Why Iyengar Yoga is Perfect for Athletes

What is Iyengar Yoga

In short Iyengar yoga focuses on proper form and alignment of the body in yoga Postures. It incorporates tools such as blocks, straps, blankets and more to help people find their optimal position. In addition, more advanced practitioners of the practice are further instructed on breathing principles which are keys to deeper effects within the practice.

What you need to Know

Think of this a deep and prolonged stretching series that focuses on increasing flexibility, range of motion and overall muscular balance to the body. Most athletes suffer in some form or another in all 3 of the above. The Iyengar practice is an active practice where the athlete uses the bodies innate kinesthetic, anatomical and bio-mechanical principles to effectively stretch the body. While the postures make appear to be static they are far from. Using the concept of reciprocal inhibition and contract/relax such as in PNF techniques, the individual is meant to pay attention to the finer details and actively create the posture.

Athletes Do Not Need Another Workout

Athletes do not need more workouts therefore practices such as Vinyasa, Power or Bikram Yoga are not suited for their needs. All athletes have specific needs and it is important to provide them with the postures that suit. In the Iyengar system, the Teacher can pick the appropriate postures to address the needs. In addition, the deeper and more prolonged stretching will help to active the parasympathetic nervous system creating a relaxing feel and a gentle active recovery.

Conclusion

Athletes in general need far more specific work, much greater attention to detail within the work and generally simpler not more complex movements and instruction. We as Coaches and Sports Medicine Practitioners do not need to step beyond the basics to effectively address the challenges 95% of the Athletes and People we treat face in the Orthopedic side. Any movement provides the opportunity to be therapeutic, it is our ability to effectively teach and translate to the individual and their ability to do as asked that often determine the success. Iyengar Yoga is a system that allows us Practitioners to put our Athletes in positions that address common issues.

Components of Training, Forming a Strong Foundation

Below is a list of some essential components of training. As an athlete of all levels it is important that we have a strong awareness and foundation of these components. Training and competing is more than just showing up and doing the work. We must have rhyme and reason behind what we do. If not it is more than likely we will under perform, injury ourselves, burn out, etc. I like to think of training as a life long journey. Along the path it is likely that we will learn new methods, approaches, techniques, sports, philosophies and the like. Whatever it is we do it must be steeped and rooted in an underlying philosophical approach to success and integration. The foundation which we build is the key to the additions we will add throughout our life. Having a solid foundation is the key to building a strong and well integrated structure of varying physical activities, movements, sports, etc. Here are a few things that come to mind.

Progression: 

Elite level athletes follow the simple concept of progression. If your not progressing your digressing and in the world of athletics and in general this is a bad idea. Tudor Bompa does a fantastic job teaching how to program a progressive program for optimal performance. He gives you the framework and concepts. Additionally, it is my professional opinion that the conjugate method is the best for the majority of athletes who are in the lifting world of sport and athletics. This system was Developed and fostered in the old Soviet Union and popularized for good reason and measure by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, in this case the numbers. We must plan and execute for success and in order to do this we must have a system in place that addresses our strengths and weaknesses with the overall goal in mind. Progress does not happen by guessing and hoping, it is determined with an overall picture of the goal and the work that needs to be done to get there.

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Variation:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same results. In training this rings true. Again looking at progression and the conjugate method as an example of, they embrace the idea of change. It is crucial that ones program and movement is in a constant state of change. Variation, stimulating and learning new movements, changing weights, reps, rest, etc. Are all part of variation and progressive adaptation. For instance, one does not squat the same weight for the same reps and sets week in a week out. This would lead to a negative adaptation if continued for  any length of time. The body is like layers, it will build and add upon itself and will need appropriate stimulus to do so.
Pattern identification
We must understand that the body moves in patterns and sequencing. We have to understand what it is we are working to achieve and be sure to enhance that particular pattern and sequence with our training. Weaknesses must be known and addressed but we must never forget where our strengths lie in the process.
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Your weakest link
The old adage says, one is only as strong as their weakest link. How true it is. If for instance you have weak hamstrings this will have a direct effect on your ability to sprint, squat, Deadlift, clean, etc. A program should honor the individuals strengths and weaknesses. The program should see the body as a pattern of sequencing with a chain reaction. If one of the links of the chain, or the sequence fails to fire correctly the body will be compromised and unavailable to attain true peak potential and performance.
Form and function matter
In order to function at your highest level and achieve maximal results from your efforts you need perfect form. This is especially true in sports like track and field, gymnastics, ballet, martial arts, etc. But it is also true in sports where we attempt to achieve max effort lifts such as Weightlifting, Power-lifting, and even Crossfit. If you move better you will be more efficient and this will enable more movement potential as you will expend less energy. These two principles flow together to form perfection.
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Technique is key to success
As the above states, technique is the difference. If you look at sports other than Track, gymnastics, Weightlifting, etc. and take a look at Crossfit and its top competitors you will see they move heavier weights/loads more efficiently. This is due to their technical ability and law of specificity in training context. But as we discuss technique, even in Crossfit technique is the one of the key differences between the best and the rest. Just watch Athletes like Rich Froning and Julie Foucher.
Breath matters
Breath into your diaphragm activating your deep core muscles and creating a stable environment for your spine and his enhancing your “core strength”. Remember where you have ribs, you have lungs this means your breath circulates around the whole body. Coordinating breath and movement is another crucial aspect. You must learn and know how to breath for the movement. For instance with a squat, we inhale as we squat and exhale at or on the rise.
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Rest is the missing link:
I love how people are really pushing the limits and testing human potential. From pro athletes, Crossfitters, Ultra Endurance athletes, etc. Humans are pushing into new areas of performance. Another key to optimizing this performance is rest. This includes sleep and rest days from training. The body and the brain need a break. If you listen carefully to your body it will tell you via a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors it needs rest….I.e. Elevated heart, insomnia signs, low energy, poor appetite, injury, slow recovery, etc. A good program and coach will be sure to include rest into the plan and hopefully avoid these factors that signal towards overtraining.
Listen to your body
Yes, your body is really smart and it will clearly communicate to your brain what it needs. Most likely we fail to observe and listen and this gets us in trouble. This is less of an issue with elite athletes whom are being coached. The challenge I have seen is the non professional who is competing at a high level in sports like crossfit, triathlons, marathons, etc. All these sports almost allow one to overtrain easily simply due to variation.
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Mind over Matter
Physical ability is one thing but the difference between great and good is in the mind. Training in itself is a process of mental preparation and training. The old saying goes that training should be harder than competition. This is certainly true as far as I am concerned. Competition has so many unknown and unfamiliar variables that present potential distractions, the last thing we want is too feel unprepared physically and mentally. Now, as a coach and athlete we should always understand and prepare for the unknown to minimize distraction and optimize performance, this also goes along with the mind over matter. It is not just physical!