If I have one regret looking back over 30 years of running and cycling, it's the fact that I didn't start practicing yoga sooner. I still love doing both activities as much today as I did back in the late 1980s and I'm also a strong advocate of incorporating a functional exercise training program into my weekly training.
Running and cycling are essentially repetitive movement of the body in the same plane.
This single direction aspect contributes to imbalance and overuse injuries. Yoga practice involves working the body in all directions, helping to maintain muscle strength symmetry. Muscle strength symmetry is a key factor in avoiding running and biking injuries. Yoga teachers will take great care in their class arrangements to replicate poses on each side of the body, providing a balanced workload on the student’s bodies.
"Asana" is a Sanskrit word for body positions or body movements that occur when practicing yoga. During asana movements, we employ coordinated breathing techniques during the movements and while holding yoga poses. Yoga poses are held for periods of time, creating a steady, isometric workload on muscle groups, especially in the core and leg areas of the body. Balance poses can be extremely challenging when performed correctly. Isometric muscle contractions place a sustained, even workload on the muscle fibres. Contracting a muscle group in an isometric manner is one of the best ways to develop evenly balanced muscle strength.
When I embarked on my yoga practice, little did I expect the consequential improvement in strength and stamina that would develop. Nor did I expect the core strength and how this improved my breathing, both in training and competition. A good yoga class will deliver as much core strength and stability as a Pilates class, if taught correctly.
I did expect that my range of movement would increase, and I would gain flexibility, which would help prevent injury rehabilitation.
All these things are great but what I find really encouraging is that whilst my running, cycling and swimming times steadily drop with the onset of age, my range of motion, balance, strength improve yearly.
Furthermore, breathing techniques and meditation will change your life if you embark on a regular yoga practice.
So, if you are keen on sport or have one eye on a park run, I would strongly advocate inviting yoga into your life to see where it will take you.