I’d like to introduce you to Contemporary Yoga. The word “yoga” is such a broad term these days. Those looking to practice are faced with a myriad of styles to choose from and constantly competing schools of thought – ranging from the more commercialized to hardcore traditions, with just about every condition in-between. The experience you ascertain can be so radically different based on who the instructor is, who the practitioner is, what their goals are, and of course, which type of “yoga” is being practiced.
So let’s first take a step back and talk about what yoga is, break down what some of the common misconceptions are, and what purpose it serves in the realm of competitive and recreational athletes.
From the purely physiological perspective, Hatha yoga is but a small subdivision of a much larger philosophy that we focus on. Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga that concentrates on physical health and mental well-being using bodily postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). By incorporating this form of yoga into an athlete’s training program, we can increase performance by improving mobility, learning to correct compensatory movement patterns, maximize the use of our breath, and bring relaxation techniques into real world application.
Now you haven’t heard me say one thing about chanting, or chugging wheat grass, or spiritual names for Om sake! And guess what? Contemporary Yoga doesn’t incorporate any of that. Why? Because simply put, that’s not what our focus is on. These things can be very positive in some people’s lives and for that, Om on my friends. But for us here at CA, our focus is on how to become the best athletes we can. My goal is to show you how to incorporate Contemporary Yoga into your pre-existing fitness routine, bettering yourself to see improvements in both your current programming and your given sport. They can work hand in hand to make you a more versatile and agile athlete. So are you still with me? Good. Now let’s dispel some silly myths.
I know some of you think that yoga is just a bunch of stretching. That is but a tiny part of what we do. The better way to phrase this would be to say we work on anatomically correct positioning, utilizing many forms of stretching to increase mobility. Gaining flexibility is merely a by-product of the real work. In fact, if we applied yoga for sheer flexibility purposes, we would most likely do more harm than good.
Tight muscles that keep joints out of their natural and functional positions create problems by compelling faulty movement patterns and joint motion. We want to identify the root of what is causing these tensions, not just stretch a muscle. We use passive stretching, active stretching, passive-active stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. We then take this a step further and link these techniques with our breath, learning to utilize our diaphragm to maximize our potential. This will later translate to producing more power during our chosen sport.
Another misconception I often hear is that people think they don’t need to relax. What I find with this is that relaxing as a practice is actually rather difficult and can be intimidating. Particularly as athletes, we are trained to be overly competitive so the very idea of being perfectly still can be terrifying or even counterproductive. However, that ability to relax is what can carry you through some of your biggest hurdles. The next time you’re in a race and you reach that point where you start to think, “I don’t know if I can make it,” that’s when your relaxation techniques are going to kick in and quiet your stress, letting your athletic training take over.
The most important thing I can highlight in this introduction to yoga is that Contemporary Yoga is for all levels. You don’t need to already be flexible. Likewise, if you already are flexible, you may still reap many benefits of coming to class. Although I will be happy to teach anyone who wants to stand on their head or contort into a scorpion how to do so, this will not be the main goal of our class. We aren’t trying to be acrobatic yogis. We are trying to enhance our athletic performance and keep our bodies healthy and supple for the entirety of our lives. That is our goal and it’s important to remember this goal. Again, these other forms of asana have their place and perhaps one day in your own practice, it will be at the front and center of your objective. For now though, let’s make sure our hips and hamstrings are happy, our backs are strong and supportive, our shoulders and chests are open, and our ankles and knees don’t begrudge all of our impressive accomplishments.
I look forward to seeing all of you on the mat. Namaste Ninjas!