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[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hoosing Yoga as part of your training is beneficial on many levels. Whether you are preparing to run a marathon, getting ready for a competitive cycling season, or training to compete in a triathlon (running, cycling and swimming), Yoga will enhance your performance as an athlete and make you a better person – not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Practicing Yoga develops whole-body strength, increases flexibility, balance, mental focus, and awareness of your breath; and teaches you to recognize – and in some cases surpass – the limits of your body.

Yoga In The Training Season

Your Yoga practice should complement your training – not undermine it – so, be sure to keep an inverse relationship between the intensity of your training and the intensity of your Yoga practice.

In your off-season, your training intensity will be light, but you will be focusing on building strength and correcting any imbalances in your body. This is the time when your Yoga will also focus on strength and on building your range of motion.

As the intensity of your training increases, you will need to maintain flexibility through Yoga. With the exception of core strength poses, your practice should focus on stretching over strengthening. Pay special attention to areas that have been tight in the past, whether that means shoulders, hips or something else. Be sure your Yoga is enhancing your recovery, not wearing you down.

In your peak and competitive periods, tone down your Yoga. You can continue to practice, but choose gentle modifications and restorative poses. Spend some time in meditation each day or every other day.

Equipment

You do not need much equipment to practice Yoga. Clothing is easy: wear something comfortable, with fabric that has stretch. Practice in your bare feet. If you are doing a warm-up before, or a stretch series after a run, running shoes are okay. Avoid practicing in socks – this can be dangerously slippery. The props required are inexpensive and few. Choose a sticky Yoga mat with double thickness, a quarter-inch-thick, and explore eco-friendly options. Prices vary, but you can buy a mat at many stores for under $20.

A Yoga bolster, or a folded wool or cotton blanket will be useful in seated poses if your hips are tight. You will sit on the bolster or blanket toward its front edge, so your knees can release toward the floor. A Yoga-specific bolster should be rectangular in shape, rather than a cylinder shape, and prices start at $50. Blocks make a good prop when the floor seems too far away. You can use them to lengthen your reach toward the floor in standing poses, or to prop your knees in seated poses. Yoga blocks are widely available and reasonably priced, starting at $12. A Yoga strap is especially helpful for athletes. It is useful for shoulder-releasing poses such as “Cow-face” pose, and hamstring-stretching poses such as Seated Forward Bend pose. A woven strap, which costs around $10, is inexpensive and portable. Be sure to buy a longer strap if you are tall or have tight muscles.

Start your practice with an experienced teacher to be sure you are practicing safely. As you would when you begin any new exercise routine, it is wise to discuss these plans with your health care practitioner. By studying with an experienced teacher, you have a trained set of eyes on your form, and this is as important in Yoga as it is in sports. Look for programs that cater to an athlete’s needs. To give you an example, two of the classes I teach are designed with sports in mind. One is specifically called “Yoga for Athletes,” and the other is “Yoga Core.” These types of classes target the areas of the body that are in particular need of attention in runners, cyclists and triathletes.

In future articles, I will discuss how you can take what you learn from an experienced teacher, and follow those guidelines to keep you safe when you practice Yoga at home. A final word on Yoga and your training, both require a warm-up period, both can be very tough to get into at the beginning, and both benefit from planning and practice. Yoga is invaluable to your training; maintain a consistent practice, and you will see definite results!

“Happy Spring” and Namaste.