YOGA FOR SPORTS
Frequently Asked Questions
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What inspired you to work in this niche in Yoga ?
Science is catching up with the old traditional practices which I think of as an old ‘technology’ of health and wellbeing. There are so many things that we have traditionally practiced in yoga that are now coming to light through science as recommended ‘protocols’ for enhancing performance and health. For example, what we now call intermittent fasting is exactly the way that traditional yogis have been eating literally ages. What we now call developing Carbon Dioxide tolerance by slow nasal breathing is very old knowledge from Yoga and Chi Gung. Neurologists are talking about the “gut brain” as the enteric Nervous system and that is a fundamental piece of Indian and Taoist yoga knowledge.
I am working in this field because I am fascinated by the points of cross pollination between ancient and modern practices. I consider myself both a scientist and a yogi so really want people to appreciate all of the yoga practices because they are a technology that is profoundly life enhancing for anybody, and the more we can back them up with science, the more people are going to make use of these tools to improve their lives.
Why do we have to lay down and rest at the end of the yoga sessions? It isn’t that much of a workout.
This is the corpse pose (Savasana)where we practice being very still and aware of the body without sleeping. , which is a really important part of the yoga practice and for many people it is the only time that they may experience the relaxing feeling of just stopping activity.
And here is a recent thing from science about this practice, there are big learning gains to be had by lying down and doing absolutely nothing for 20 minutes at the end of a workout. The scientists call this an NSDR (Non-sleep-deep-rest) and found that a twenty minute NSDR improves retention of information and learning. Savasana makes even more sense now.
When we rest consciously without distraction, the motor control centre in the brain “replays “ the newly practiced skill as a neural pathway firing again and again to rehearse it. It’s a bit like a video replay of a goal or a moment in a sports game, but here’s the amazing thing, it replays the action at 20 times normal speed. That means that if you managed to do your first ever one leg crow balance for 1 second during the yoga class, then you are repeating the action 20 times per second deep inside the brain during savasana.
This also speaks to the importance of that deeply restful lying down or seated meditation at the end of a class. Some modern yoga teachers make it optional because they are teaching a kind of Yoga based aerobics, but traditionally it is considered the most important pose. It is a time to balance and soak in the pranic energy, and now we know to also mentally “digest”, and let what just happened sink in.
Why do we need to specialise our yoga practice?
Well a swimmer doesn’t do the same kind of strength and conditioning workouts as a golfer, so why would it make sense for them to do exactly the same yoga practice? Each type of sport develops a different physique and set of muscular imbalances. Each sport has specific movement patterns and also comes with a particular attitude or mindset. A generic yoga practice will still have some benefits but it assumes that all bodies and attitudes are more or less the same and generally aims toward advanced postures. So for example; A long distance runner goes to a class where the teacher aims at extreme length in the hamstrings, it’s going to be a mismatch. Firstly, it won’t help the runner to de-tension the hamstrings too much, it would be more effective to release the front of the hip and keep tension in the backline. Secondly, that runner will probably not come back for a second class so everyone misses the opportunity.
Yoga is a traditional system based on traditional Indian physiques, designed to activate subtle energy, build body awareness, tune the nervous system, and ultimately refine the mind. The modern evolution of yoga is a kind of yoga workout that is mainly based on standing postures or it is a school that tends to value being super flexible. As athletes we probably want to do better than that.
How can Yoga Training facilitate healing?
Yoga is a brilliant healing modality that works on several levels. Learning the art of yoga will be a maintenance plan for long life, but it can also be quite dangerous and create flareups of old injuries or misalignments if it is not done well.
A serious athlete usually knows their body well and wont trust just anyone to tamper with it and there are a lot of well-intentioned yoga teachers who don’t really understand the human body as well as they imagine. Knowing our own body and it’s limits and knowing another body are very different things. This is why the book included 31 important safe alignment keys which work for all kinds of bodies.
Who is this book for?
It is actually for anyone interested in Yoga and / or sports. It was a challenging balance to create because the book is for athletes and sports coaches, and also yoga teachers and therapists. Yoga novices can use it to start working safely and effectively with good foundations. For experienced yoga practitioners it provides a working model that a yoga therapist or yoga teacher could use to be really effective with sports performance. Also, I know that coaches and physios are interested in the benefits of yoga but are sometimes hesitant to take a risk with any-old yoga teacher, so it gives them some guidance and broad understanding about yoga, breathing, and philosophy. and explains yoga concepts in plain English. For the established yoga practitioner or yoga teacher it gives a foot up to a more professional level of teaching which is using yoga as a therapy and as specialising for particular needs.
How do I know how to find a good teacher?
If you are an athlete with a passion for a sport and your goals are to achieve something in that field of sport then you need a teacher who understands that sport. Second prize is a yoga teacher who practices your sport as well as yoga because they will understand what your priority is and it is something outside of the yoga class. First prize goes to the yoga teacher who knows your sport, practices your sport can assess your individual body imbalance, and also knows about how to deal with the typical injuries of your sport.
If you don’t manage to find such a teacher then try to find one that has a really strong knowledge of training, joint function, injuries, and who is able to listen have a discussion about what you really need rather than just going on a mission with their own yoga agenda.
Why is yoga always done barefoot?
We work barefoot because that’s the way that our feet work best and we want as much biofeedback as possible to come through the feet. Free the feet! Give the feet a chance to fulfil their potential and move. Balance and agility is greatly improved when we have strong, mobile feet and ankles.
What about nose breathing and mouth breathing?
Yoga tells us that a nose is designed for breathing and smelling. A mouth is designed for eating and drinking.
Breathing through the nose slows the rate of inhalation and exhalation slightly and new research is coming up that shows how detrimental mouth breathing is. One of the problems is that mouth breathing automatically enhances chest breathing while nose breathing engages more diaphragmatic action in the breath. You can easily test this and find an immediate different in the tendency for the chest to lift or for the belly to expand. So nasal breathing is deeper, and more effective. The more that we practice it the more normal it will feel.
My first breathing teacher was my father, a great athlete himself, who taught me to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth while running. It was an unbreakable rule for him and it was the secret to endurance. Only much later did I figure out why.