The Newest Recovery Modality

by on November 9, 2021

What is the newest modality athletes are using to recover? Believe it or not, yoga.

The practice of yoga is thought to be thousands of years old, but yoga isn’t ‘new’ to Western culture either as it has been a popular mode of exercise for decades in the United States. However, coaches and athletes are finally digging into aspects beyond stretching for the first time.

There’s a lot more to yoga than poses and stretching…and saying ‘namaste.’ To give you a quick overview, traditional Yoga is is based upon a concept known as the ‘8 limbs’ or branches. Those 8 limbs are comprised of:
1. Yamas, the ethical standards or external disciplines
2. Niyamas, internal disciplines and observances
3. Asana – poses
4. Pranayama – breath control
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal or sensory control
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditative absorption
8. Samadhi – a state of ecstasy or union/integration

I know, that seems like a lot. I’m sure a few of those are popping out at you already. Maybe things like breath control, concentration and internal disciplines. That is all part of Yoga! Those are the aspects elite athletes like Lebron James and coaches are utilizing to transcend from good to great.

Annette Corbin, from the Athlete Practice (@theathletepractice), mentors athletes with yoga. She also helps players deal with the physical and mental stress of playing sports. When I asked her about how yoga was growing in the athletic space, she was optimistic about its potential to be front and center in the world of recovery.

“I think what’s really exciting to see is that athletes are pushing for more comprehensive training,” Corbin said. “Athletes are asking ‘how can I recover better?’ How do I tap into the mental aspect of fitness? It’s not just about stretching anymore. Players and athletes understand that yoga can be the missing piece in their training. For so long we’ve just been cherry-picking aspects of yoga that we think will translate and leaving all of the good stuff on the floor. Now that we see how important the mental aspects of training are, we can start to incorporate more of that meditation, more of that mindset coaching. And it’s been an absolute game changer. I think what you’re going to see moving forward is more emphasis on ways to recover both body and mind. And nothing is better than yoga.”

Managing stress is a high priority for top-level athletes. A disruption in focus can lead to errors and injuries. Chronic stress elevates cortisol and can result in a domino effect throughout the body. A study in the Journal of Health Psychology(1) showed the results of meditation, an aspect of yoga, reduced stress and lowered levels of cortisol. Athletes who feel more in control are also happier and healthier. Reducing stress will in turn increase healthy digestion and lend to better sleep quality.

Pairing breathing with movement creates an ideal environment for awareness. Beyond breath awareness, athletes feel more connected to their muscles and can refine their movements. Yoga also creates opportunities to even out imbalances by relaxing areas that may overwork and engage areas that may be left out in an athletes training.

To recap, yoga will help you chill out, have a healthier outlook, help out your digestion and body awareness, and increase your skills.

So, where does one start? If you’re really unfamiliar with yoga, hit up YouTube. Try searching for beginner classes or classes for stress relief. You can also look for guided meditation videos or check out the app Headspace. Once you feel you have a handle on it, I highly recommend supporting a local Yoga studio. Look on their website to see what kind of yoga they teach and what options they have for beginners. Taking class in-person with an instructor will provide opportunities for the instructor to ‘adjust’ you, or help you find a more comfortable and appropriate form for your body.

For reference, here are some class names you might see on a schedule;
1. Hot, Ashtanga or Bikram Yoga. This is going to be hot. Sauna hot. This is a very athletic and fitness based class with poses held in a very specific manner. I don’t recommend this type of class for beginners or those are who interested in recovery and breath work.
2. Vinyasa. This class will be moving the whole time. It will likely be a very athletic and fitness based class. You’ll hold poses a very short amount of time. Check with the studio to see if the class is hot or room temperature.
3. Hatha. This is a classic form of Yoga that holds poses for a longer period of time than a fast-paced vinyasa. This type of class will use a lot of props to ensure you are using an alignment that works best with your body. This class will be room temperature. I highly recommend this for beginners or those with prior injuries or mobility restrictions.
4. Yin. This is a restorative and ultra relaxing class that is ideal for stress relief. This class is comprised of only poses that are seated or lying, supported with a good amount of props including bolsters, pillows and blankets. Poses are held from 3-5 minutes in a cool or room temperature room. Typically lights are turned very low with calming music. This is an ideal environment to work on breathing.

Remember, not all Yoga is the same. The styles of yoga are varying and every yoga instructor is unique. Just like how not every training program is right for you, not every class or instructor is right for you. You just have to find the one that helps you the most.

1. PubMed

For questions and recommendations please feel free to contact the author directly at [email protected].

Katlin Arvanis is a Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, Yoga Instructor and Personal Trainer. Katlin specializes in mobility and recovery and is currently passionate about fascia research and treatment.

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