Gaiam Yoga Studio

The Benefits of Yoga

A primer for beginning yoga students, plus the benefits of a more advanced practice

The benefits of yoga provide both instant gratification and lasting transformation. In the fitness world, both are extremely important. Too much time with too few results can be incredibly discouraging, and monotonous routines week after week can lead to stagnation. Yoga can change your physical and mental capacity quickly, while preparing the mind and body for long-term health.

Yoga is for everyone

Most yoga studios and local gyms offer yoga classes that are open to all generations and fitness levels. It’s exciting to enter a room full of young teens, athletes, middle-aged moms, older gentlemen and even fitness buffs and body builders. Everyone can feel accepted and included and, unlike other sports or classes that focus on niche clients, yoga tends to have open arms. Whether you like to say "Om" or you can’t stand the word “yogi;” whether you are 92, 53, or even 12, yoga can help you.

Yoga encourages overall health and wellness

Yoga is not just about working out, it’s about a healthy lifestyle. The practice of yoga allows students to be still in a world consumed with chaos. Peace and tranquility achieved through focused training appeals to everyone.

Yoga’s deep breathing and meditation practices help foster an inner shift from to-do lists, kids and spouse’s needs, financial concerns and relational struggles to something a little bit bigger than the issues you face. Yoga helps relieve stress and unclutter the mind, and helps you get more focused.

Yoga has many faces

One of the benefis of yoga is that you can choose a yoga style that is tailored to your lifestyle, such as hot yoga, power yoga, relaxation yoga, prenatal yoga, etc. Whether you prefer you're at home, in a private session, watching a DVD or at a studio or gym, there are a huge variety of options available to suit your goals and needs.

If you are a yoga beginner, Hatha yoga, which focuses on basic postures at a comfortable pace, would be great for you. If you want to increase strength through using more of your own body’s resistance, power yoga may be right for you. There is a great online yoga program at Gaiam Yoga Studio that focuses on Hatha yoga.

If you are ready for a deeper practice, Advanced Yoga, or Bikram, also called “hot yoga,” may be just what you are looking for. In Bikram yoga, the room temperature is set to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in greater elimination of toxins from the body through the increased production of sweat. No matter your fitness level, fat percentage, or health history, yoga has a place for you.

Strength training and flexibility

Yoga’s focus on strength training and flexibility is an incredible benefit to your body. The postures are meant to strengthen your body from the inside-out, so you don’t just look good, you feel good too. Each of the yoga poses is built to reinforce the muscles around the spine, the very center of your body, which is the core from which everything else operates. When the core is working properly, posture is improved, thus alleviating back, shoulder and neck pain.

The digestive system gets back on track when the stretching in yoga is coupled with a healthy, organic diet, which can relieve constipation, irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux. Another one of the benefits of yoga is that stretching and holding of postures also causes muscles to lengthen, which gives the body a longer, leaner look.

How does power yoga build muscle?

A more advanced form of yoga can amplify these effects. Adapted from the basic Ashtanga yoga, power yoga requires increased amounts of energy, focus and strength. Although power yoga is an evolvement of the basics, it certainly is not a basic course.

But how does it help build muscle? Deeper, more focused participation is required, because most poses are held for five full breaths versus the usual one to three breaths. Muscles are challenged as the mind and body have to work together simultaneously to hold a position or continue a succession without giving up. Breathing, posing, moving and increasing flexibility happen all together at one time, which solicits a new level of discipline in your mind and body.

Power yoga and the core

Isometric exercises are one of the best ways to build core strength. Isometric, stemming from the words “same” and “length,” simply translates to holding one position without moving. Power yoga uses isometric exercises along with other postures that are designed to make the core and back stronger. Flexibility and balance stem from your core, so it is very important to train this area of the body. In turn, you can increase the strangth and health of your entire body. Generally a higher-temperature room is used in this practice to help keep the muscles warm and release additional toxins from the body.

Power yoga’s effect on the total body

Here's a list of some of the most beneficial aspects of power yoga:

  • It increases endurance, strength and flexibility.
  • Mental endurance and physical stamina are tested through holding postures for extended breaths.
  • Arm and shoulder strength is multiplied as you use your own body weight for resistance.
  • Lats and other back muscles begin to support the spine better than before.
  • Abdominals and obliques are refined and sharpened through building core muscles.
  • Poor and average posture begins to correct itself over time.
  • Hip flexors are stretched and rebuilt.
  • Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves are tightened and lengthened where they need to be.

No matter what ails your aching body, or if you just want to take your fitness to a higher level, power yoga's ability to build muscle has an undeniably effect on the total body.

Discover the benefits of yoga for yourself at GaiamTV.com!

 

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The Top 5 Fat-Burning Yoga Poses

5 yoga poses for weight loss, plus 4 yoga styles for keeping fit

Can you use yoga for weight loss? Yes! Losing weight isn’t easy for anyone, but with the right attitude, you can make a real difference in how you look and feel.

These fat-burning yoga poses will help kick-start your metabolism and build up lean muscle tone. For some extra guidance, check out Gaiam’s Quick Start Yoga for Weight Loss. This informative DVD is a useful part of any positive-thinking weight-loss program. Other favorites include Trudie Styler's Weight Loss Yoga and Colleen Saidman's new Yoga for Weight Loss.

1. Cobra Pose

Even beginners can get good results from this simple yoga pose, which works to firm the buttocks and tone the abs.

  • Lie face-down on the floor, with the tops of your feet flat against the ground.

  • Press your legs and hips down. Place your hands under your shoulders, plams down and fingers spread apart.

  • Press into your hands, lifting your head, chest and upper back off the mat. Keep your gaze forward and up and your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Push back your shoulders and feel the stretch spread evenly along the length of your spine.

  • After a few deep breaths, relax to a prone position on an exhale. 

2. Wind-Releasing Pose

This fat-burning yoga pose is great for targeting your abdominal area.

  • Lie down on the floor and bring your knees up to your chest with your ankles together.

  • Clasp your arms together over your knees as you bring your head up off the floor.

  • Breathe deep as you feel the stretch work your abs, then relax slowly.

3. Bow Pose

This advanced yoga pose can really burn fat while toning your arms, legs and abdominal area.

  • Lie down on your stomach, bend your knees and reach around to grab your feet.

  • Pull in your stomach and extend your feet upward, raising your upper body at the same time. Keep your shoulder blades down and back.

  • Hold for several breaths, then relax.

4. Side-Stretch Pose

This yoga pose can help raise your heart-rate and burn calories.

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart.

  • Rotate your torso and turn both your feet to the right. Keeping legs straight, exhale and hinge over your right leg until your torso is parallel to the floor, reaching your hands to the ground (if you can’t touch the floor, you can rest them on a block).

  • Hinge further with each exhale, moving your torso closer to your right thigh.

Remember to keep breathing, then relax and repeat in the opposite direction.

5. Warrior I Pose

This yoga pose can work your abs, thighs and arms, and is most effective if used as part of a sequence like Sun Salutation.

  • Standing straight, step your left leg 4-5 feet to the left, then rotate both feet and your torso toward the left.

  • Bend your left knee over your toes while keeping your right leg straight.

  • Raise both arms high above your head with your fingertips pointing upward, looking up at your hands. 

How can you use yoga for weight loss?

With all the chanting and seemingly stationary poses, one might wonder how you can lose weight through yoga. But the truth is it can be an effective weight loss tool, if you practice it regularly and correctly.

The first factor you should consider is that not every type of yoga is conducive to consistent weight loss. Some types are better for reducing stress and helping relaxation but don’t provide the cardiovascular workout needed for weight loss. The second factor is consistency. As with any fitness plan, yoga needs to be done regularly and with intensity. Finally, it is important to remember to maintain a healthy diet in combination with any workout regimen.

Vinyasa: Flow yoga

One type of yoga that’s good for weight loss is Vinyasa, or flow yoga. This style of yoga is made up of a series of Sun Salutations that you move through quickly, allowing for the increased heart rate required for caloric burn and weight loss.

The best part about Vinyasa is that its popularity has led to the production of many yoga weight loss DVDs. With so many options, it’s easy to find a Vinyasa DVD that matches your skill level that allows you to begin losing weight in the privacy of your own home.

Bikram: Hot yoga

If you want more of a challenge, try your hand at Bikram yoga. Similar to Vinyasa, it takes you through a series of poses, but, instead of a cool yoga studio, you are in a heated studio that is heated up to 105°F.

As you move through the Bikram poses, you not only burn calories and fat but temporarily lose water weight while eliminating toxins. But note that Bikram yoga for weight loss is extremely vigorous, and should not be undertaken if you are pregnant or have certain medical conditions.

Power yoga

Nowadays, many gyms are offering power yoga, which combines yoga poses with a cardiovascular workout by pushing you through the poses faster and with less rest time in between. If your gym doesn’t offers such a class, the good news is that power yoga is also offered on DVD.

These yoga poses also strengthen your muscles and, subsequently, increased muscle mass will increase your resting metabolic rate, resulting in greater weight loss throughout the day.

Meditation

The final benefit of yoga is mental clarity. Yoga reduces stress and allows you to take a break from your busy lifestyle. This brief rest from the hustle and bustle of life can permit you to take a moment and reevaluate your lifestyle choices.

For instance, you may reflect on the health of your diet, as well as whether or not your activity level is sufficient to keep your body in good shape. Yoga’s meditative atmosphere can provide an opportunity for self-awareness, which is always the first step to a healthier and happier you.

 

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Mind, Body and the Breath

Discover how tuning into your breath can help you center your mind and body in any situation in this video clip with international yoga expert Rodney Yee.

Learn Rodney Yee’s breathing techniques on GaiamTV.com!

Learn Yoga via Virtual & Downloadable Classes in the Gaiam Yoga Studio

Yoga experts Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman explain how the Gaiam Yoga Studio helps anyone start and evolve a home yoga practice through virtual and downloadable classes, pose guides and a supportive community of people interested in yoga.

Think Outside the Studio: Guide to Starting a Home Yoga Practice

How to do yoga at home and get results

Fighting traffic to make it to class in time, remembering to bring your yoga gear, carving out a space for your mat amid the after-work studio crowds .... Yoga can sometimes be a less than Zen-like experience.

Starting a home yoga practice can ultimately save time, energy and money — plus, no one will be checking out your rear view as you Downward Dog from the comfort of your own living room. Twenty minutes of yoga at home is often more beneficial than driving, parking and paying to practice for an hour at a studio.

While most yoga teachers will advise you to learn the fundamentals of asana (yoga poses) in a live class before getting on the mat at home, "Nothing replaces the home practice," says 25-year yoga veteran Rodney Yee. "Listening is the practice of yoga; it's so important to go into your own body and ask it to be your teacher. It is a time when you can find your own rhythm. It is where the genuine knowledge arises.

"Going to classes has many benefits, of course," he acknowledges, "but I have observed time and time again that it is when people start to practice at home that the real insights occur."

Beyond the reasons to start a home yoga practice, today there are new ways to start one — ways that blur the lines between showing up in a live yoga class and rolling out a mat in your living room to do yoga at home.

Virtual yoga classes are more sophisticated than ever

Besides the many yoga DVDs and books on the market, online yoga classes and digital downloads are bringing home more of the benefits of a live class. While an instructor isn't physically there to observe your alignment and adjust your limbs hands-on, multimedia is the next best thing ... and for some it may be even better.

With GaiamTV.com, Gaiam’s streaming video site, you can watch hundreds of yoga and fitness videos each month for less than you’d pay for a single DVD. You can filter yoga videos by level (basic, beginner or intermediate), style of yoga (Ashtanga, Restorative, etc.), teachers (Rodney Yee, Kathryn Budig, Seane Corn, Shiva Rea and more), length of the practice (from less than 15 mintues to more than an hour), or browse special collections such as prenatal yoga or yoga for weight loss.

Yee's online yoga studio, Gaiam Yoga Studio, gives you access to many hours of detailed how-to video demonstrating and explaining more than 75 yoga poses — plus a daily yoga practice guided via downloadable audio podcasts. Plunk those on your iPod and you've got the best of both worlds — an instructor's voice in your ear (let's face it, half the time you can't see her over all the other bodies anyway, or your face is covered by your hair or pressed onto your mat ...), plus the freedom to tailor your practice to your individual needs and pace, as Yee recommends below.

What you need to get started with yoga at home

The best reason to start a home yoga practice is that you don't need much to begin:

  • Choose or create a quiet, uncluttered space in your home for your practice, and stock it with the essential basic yoga props — mat, strap, blocks, blanket, bolster, etc. The space doesn’t have to be large, but it should be quiet, clean, open and sacred.
  • Set realistic goals, starting out with small pockets of time (10-15 minutes).
  • Begin with basic beginner's yoga sequences and expand your practice as your skills improve.

That said, it’s your yoga practice — so build it to best meet your individual needs.

"When I teach classes, I can tell just by watching who is practicing at home and who is not," says Yee. "People who are not practicing at home simply try to fit their bodies into my instructions as if they were following orders .... They are concerned mainly with whether they are doing it 'right.' But people who are practicing at home are inquisitive about instructions and test them out in their own bodies, asking themselves, 'How does this feel?'"

Which yoga poses should you do?

Some styles of yoga follow a set sequence of specific poses, but many instructors, including Yee, recommend a more open-ended approach, especially when you're doing yoga at home.

"At home," he says, "you learn to listen to what your body needs that day, move at your own pace, and develop intuition about what sequences or kinds of yoga poses you want and need to do most on any given day."

If you are fatigued, you may want to do a more restorative yoga sequence. If you're feeling energetic, a more flowing, fast-paced or rigorous set of yoga poses may feel more satisfying or help you channel that energy. Many like to do an energizing yoga practice in the morning and a calming restorative practice in the evenings.

But listening to what you need is more than a physical thing.

"As you practice your first poses on your own, try to cultivate an attitude of playfulness and acceptance," says Yee. "Being present during your practice means allowing yourself to be aware of whatever physical sensations, emotions and thoughts are currently arising. Be creative and spontaneous. If you approach your practice with a sense of curiosity, rather than self-judgment or competitiveness, you will find it easier to motivate yourself to practice — and you'll be more present when you do practice."

Sun salutations are a time-efficient way of practicing yoga because they thread together poses that involve different parts of the body. Sun salutes are also commonly practiced as a warm-up, followed by standing poses such as Warrior I, II and II — and ending with forward bends, twists and restorative poses.

As you advance, you may want to move into more challenging intermediate and advanced yoga poses such as arm balances, inversions and backbends.

How to stay motivated to do keep doing yoga regularly

Setting up a home yoga practice is only half the battle — now you have to roll out your mat and do it.

"The best advice I can give you," says Yee, "is to make your yoga part of your morning ritual. This means getting to bed 15 minutes earlier so your yoga practice does not cut into your sleep time. The second piece of advice is to sit down with your weekly calendar and begin to cross out any activity that is not serving you anymore (this takes being brutally honest).

But in this interview clip from the intro to his A.M. Yoga for Your Week DVD, Yee says the real key to staying motivated to keep doing yoga at home gets back to listening to yourself and exploring what you need with a sense of curiosity and creativity.

"Another significant way to support your home practice," Yee adds, "is to practice with a member of your family or a friend. Being held accountable by others can get you to the mat on the dreariest of days. Once you get to the mat, the magic often takes over after a couple of minutes, and you find yourself vibrating with the music of yoga."


Adapted from Think Outside the Studio, courtesy of Whole Life Times magazine.

For more from Rodney Yee check out the Rodney Yee blog, Rodney Yee yoga DVDs, Rodney Yee videos on GaiamTV.com and the Gaiam Yoga Studio.

 

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Finding the Best Yoga Class for You

Helpful tips for deciding what yoga class you should take

Gyms, fitness studios, health clubs and wellness centers around the world are adding yoga classes to their schedules, but how do you find the right class for you? Yoga styles today range from very gentle and meditative to vigorous and technically demanding, says Mara Carrico, the San Diego, California, based author of Yoga Journal's Yoga Basics—The Essential Beginner's Guide to Yoga for a Lifetime of Health and Fitness. Selecting a class that fits your goals, physical condition and fitness level is very important. Carrico offers these 10 tips for finding a safe, effective yoga class to include in your workout:

1. Determine Your Goals

Potential health and fitness benefits of yoga include strength, flexibility, balance and improved breathing and posture. However, yoga is also an internally focused exercise that may help you calm your mind and increase your concentration skills. You may want to explore yoga as a philosophy, meditative practice or spiritual discipline. Understanding your objectives and level of interest will help you find the right program.

2. Consider the Different Types of Yoga Available

The physical component of yoga—called hatha yoga—consists of poses and breathing techniques that prepare the body for stillness, creating physical strength and stamina, while allowing the mind to remain calm. There are numerous styles of hatha yoga. For example, Ashtanga (power) yoga is very vigorous, with moves and postures similar to acrobatics; this style is not recommended for beginners. Iyengar is a detailed, technically demanding style of yoga that challenges participants to perform postures with great precision. Viniyoga, Kripalu and Ananda yoga are less detailed in technique and more suited to novices looking for stretching and relaxation.

3. Consider How and Where You Want to Take Yoga

If your goals are primarily fitness related, you may want to take yoga at a fitness facility. For more in-depth training from master teachers, look for an ashram, an academy or a studio that is dedicated entirely to yoga. If you prefer individualized attention, you may want to study with a yoga coach or yoga-trained personal trainer. Today, many turn to the internet for yoga content. Consider online yoga with the Gaiam Yoga Studio for a holistic introduction to yoga.

4. Consider Your Physical Limitations

Always check with your doctor before beginning a new fitness program. Most educated, experienced yoga instructors are sensitive to their students physical limitations and knowledgeable of the contraindications that might be applicable. However, you also need to recognize that your physical condition should influence the type of yoga you choose to practice. For example, if you have sciatica, you should avoid forward bends and intense hamstring stretches. If you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, ear congestion or eye problems, you should avoid holding your breath or doing inverted poses, such as shoulder stands and headstands. Problems with your neck, shoulders, wrists, knees, back, feet or ankles may also require modified techniques. Fully inform your instructor of any physical problems you have.

5. Find Out About Your Instructor's Experience and Credentials

Ask your instructor about his or her yoga training and teaching experience. Many different certifications are available. Your teachers education and experience should demonstrate a commitment to safety, professionalism and ongoing education.

6. Ask Lots of Questions in Advance

Before beginning a class, ask the instructor if it is appropriate for you and will help you meet your specific goals.

7. Listen to Your Body

During class, do not force or strain, and remember to breathe. Do not attempt poses that feel uncomfortable or painful.

8. Discuss Your Experience With Your Instructor

Inform your instructor if certain postures or exercises are problematic for you. He or she should be able to offer an explanation and suitable modifications.

9. Try a Variety of Classes

Don't be reluctant to admit that a certain style of yoga or yoga instruction is not for you. Try as many classes and instructors as necessary.

10. Be Patient With Your Progress

Mastering yoga takes time. Don't be discouraged if you do not learn as quickly as you would like. The more you practice, the more you will realize the many benefits of this discipline.


Republished courtesy of IDEA Health & Fitness Association

 

Yoga-on-the-Go

A guide to keeping up your yoga practice while you travel

How many times during your last trip did the serene thought of a few rounds of Sun Salutation float into your mind? Knowing how stressful traveling for work or pleasure is these days, probably quite often. But finding the time or space to engage in a full yoga practice while on the road is more than a challenge.

Tense muscles from airplane seats, be gone! We’ve tracked down the most useful and portable yoga goods to help you keep up your practice while trekking the world. From DVDs and bags to kits and clocks, you’ll be able to maintain your sanity while sleeping in any hotel bed from now on.  

Yoga Club

Gaiam Yoga Studio brings expert teachers home

For the cost of a venti chai latte each week, you can give the gift of a complete yoga practice, privately taught by two renowned instructors! Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman created the Gaiam Yoga Studio, a 12-week audio program that instructs students of all levels through 75 poses in all different categories, including emotional balance and meditation. It’s a must for anyone wanting to refine the alignment of their asanas. With VIP online access to Rodney and Colleen, a take-it-anywhere format, and access to the GYS community blog, in a few weeks, your yogi will progress in body, mind and heart, all for about half the price of one private yoga lesson! Now that’s money well spent.

In-Room Guided Yoga Programs

Kimpton Hotels

Where you stay can be just as important as what you bring from home. Two major hotel chains now offer guest programs that feature Gaiam DVDs and props. Kimpton Hotels, with luxurious locations throughout the United States and Canada, offer a free (and soon to be eco-friendly) tote bag with a mat, strap and other props for your in-room practice. You’ll find yoga, Pilates and meditation content on the hotel’s Mind. Body. Spa. Channel. For those who prefer a little company, the hotel staff will also direct you to quality local classes and studios.

Lodgenet

If you won’t be near a Kimpton location, ask your chosen hotel if they use the LodgeNet video system in their rooms. LodgeNet features Gaiam yoga and fitness programs through its in-room on-demand TV programming, which is available in nearly 2 million hotel rooms (and growing).

Hemp Mat Sling

Hemp Yoga Mat Sling

When on the go, keeping it simple is the key to saving your sanity. With Gaiam’s Hemp Mat Sling, your mat will be able to breathe, whether it is jammed into an overhead compartment or wedged in your trunk. Made from 100% sustainable hemp, this mat sling is the most lightweight and durable way for you to keep a most vital yoga tool close, no matter where the wind might take you.

Packable, Lighweight Travel Yoga Mat

Reversible Travel Yoga Mat

It's so impractical to pack a yoga mat when you travel; but doing down-dogs on a hotel carpet is no fun either. Instead, toss in this brilliant foldable, reversible travel yoga mat that barely takes up an iota of space in your bag. You can even slip it into a carry-on, and you'll be glad you did if you end up with a cancelled flight or lost bag.

Yoga & Meditation Timer/Clock Combo

Enso Yoga Meditation Timer Clock Combo

Whether you have only 10 minutes to kick back before a big meeting or need to be reminded to stop and enjoy the scenery, Gaiam’s Enso Clock will help you stay both centered and true to your schedule. Able to hold up to 99 sequential timers, the Enso Clock features an onscreen countdown timer, perfect for any on-the-go yoga or meditation practice. Big plus: you won’t be jarred out of your peaceful state by a buzzing alarm – the Enso Clock’s alarm is the soothing chimes of Tibetan singing bowls. Includes carrying pouch and two AAA batteries.

Travel Cards – Earn Discounts and Visit Local Yoga Studios

Enlightenment Visa Card

Make your travel expenses work for you with the new Enlightenment Card featuring the Visa logo. This is not just another credit card. The Enlightenment Card was founded on the principles of positive intention and the power to change the world. By using the card, you earn points that can be redeemed for sustainable and socially responsible goods and services, such as charity donations, spa visits, yoga classes and eco-shopping.

OmPass

For those who travel often and like to experience the local yoga scene, the OmPass is your ticket (or rather, pass) to swank studios around the country. For just $20 a year, you receive “free class trial coupons for affiliated studios within 50 miles of your home, and a travel pass to use at over 200 national affiliated yoga studios, gyms, spas, retreats and resorts when you travel over 50 miles from home.” On top of that, you’ll receive e-mails featuring discount codes for eco-stores both on and offline. Sustainable, social, supportive – OmPass is a key to the future of traveling yoga.


Victoria Everman is a freelance writer, model, environmentalist, crafter and yogi in San Francisco, California.

Yoga as Cross-Training

How to use yoga to train for your favorite sport

“A lot of people who consider themselves in great shape don’t realize they’re actually out of balance,” says Rodney Yee, a yoga expert featured in dozens of yoga DVDs as well as the online yoga program, Gaiam Yoga Studio.

“I was a ballet dancer and gymnast,” says Yee. “Yoga helped me heal old injuries and prevent new ones. It helps with range of motion in every joint, and keeps the muscles supple but strong. It doesn’t just build a body for a specific activity, but brings us back into balance so our body can adapt to any movement. Yoga is cross-training.”

Tennis pros Pete Sampras and Venus and Serena Williams use yoga to improve core strength, increase flexibility, improve coordination, and help heal or prevent injuries. And pro teams including the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, are integrating yoga into their training regimens.

“I think injury prevention and core strengthening are the obvious benefits of yoga,” says competitive triathlete and former collegiate heptathlete Danielle Weiss, who now teaches yoga to the triathlon team at the University of Colorado. “But after practicing and teaching yoga for almost 7 years, now I most appreciate the mental edge yoga has given me. It’s taught me to truly ‘go to my edge,’ whether I’m trying to extend fully in Dancer’s Pose, or trying to push the last 200 meters of the running leg at collegiate nationals.”

Why is yoga good as sports cross-training?

Yoga helps strengthen the muscles that are underused while releasing the muscles that are tight from your sport. “In yoga, if we do something to the right, we do it to the left. If we do something on our head, we do something on our feet,” says Yee. “Your joints and body will also last a lot longer if they get movement in all directions.”

Professional beach volleyball player Annie Akers learned that lesson the hard way. After suffering repetitive shoulder injuries from what she calls “throwing yourself like a rag doll in the sand,” Akers found yoga six years ago. “It took one class and I noticed a significant difference in my shoulders,” says Akers. In addition to injury prevention, yoga provides flexibility and core strength for her demanding sport, helping Akers arch her back to hit the ball and remain stable while playing on sand’s shifting, uneven surface.

“Yoga improves on the biomechanical compensations an athlete has that may have been caused by acute or chronic injuries,” says Jamie Naughright, Ed.D., a Lakeland, Fla.-based certified athletic trainer and yoga teacher, who regularly witnesses this with her clients and with referral patients of Dr. Larry Padgett, an orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. “The poses also help me see diagnostically where the imbalances are as well as help the athlete get a clear visual of what’s going on.”

Former professional football player Carter Lord knows something about chronic over-compensation. “I used to be in a lot of pain — back pain and general tightness from years of hard charging, no stretching and football,” he says. “I had a lot of hits and even though I started doing chiropractic [therapy], nothing helped me much until I started doing yoga. I am now mostly pain free.”

While he admits his first impressions of yoga were “mellow talk and leotards and some kind of esoteric chick thing that didn’t relate to tough guys,” a decade of regular practice — mostly Bikram so he can still sweat like a guy — has changed Lord’s mind.

“It pains me to go to the gym and see these guys walking around with all their muscles,” Lord explains. “I know they don’t feel good; they’re not healthy. It doesn’t do you any good to be like a piece of steel if you are in danger of pulling muscles if you move quickly. Every weightlifter or athlete in America should have yoga as part of their regimen. If they did, you can be sure they would have far less injury.”

Read on for specific yoga poses for specific sports:
cycling, golf, running, swimming and tennis.

Mind your breath

Doing well in your sport requires mental cross-training as well. The 5,000-year-old practice of yoga helps hone mental focus and body consciousness. “Yoga is about creating awareness. Awareness of your breath. Awareness of your body in space. Awareness of coordination and rhythm,” Yee says. “It brings mindfulness to the activities you’re doing. When you’re at the gym, you aren’t doing the cycle and watching the evening news. You’re cycling and feeling the feedback your body is giving you.”

Weiss credits yoga with elevating her performance as a triathlete. “I would never have been able to compete at the level I do currently if it weren’t for yoga and the balance it has provided in my life,” she says. “It has enabled me to focus and has given me the opportunity to learn how to be alone and clear my mind.”

Yoga instructor and former professional triathlete Kimberly Fowler, creator of a sequenced practice called Yoga for Athletes, says yoga breath work may have actually saved her life. While suffering from a perforated lung during a climbing accident, she says, “I used my ability to control my breath and stay calm.” Today Fowler specializes in helping athletes who she says are often “wound very tight” to harness yoga’s mental edge. “When things get stressful in a race, you can go back to your breath,” she says. “It’s like the calm in the middle of the storm.”

Akers uses yogic breathing for concentration. “I think when I used to play, I would hold my breath the entire duration of the game — but that’s another thing yoga really helped me with — controlling my breath as I'm playing my sport,” she says.

Poses with the mostest

Along with breath, yoga poses are invaluable training tools. “Downward-facing Dog requires you to balance your weight evenly on your hands and feet while retraining the body to work as a connective unit,” says Naughright, whose clients include professional and Olympic athletes. “And when Sun Salutations are done in a fast-paced Ashtanga flow, they improve coordination and agility.”

No matter what your sport, a yoga twist also is a good pose to have in your repertoire. This asana will lengthen and support your spine, help ease backaches and tone the abdominals.

Here are some other key cross-training yoga poses and therapeutic yoga poses for the most popular sports:

Biking

Where it hurts: neck, upper body, legs

Therapeutic yoga pose: Side-Angle Standing pose will release tightness in these areas and open up your upper back, chest and hips while restoring your spine’s natural alignment.

Golf

Where it hurts: back, legs

Therapeutic yoga pose: Counteract golf’s repetitive twisting to one side with Warrior II pose, which will help relieve back pain; engage your abs; stretch the chest, groin, legs and ankles; and strengthen your legs and ankles.

Running

Where it hurts: hamstrings, shoulders, spine

Therapeutic yoga pose: Target your tension spots with Downward-facing Dog to lengthen and strengthen the hamstrings and calves.

Swimming

Where it hurts: shoulders

Therapeutic yoga pose: The Sun Salutation series of poses will strengthen and open up your shoulders while also helping you work on coordinating breath with movement.

Tennis

Where it hurts: shoulders, hips, knees

Therapeutic yoga pose: Improve your overall flexibility and stretch your lower back with a Reclined Twist.

 

You can learn these poses and more than 70 others with a daily how-to yoga podcast and more than 9 hours of yoga pose videos in the Gaiam Yoga Studio.


Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including herbal supplements and natural remedies — and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intented as substitute for medical counseling.

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