Yoga Asana practice (the physical practice of yoga) is a symmetrical practice where everything you do on one side, you do to the other side. Yoga also moves the body through multiple planes of movement, creating a balanced practice that benefits most bodies. Many sports and activities, while fun, cause physical imbalances since they aren’t symmetrical practices. Running and biking only move the body in one plane of movement. Sports like tennis and golf have one-side dominance, where you are only swinging in one direction or with one arm. Over time, these athletic activities can cause physical imbalances that can lead to pain. Practicing yoga for cross-training can rebalance the body and support your ability to do your sport long term. Here are some ways that practicing yoga will help you in your sport.
Core strength is necessary, not only when playing sports, but for all aging bodies. The “core” of the body is the source of our physical power. Every swing of a racket, bat or club, every swimming stroke, even your running stride is dependant on your core muscles. The core muscles are: 4 sets of abdominals (Rectus abdominis, Internal and External Obliques, and Transverse abdominis), spinal muscles (Erector Spinae group), Gluteus muscles (Maximus, Medius, Minimus), inner thighs (adductors), pelvic floor (Levator ani), and hip flexors (Psoas, Iliacus, Tensor Fascia Latae, Rectus femoris). When these muscles are strong, you have power for explosive movement. When these muscles are weak, pain and dysfunction usually follow.
Practicing yoga strengthens the core muscles in an even and symmetrical way. Whether you are flowing through a Vinyasa (Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog and Downward Dog), or practicing Bridge pose, the left and right sides of your body are working evenly. While other yoga poses are asymmetrical, every yoga pose you practice the right, you practice on the left. Gate pose (see photo below) is an example of a core strengthening pose that is also asymmetrical.
Core strength is not the only strength that matters when it comes to playing sports. When your body is generally strong, that helps too. Having strong legs help with balance and pushing off the ground or a bike pedal. Strong arms help power your follow through in golf and tennis. Having strong upper back and shoulder muscles support swimming and racquet sports. Practicing your sport or activity makes sense for improving your speed and strength in that sport, but cross-training can balance the body for daily living. Your sport may bring you out of balance (more discussion on that in a moment), and cross-training with yoga will bring your body back into balance. Yoga will move you in multiple planes of movement for when your sport moves you in one, like running. Yoga is bilateral, when your sport is unidirectional, like golf.
Many sports have common injuries due to the physical imbalances that they cause. Conditions like tennis elbow, right shoulder/left hip with golfing, shoulder/rotator cuff problems with swimming, and hip flexor problems with biking and running are all due to the repetitive movements of each particular sport. When was the last time you swung in the opposite direction when playing golf or switched hands playing tennis? Practicing yoga can undo many of the types of imbalances that lead to these injuries. Stretching all parts of your body through the course of a yoga practice will loosen up tight areas to give you more freedom of movement when you get back to your sport. Many of my yoga students report improvements in their skiing, running, and general lower back pain from regularly practicing yoga. I noticed a significant improvement with my swimming when I first started practicing back in 1995. Ease of movement, strength, and core stability are all “side effects” of having a regular yoga practice.
My course, “Strength and Mobility for Your Active Life: Core and Lower Back” starts in January, 2023! Click here to get on the list to be notified as soon as registration is open!
To stay up to date with all things Purple Room Yoga, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter!