As roller derby players, our bodies endure quite a bit of hard love. Not only do we skate hard, but we also hit each other hard. Between practice, cardio, plyometrics, and strength training, sometimes I feel like my body needs something a little different. That’s when I turn to yoga.
More and more research has shown the benefits of yoga on athletic performance. These benefits are not only due to the physical aspects of yoga, but also the mental aspects. Backed by research at the National Institute of Health, practicing yoga has been found to reduce stress, decrease insomnia, and relieve anxiety/depression in addition to improving general fitness, strength and flexibility.
If research isn’t enough for you, there are also many professional athletes that use yoga as part of their sports training, such as Blake Griffin, Tom Brady, Shaquille O’Neal, and Lebron James.
Although I am aware of the health benefits of yoga, I find it hard to take classes regularly and I don’t have the patience to sit in a dark room with gentle music for over an hour while someone tells me how to breathe correctly. I am a busy person, and yoga doesn’t always fit into my routine.
However, I have been taking small steps towards figuring out ways to integrate yoga in my life: I wake up 10 minutes early and do a quick flow in the morning; I work on poses while reading or watching television; I do 15 minutes of yoga before or after going for a run, or before leaving for derby practice.
I already work out a lot and I’m not looking to add another fitness routine, but incorporating yoga, even in small doses, helps me relieve muscle tension, increase my flexibility, and keep me mentally focused.
Now that I’ve talked about all of the benefits athletes can get from yoga… let’s address all of the things athletes should AVOID in their yoga practice. There are tons of types of yoga, and tons of variation in yoga classes and teachers. So although there are benefits to yoga, people also regularly get injured by doing too much or pushing themselves too far. So when you’re starting to do yoga, here are some crucial tips:
-Don’t jump into doing yoga without being instructed in proper form, just like you wouldn’t go to the gym and try power cleans without instruction. There are simple poses and movements that you may be able to do on your own, but even taking one class to learn the proper alignment and get feedback from a teacher is very beneficial.
-If something hurts during a pose, you should stop the pose. Don’t “push past” the pain.
-If the pose requires any sort of neck/head balancing or support (any inversion that involves putting weight on your head), don’t do it unless you’ve been trained properly and extensively. The same goes with back bends or anything involving intense bending in the lower back (even bridge pose).
-Be careful with anything involving your knees or twisting, because this can aggravate existing injuries or weaken joints.
Essentially…yoga can be helpful, but it can also cause more harm than good if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Seek guidance from an experienced yoga instructor for proper alignment and muscle activation during poses. There are lots of yoga instructor certification courses, so it might be best to ask your teacher about their level of experience before seeking their advice. If you’re in a yoga class and they tell you to get in a position that you don’t feel comfortable doing (such as headstand), you shouldn’t do it.
As a derby player, I don’t have to put my body into crazy poses to get the benefits of yoga – I am pretty content with forward fold, downward dog, and child’s pose. So find what works for you, and give it a try!