Lifestyles

Yoga’s benefits will boost your athletic abilities

Yoga is a good cross trainer for runners. - Metro Creative Services photo
Yoga is a good cross trainer for runners.
— image credit: Metro Creative Services photo

I sometimes marvel over the flexibility of elite athletes, especially gymnasts—men on the pommel horse or women on the uneven bars—it’s amazing what they do.

Indeed, upon closer scrutiny, I see great flexibility in elites from soccer to baseball to football to basketball and hockey. Watch an elite tennis player or golfer as they contort their bodies to make a ‘shot for the ages’ and you begin to understand not only the skill required,  also the years of training and sacrifice just to get there.  And the common thread that runs through all of them just might be yoga.

A gym teacher would have us touch our toes back in the day and there was always a few that must have thought toes really meant knees because that was as low as we could go. Yoga, which would have been so helpful back then, can be beneficial for your mind and body, turning you into a more flexible and efficient runner and a more balanced overall athlete.

Registered yoga teacher Amy Ho, an avid runner, graciously took the time to answer questions by email while vacationing this week in Sydney, Australia. Ho has been teaching for five years at South Arm Community Centre in Richmond where she literally practices what she preaches. “I have trained in running clinics and completed various half marathons.The Disneyland half-marathon in Anaheim was my most memorable, and the finishing medal was my favourite. Now, I maintain regular runs for an hour (or 10 km) along with my strength training, boxing, and yoga practice,” Ho revealed.

“I truly enjoy guiding students to slow down their busy minds, move consciously with their breath to connect with their bodies and heart without every day distractions. Seeing students reaping the benefits of yoga on a physical/emotional/mental level to believe in their strengths is definitely rewarding for me.”

She adds, “Runners are doing yoga to release their tight muscles from repetitive use, create flexibility in their bodies, for improved breathing, and to dedicate more time to truly stretch and elongate their muscles.”

Indeed, yoga is a good cross trainer as Ho explains: “Yoga builds mind strength with the guidance of our breath. It also builds muscular strength in our whole body where traditional cardiovascular and weight training cannot.”

There are many benefits to adding yoga to your running, as Ho says, “Yoga teaches us to breathe fully, deeply and slowly.  This breath awareness enables us to bring calmness to our busy minds and our central nervous system to make peace with the intensity and discomfort felt when we are faced with challenges. Yoga poses can strengthen our central core muscles, and the groups of muscles in the upper and lower body and feet. Yoga releases tightness and lengthens our muscles from repetitive use. The combination of breath and movement promotes blood circulation to our joints and ligaments, enabling them to be healthy and well nourished and to prevent injuries.”

Ho recommends newbies to yoga should join a class for beginners, a Hatha style or Yin style class. Community/fitness centres are the most economical places to begin yoga. Yoga studios offer the most variety of styles of yoga throughout the day.  Studios generally offer a trial period price which is also very economical. Starting yoga in a class setting allows you to learn a variety of Yoga poses and lets the teacher adjust you through proper body alignment.

“It is your trump card in building your endurance, preventing injuries and increasing your speed in your races.  More importantly, it quiets your busy mind to find calmness from within, allowing you to tap into your inner strength to open up many possibilities.

“Yoga can be practised by people of all ages and physical conditions,” Ho says. “Everyone can practice Yoga from kids to seniors.  There are many styles of Yoga for different age groups and fitness levels.  Regardless of age, we all have limitations in our bodies from our genetics, lifestyle, or injuries. We practice yoga to discover our strengths and limitations, while putting our egos aside to connect with our true being.”

So, think pretzel, but instead of eating one, try to look like one!

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Watch my Running/Fitness and Nutrition show called Run With It on Shaw Television Air dates: Tuesdays – 5:30 am, Wednesdays – midnight, Thursdays – 11:30 am and Saturdays – 9pm. www.runwithit.ca

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