (static) postures that build muscular endurance and joint stability; as well as extensor postures that open and stretch the front of the body. The yoga postures that are included in the video challenge the legs, core and arms so much that such a session could integrate into your strength building training routines.
Anyone willing to compete in events longer than three hours will not get by on strength alone. The second part of the yoga practice is Pranayama (breath control). We use different breathing techniques to learn how to lengthen and strengthen the breath; control the breath; and how to create more volume in the breath. Like any other muscle, the diaphragm needs to be trained and—like any other muscle—it responds to training. The yoga practice can get quite challenging on a physical level, but because the practice teaches you to connect breath to movement and mind to body, when physical exertion happens the body knows how to breathe and stay in control. It knows which muscles need to be used and which to relax, because this has been practiced on a daily basis.
This principle alone could make a difference in your race. When your muscles fatigue and you feel near the end of your endurance, you’ve trained the body to stay calm and relaxed, to use only what is needed, and to control your ventilation.
The physical part of the practice also stretches and opens up the thoracic cavity, giving us more space to breath. By working in extension we open through the front of the entire body and more specifically the intercostal muscles in the ribcage which, in turn, facilitates breathing and breath work.
The final piece to the Yoga Practice is Pratayhara (meditation); more specifically the withdrawal of senses. After hours of physical exertion and fatigue, we might need something more than just physical attributes to get us to the finish line. In yoga, we use the physical part of the practice to realign the body and the spine so the body can function at an optimal level; and to be strong and able to support sitting in mediation. It is in mediation that we dissociate ourselves from our senses, and experience a different level of consciousness. Have you ever endured in a race you thought you had no chance of finishing? Perhaps your will propelled your body past its nominal physical limit. Yoga promotes and teaches precisely this dynamic.
Jana’s Yoga for Triathlon video can be found at MyPypeline.com
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Reviewed by: Joachim Schnabel, Apr 2 2009 6:52PM