Many say that yoga has gained such wide-spread popularity in America in main part because it is viewed as another way to keep our bodies fit. This is a perfectly fine reason to do yoga. The practice of yoga does an amazing job of strengthening the entire body. The arms get strong in balancing poses - the stomach gets strong in headstand, plank pose and vastisana - the legs and hips gain strength when we enter in to warrior poses - and most everyone who has done a sun salutation has felt their heart-rate rise. In this way yoga IS the perfect workout.
Yoga is also a great counter-balance to most sports. The practice of yoga has the ability to foster physical balance as well as strengthen parts of our body that might not usually be activated in a typical workout. In addition, the stretching in yoga provides an avenue for athletes to lengthen their overworked and tight muscles. All in all, yoga is not only the perfect workout, but it is a great way to spend your off days as well.
This is how I first arrived at yoga. I used my yoga classes as a counterbalance to my athletic lifestyle. I was a runner, a soccer player and I lifted weights. But, I knew that I needed to give more time to stretching, however, after my workouts it always felt like a chore. I began to take a yoga class once a week. I found that in class my muscles were dynamically stretching and strengthening. As I continued, I noticed the opportunity in class to fluidly connect my body and breathe. It's possible that this aspect had become easier because I started to understand the poses better. This body-breathe connection brought me to a more focused disposition beyond just my body and into a clearer state of mind that resembled a "zone" that I had often felt in my sports. As I continued with my yoga classes I was gaining a better understanding of how my body moved in space - turning upside down and inside out was playful and challenged my brain. I also learned that I was able to use my breathe as a tool to encourage calmness or increase energy, depending on my needs.
My yoga classes became soil with which I began to cultivate things that surprised me. I started gaining a lot more on my mat that I was then taking home with me and incorporating into other parts of my life. I later found out that this was because these teachers were guiding us in more than just yoga as a movement and strengthening practice. Through breathing techniques and meditations my teachers were creating strong connections between my body, breathe and mind and incorporating yoga energetics. As someone who had already enjoyed the ability of the breath to enhance my athletic endeavors I knew that there was a role for yoga in developing the more "spiritual" aspects of sports.
To honor this relationship of yoga and sports, I've created "Bring Your Spirit to the Game: Yoga Energetics for Athletes." It includes three sequences for you to practice at home to cultivate physical, energetic and mental muscles that you can than take back with you into your sports. The first practice is a steady balancing practice, the second one cultivates physical energy while maintaining lightness and ease and the last practice provides mental clarity and broad awareness.
The intent of the three practices is to give you the ability to choose for yourself what you need at different moments in time. Have you just worked out really hard and need to build up your energy? Or, are you feeling sluggish and need to get moving? Or, perhaps do you feel like your mental awareness on the field or court could use some refinement? The three practices in this book are intended to give you a better understanding of yoga and its ability to impact your athletic life.
Along with these sequences, I've provided an introduction into the energetic and physical principles in yoga that will help you understand what might be the best practice for you to focus on if you are aiming to cultivate more steadiness, vitality, or clarity. What's great about the energetic qualities in yoga is that they will have an impact on your body-mind whether you wish to absorb this information, or not. So please take my short introductions for what they are and if they help you, then all the better! Most importantly, enjoy what works for you and keep breathing and moving.
- Sari Gelzer
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