Most people will know that the exercise regime known as Yoga originates from spiritual Eastern philosophies that deal primarily with meditation, relaxation and a transformation of the whole person rather than just the physical being. Although Yoga is now a popular choice of holistic exercise in the western world many people are turned off by its popular association with extreme postures and `New Age` thinking. In reality Yoga is much more than a fad and is hugely beneficial to people of all ages and abilities.
There are many different types of Yoga practiced worldwide with at least ten different varieties, from Bikram Yoga that is practiced in a 105 degree heat to the more familiar Hatha Yoga that concentrates on slow, flowing movements to help unwind and focus your breathing. Before embarking on a Yoga routine it is advisable to do a little background research to make sure you choose the type of regime best suited to your fitness, abilities and aims.
Yoga is a particularly useful tool for athletes where stamina and strength are key to satisfactory performance. The following is a brief introduction to just some of the benefits runners can expect to see when incorporating Yoga into their regular exercise regime.
Core Strength & Balance
When running the impact on your body is immense – the shockwaves sent through unprepared joints and muscles can result in injuries including stress fractures and strains. All forms of Yoga work on strengthening core muscles surrounding your spine to limit impact and to increase balance, allowing a more symmetrical, even flow of energy through your body after your feet hit the ground.
The slow, even movements of Yoga exercises gently work on lengthening the soft tissues that surround and protect your joints, including the ligaments, tendons and muscles. This gradually (and therefore safely) increases flexibility of the limbs and reduces the likelihood of tears from any sudden extreme movements, making all types of running a safer, `freer` and more satisfying activity.
Even beginners` levels of Yoga can be as easy or as strenuous as you wish because your own regime can be tailored to your own needs. In this way you can gradually build up your fitness levels and increase your overall stamina – strenuous but controlled movements will give you a strong cardiovascular workout and increase the flow or oxygen around your body, while learning how to concentrate on and control your breathing allows Yoga practitioners to limit their exertions as required, meaning more energy is left `in reserve` for sudden bursts of activity necessary in competitive running.
Yoga`s flowing, smooth movements often result in an increased awareness of your own body which allows students to become more aware of their individual limitations and needs. In particular it can help with identifying when to exercise and when to rest, as well as controlling pain responses. Increased awareness means injuries often become less frequent and more predictable, an important part of being a competitive athlete.
Once familiar with your chosen Yoga routine simple props including exercise bands or even sports balls such as those from the SportsBallShop can be introduced to personalize your regime. Running smaller balls such as tennis, baseball or cricket balls along tired muscles provides a deep massage, while holding a soccer or rugby ball during Yoga movements increases muscle toning and provides a more vigorous cardio workout.