Yoga for athletes is critical and if you’re not practicing yoga as part of your training then you’re doing your body a disservice.
There are a number of major benefits that yoga can provide to athletes that their strength and conditioning cannot and I will be introducing them one at a time as a part of my new Yoga for Athletes series.
This first and most important part of a yoga practice is actually not learning handstand (contrary to what you might think if your primary knowledge of yoga comes from Instagram yogalebrities). It’s learning to breathe.
Learning to Breathe
I know how to breathe! You’re thinking to yourself. But, do you? Really?
When I tell athletes to take a big breath in, what often happens is they fill up and puff out their chest and suck in their gut.
It’s interesting. And by interesting, I mean unfortunate. Because that might make you look good (big chest, small waist) it’s totally inefficient. . .
. . . and it means you’re not using their diaphragm properly.
The diaphragm is that muscle between the gut organs and the chest organs. When used properly, the diaphragm drops on the inhale making space for the lungs so the belly– not the chest– will get bigger.
If the diaphragm is not being used then, in order to make space for the breath, other muscles in the upper body will have to compensate like the shoulders, upper back, and chest. Ya know, the muscles that you need for your sport.
So, that is to say, you’re wasting your muscle power on breathing when you could be using it to block, attack, shoot, and score.
Easy Exercise to Improve your Breathing
1. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 and focus on your breath coming down into the belly and allow the belly get bigger.
2. Exhale through the nose for a count of 8. Start the exhale from the bottom of you belly and focus on squeezing the breath out from bottom to top like you’re squeezing a tube of toothpaste.
You can do this for as long as you want. You can do this whenever you want. You can stop and forget about it and then start again.
Benefits of this exercise:
By breathing into your belly, you are activating your diaphragm and preventing your superficial muscles from compensating to make space for your breath.
By making your exhales longer than your inhales you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, ie. your nervous system is making your body relaxed.