Every sport demands flexibility; short, taut muscles are more prone to tearing or becoming damaged. However, traditional stretching exercises are often tedious and even worse, not usually sufficient to do a really good job.
Yoga is one of the best – if not the best! – exercise for helping to increase flexibility and suppleness, and is a great supplement for any existing regime and it is for that reason I have been a yoga addict since a new yoga studio opened up right round the corner from where I live called Samsara Mind and Body (if you live in South London, check them out)
Although yoga focuses on achieving muscular strength and power, it’s about achieving it in the right way and getting your body working in harmony.
In weight training and many other types of exercise, the muscles are isolated and worked out individually. This can indeed build strength but can also lead to overworked, tight and shortened muscles which are more prone to injury.
With yoga, the muscles are worked in tandem with each other; this not only provides the perfect base for strengthening them, but elongates them at the same type which increases flexibility and suppleness.
This improvement in flexibility is highly desirable for sportsmen as it decreases their risk of injury and increases their capacity to train.
But it’s not just sportsmen that can benefit from yoga; the increase in suppleness will manifest in everyone, not just elite athletes. In one study, after eight weeks of practicing yoga there was a demonstrable increase in flexibility by as much as 35%. The largest gains were seen in the shoulder and trunk regions in the body.
Perhaps the benefit that yoga is best known for is its innate ability to relieve stress and tension and help with relaxation.
Many classes include a specific section at the end for relaxation, following an invigorating workout, thereby allowing the best of both worlds.
Yoga theory dictates that the mind and bond cannot be considered in isolation; one being balanced inevitably helps the other. Advocates therefore believe that in order to perform at the very top level physically, it’s necessary to be relaxed, calm and at ease.
Yoga has been shown in countless studies to reduce anxiety and stress whilst simultaneously boosting your mood and overall well-being. And by helping to instil a sense of disciple and achieve a quieter mind, it’s also been linked to an improvement in physical conditions such as lowering blood pressure.
Certain types of yoga have more emphasis on the breathing and relaxation element than others. This does not mean it is just for those who are less fit; the New Zealand rugby team practice a type of yoga which is renowned for relaxation, helping to improve mental strength and removing stress.
As an overall mind-body exercise, it’s impossible to extricate the benefits as they are all inexorably linked. But whether you are a top-flight athlete looking to crank up your training even higher, or whether you have a long term chronic disability and want to introduce some physical activity into your life, yoga is suitable for everyone and can deliver a range of benefits.
As with any kind of exercise, it’s recommended that you seek your doctor’s advice before commencing a programme if you aren’t used to regular exercise.