In a previous article I touched on the importance of yoga and how it can help improve your recovery. In this article I want to discuss three additional benefits of yoga and why I think every guy should incorporate it into his training regimen.
One of the most readily identifiable benefits of yoga is its ability to improve your flexibility. Flexibility is not only important for injury prevention but it also plays a significant role in improving your athletic performance.
Allow me to explain.
One of the biggest issues I see today are guys with tight hip flexors as a result of spending too much time sitting in chairs. In fact, many guys (myself included) spend upwards of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting in an office chair! The problem with sitting for extended periods of time is that your hips are constantly stuck in a “shortened” position. Overtime this results in a tightening of the hip flexors. This is not good. Having flexibility in the hips is crucial for athletes. The ability to extend your hips through a full range of motion is fundamental to many athletic movements including the squat, the deadlift, any of the Olympic lifts, and sprinting just to name a few. Tight hips mean that you won’t be able to perform these exercises as effectively as you won’t be able to generate as much power through the hips.
This is where yoga comes in. Practicing yoga on a regular basis will help you undo some of the localized tightness in the hips from constantly sitting on your butt all day. The great thing about yoga is that is combines both static and dynamic postures, allowing you to more closely mimic how you would naturally move your joints through athletic activity.
But the hips are not the only area that yoga can help you with – the upper back (thoracic spine) is another area that is often tight in individuals who spend a disproportionate amount of time sitting at a desk. Various yoga poses can help you work through the tightness in this area, improve your mobility, and allow you to perform better in the gym.
Another benefit of yoga is its ability to prevent and rehabilitate injuries – and if you spend a long enough time hammering your body in the weight room, there’s no question you will face at least some injuries, however minor.
For example, one of the most common injuries that plague guys in the gym is an injury to their lower back. These types of injuries can be particularly debilitating as it can sideline guys for an extended period of time. Fortunately, there are ways in which guys can not only prevent these types of injuries but also rehabilitate them as well.
For example, one of the most popular movements to rehab the lower back is called the McKenzie Press Up:
What’s interesting about this movement is it’s similarity to a well known yoga pose called Upward Facing Dog.
The benefit of yoga as a form of rehabilitative exercise is that poses such as the Upward Facing Dog allow you to heal lower back injuries by decompressing the spine. This decompression is what allows the injured discs of the lower back to re-align correctly while at the same time relieving pressure in the area.
But lower back injuries are not the type of injuries that yoga can help you with. Personally, I have used yoga extensively to address various minor ailments over the years. Whether it was a sore shoulder, elbow, or knee, practicing yoga helped to alleviate pain in the area and restore the joint back to normal. I can’t recommend yoga enough as a form of rehabilitative exercise.
Another benefit of yoga is that it can help teach you how to breathe correctly. Believe it or not, but most people don’t know how to breathe!
When most people breathe they usually do so from their chest as evidenced by the rising and falling of their chest and ribcage with each inhale and exhale. The problem with this type of “chest breathing” is that it is inefficient at getting your body oxygen. It is considered a very shallow form of breathing because it does not allow the lungs to fully expand and take in air. As a result, your body does not perform optimally.
The correct style of breathing (known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “belly breathing”) is when you take deep breaths through your nose using your belly. In other words, when you inhale your stomach expands first, not your chest. This type of breathing pattern is known to not only provide your body with more oxygen by allowing the lungs to fully expand, but it also increases relaxation by slowing down your heart rate. If you’ve ever competed in boxing or mixed martial arts you’ll know about this breathing technique as a way to help you recover faster in between rounds. It’s the same style of breathing used by many elite athletes.
What makes yoga excellent is that it constantly reinforces this style of “belly breathing”. For those of you who have never done yoga, the practice emphasizes deep belly breathing through the nose as you go into and come out of the various postures. This is what allows you to truly relax and “meditate”. The added benefit, of course, is that it teaches you how to control your respiration rate, allowing you to perform better in the gym.
As much as I enjoy yoga I understand that classes can be pricey so I don’t necessarily recommend that guys join up for instruction, although you certainly can if you wish. Fortunately, there are a lot of great free resources available out on the internet. All that’s required is a yoga mat. Personally, I have some old yoga DVDs that I use to practice at home. It’s a great way for me to unwind from a long day (or a hard workout) and get ready for a good night’s rest.
There are many different types of yoga out there with hot yoga being very popular today. I’ve done several types of yoga including hot yoga and I don’t find a huge difference between them. I suggest you pick one that you like or rotate through a bunch. It’s entirely up to you. I think a good place to start for beginners is 30-40 minutes 3 times per week. Depending on your goals this may be all you need to restore some flexibility and heal some bumps and bruises.
Finally, for those guys who truly can’t stand conventional yoga practices for various reasons, there is an excellent yoga program called DDP Yoga or YRG Yoga (Yoga for Regular Guys). It is the brainchild of former WWE and WCW superstar Diamond Dallas Page. It is a great alternative to the more conventional stuff that’s out there and it comes highly recommended.
I urge you guys to give yoga a shot. It’s a great practice that has myriad of benefits that will positively affect your health and well being.
Here’s to staying fit!