It's a Tuesday evening and I've just put three of the athletes I train and coach in a yoga class. It's a surprise they were not expecting. You see when they first start training with me, my athletes, particularly my bodybuilders, football players, and baseball players, always assume that I reserve the yoga portion of my training regimen to only women, particularly non-athletic women. But they all soon find out that when it comes to the ancient art of yoga, I universally spread the love.
For those unfamiliar with yoga, it is a series of exercises that promote several disciplines, the most important being complete control over your mind and body. There are over a 100 different yoga poses, and during a typical class you will experience a release in stress, a stronger body, and an increase in spiritual enlightenment and mental focus.
Why do I promote it with my own clients so vigorously? Because yoga's benefits are endless: improved flexibility, strength, mental clarity, focus, and endurance just to name a few. When you improve your flexibility, you improve your range of motion. If you play a sport that requires you to swing like tennis, baseball, or golf, a fluid range of motion is extremely important. But you don't have to be an athlete to embrace and understand the benefits of having a full range of motion. Imagine bending, reaching, and raising your arms and legs completely, without pain or hesitation. Many people I know, including some of my clients when they first begin training with me, are unable to do these things, and make no mistake about it you should always be flexible.
Many people I know also have difficulty with their strength, particularly upper body strength. Another wonderful benefit of yoga is that unlike traditional weight training, yoga disciplines you to uphold your own body weight and rely on your own strength. The action alone of disciplining yourself to do this can significantly aid you in improving your strength.
Another important factor of yoga is mental clarity, focus, and concentration. These are rewards that not only benefit athletes, but people in general. The beautiful thing about yoga is that in the process of getting mental clarity and focus during a session, you also become more in tuned with your breaths and meditation, which are precursors to feeling centered and complete. Imagine starting your day or getting ready to play your sport with a complete sense of control and oneness, as well as having a very limber, flexible, and strong body. Believe it or not there is a significant difference between starting a day or game like this, and not starting it like this. You're more likely to have a great day or a great game when your mind and body is completely prepared and in control.
One of the things I love most about yoga is that it can give you a strong core (abs and lower back). A weak core can lead to things like degenerative disk diseases, arthritis, and digestion problems, to name a few. A strong core means fewer injuries, and helps to center the mind with the body.
My favorite poet, Khalil Gibran, once wrote "Your daily life is your temple and your religion. When you enter into it take with you your all." Whether you are an athlete or a banker or a teacher, you should always begin your game or day with absolute strength, focus, and clarity. Of course, there are many ways of obtaining these things, but getting them all in one place like yoga is the simplest and best way I know.
Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw Fitness, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness model manager. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com.