I used to think yoga was boring. I would go to my mom’s class and pick at my calluses during pigeon pose. Why would I waste my time doing yoga for an hour on top of the 20 hours I already spent in the gym? I was strong enough, flexible enough, successful enough.
What could yoga do for me?
Over ten years later, I love yoga. Power vinyasa flow is what got me in the door, and it wasn’t boring at all. It was fast-paced, one breath per movement, and I could even do handstands. I had been teaching fitness for a few years already, and I decided to get certified in yoga. My 200-hour training in India was life-changing, and I began to understand and appreciate yoga beyond just the physical practice.
I realize now what yoga could have done for me: not just the asana, or physical practice, but all of yoga. Yoga would have given me more awareness of my body, breath, and mind, which would have allowed me to see past my limitations and reach a higher potential. It would have allowed me to better deal with stress, adversity, and the seemingly never-ending string of soreness and injuries.
A gymnast who harnesses the benefits of yoga can elevate her practice in the following ways:
* Improved form and composition
* Prevention and recovery from injury
* Use of breath to energize and to calm
* Use of meditation techniques to clear unhelpful thoughts, and prepare the body and mind to execute.
1. Improved Form and Composition
First, let’s talk about the physical practice of yoga, asana. Of course, this will help build strength and flexibility, but don’t gymnasts already have enough of that?
Asana brings awareness to the different muscles and joints in our bodies. It’s a new way to feel what’s going on in our bodies. Gymnasts fling their bodies around everywhere and are often just going through the motions, without much thought. Asana lets us listen to our bodies to gain a better understanding of what is going on anatomically. It also enforces the importance of engaging the core to improve balance and stability. This awareness and knowledge not only helps gymnasts improve their form and composition, but helps prevent injury.
2. Prevention and Recovery from Injury
There are other ways in which yoga can not only help prevent injury but also aid in recovery.
The beauty of asana practice is that it’s balanced. Gymnasts do everything one-sided. Yogis do everything on the right and on the left. Yoga can help prevent the extreme imbalances in the body that can lead to injury or chronic pain.
When I was 13 years old, I fractured my back and I couldn’t do gymnastics for 6 months. I went to physical therapy and got a list of exercises that I could do to aid in my recovery. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing yoga!
Serious injuries aside, yoga practice is beneficial for relieving simple muscle soreness, as it helps circulate the lactic acid out of the muscles.
3. Use of Breath to Energize and Calm
Now, let’s talk about breath. Yoga asana and breath go hand-in-hand. Yoga connects breath with movement. It teaches us how to use our breath to our advantage and to never hold it.
Ask any of my old teammates about me attempting to climb a rope three times in a row, hold a hollow hold, or nail the third pass of my floor routines. It was a STRUGGLE. They will probably imitate my scrunched up face as I huff and puff and practically die trying to get through it. It was not yogic. I don’t think I knew how to breathe!
Breath is such a powerful tool, and I didn’t know how to use it properly. I’m convinced that if I had known how to use my breath, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with endurance. Not only can breath energize you to do more, but it can calm you down in times of stress.
Deep yoga breathing can do wonders before a competition, while waiting for the judge to salute, or even right before the dismount from the balance beam. It can bring you back to the present, regain your focus, and prepare you to execute whatever is coming next.
4. Use of Meditation Techniques
Next, let’s dive into the meditative aspect of yoga. In yoga and meditation, we practice the withdrawal of the senses. For example, we try to tune out any unwanted noises or visual distractions so we can stay present and focus on what our body is doing on our mat, which is exactly what a gymnast needs to be able to do on the apparatus. Being able to do this allows for better focus, concentration, and execution.
Of course, this isn’t always easy.
Breath focus or use of a mantra can better allow us to stay or keep coming back to the present moment. A mantra is simply something you repeat over and over again, either out loud or silently to yourself. When thoughts or external distractions come, we practice letting them go and bringing our focus back to our breath or our mantra again.
When I was a competitive gymnast, I used visualization as a tool to better prepare me to perform. Little did I know that I was meditating! Visualization is another powerful meditation technique that can increase a gymnasts confidence and performance.
Many gymnasts often make mistakes because they can’t quit thinking about that time they messed up in the last competition, or how poorly they just performed in the warm-up. Yoga and meditation practice can help gymnasts move away from those thoughts and focus on what they know they can do.
In summary, yoga and meditation practices bring more awareness to the body, the mind, and the breath, allowing for improved form and composition, prevention and recovery from injury, and greater breath control.
Are you looking to incorporate more yoga into your gymnastics practice?
Anna’s gymnastics specific fitness and yoga classes motivate gymnasts to work harder, improve their focus, and gain the extra competitive edge. Contact Anna with inquiries and comments.