The Triathlete Yogi
I often have people tell me that they can’t go to a yoga class because they are not flexible and cannot twist up like a pretzel. I cannot say it enough times that yoga is not about striking the perfect pose. It is about making space within your body and mind, where there was no space before you stood on the mat, on that particular day. Wherever you choose to practice your yoga, make sure to be honest with yourself. Put your ego on hold and approach every session as if no one is watching. Every time you practice, you will learn something about yourself that you will use in your daily life.
1994 was the year that I decided to start a daily yoga practice. I usually practice in the morning. To this day, even if I don’t have any triathlon training planned, I will always practice a few yoga poses, also known as asanas. Iyengar Yoga is the alignment based method that I learned first and agree with the most. “Alignment” is the key term that I use when I teach. We are always striving for better alignment, not a perfect pose. Stacking the skeletal bones properly on top of one another helps the large muscle groups balance their functions. Students use props regularly to feel how they are progressing toward a better pose. For example, if a yogi cannot touch his toes, he will use a strap to help him get the feeling of good form, until his flexibility has increased.
Iyengar Yoga students do not follow the same asanas every day, which is beneficial for endurance athletes who are at risk of overuse injuries. By mixing up the sequencing of the poses regularly, the mind and body learn to adapt to the new stimulus. Weak and overly strong muscles learn to work together more evenly to keep the athlete’s body injury free. The goal for everyone practicing yoga is to strive toward a better postural alignment, that they can integrate into their everyday activities. This, of course, is relevant to sports and in my case triathlons. The mindfulness that an athlete needs to compete in his sport is strengthened on the yoga mat. The coordination needed to balance and hold yoga poses develops concentration. The nervous, lymphatic, skeletal and muscular systems are all toned as well.
Think of yoga as a homegrown biofeedback system that you develop through regular and consistent practice. Just as consistent athletic training yields consistent results at the races, a regular yoga practice creates a healthy, aware body and mind that is able to handle all the unexpected challenges that occur on race day. Namaste
Written by Deb
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