Sublime savasana

Posted on November 10, 2012


I recently read Rich Roll’s book, Finding Ultra. Rich is an inspirational character and a phenomenal athlete. He talked much about the benefits of yoga to the athlete which I loved, because I too am a budding yogi who has long endorsed yoga as the perfect complement to the pavement pounding of us runners.

I think most people first start yoga purely for the physical benefits.  Let’s face it. Ever seen a yoga teacher with anything less than a to-die-for body?

We think of improving our balance, straightening our postures, getting buns like J-Lo and reclaiming the washboard stomachs we had in our twenties, in my case, adorned with some serious belly bling … but somewhere down the line, the physical benefits fade away in place of the mental. We find ourselves sleeping better, being more self-awareness, becoming better at staying in the present moment, being more mindful, feeling less stressed to name but a few …

Yoga has not only made me a better runner but it’s also made me a better person. It has leaked into every area of my life and when travelling although I’ll still practice occasionally solo, I look forward to my return to the sandpit and get excited about getting back to my wonderful teachers – Bram and Kasi at Fitness First.

But back to Rich. He believes that EVERY athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice. In fact, he says if you’re not practicing yoga you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.

Here’s why:

1. Strength: Routine and consistent practice of the various yoga asanas helps build strength and improve lean muscle mass. These gains enhance core body stability and impede overuse injury by strengthening the otherwise under-developed muscles surrounding more utilised muscles, creating a more balanced and optimally functional overall strength.

2. Balance: Coordination and balance improve immensely. Why is this important? Better balance and coordination means enhanced control over how you move your body, which leads to better technique and form … we all want this whether our goal is the perfect swim stroke, golf swing, running stride or wrestling move.

3. Flexibility: Yoga improves joint and muscular flexibility, which is crucial to the body’s overall structural soundness.  Enhanced joint and muscle pliancy means greater range of motion. A swimmer, for example, with supple shoulder and hip joints is able to capture and pull more water than a swimmer with a more limited range of motion. There will always be dispute about the advisability of “over” stretching for runners, but personally I think by maintaining good flexibility, you are less likely to suffer from injury.

4. Mental Control: As I said above, the physical benefits of yoga are nothing in comparison to the mental, spiritual and emotional benefits. The final part of a yoga class is savasana. Meaning corpse pose, it refers to the relaxation and meditation part of the class, a chance to lie down and enjoy a few minutes of complete and utter bliss. I never understand why there are people who flee the class at this point, mistakenly thinking the ‘actual yoga’ part is finished.

These people are totally missing the point of yoga because savasana is where the magic happens! Think about the roots of yoga. Asanas are postures, designed and organised to prepare our minds and bodies to reap maximum benefit from the meditation that follows … to center our focus, to spring clean the mind, to silence the mental chatter and just be … 

… and this is where the athlete gains the most. The mind is a mysterious and complex thing and we live in a constant struggle to minimise our worries and concerns, block our fears and eradicate negative thoughts or ideas.

You see, at the highest levels of sport, every athlete is supremely talented and all train equally hard so what distinguishes those who ultimately stand on the podium? The answer is the mind. Winners typically know that they will win. They are unrestrained by fear and free from negative thought patterns. They have great power over their thoughts and are successfully able to focus entirely on the task at hand and remain rooted in the present moment. They visualise with such clarity that winning becomes a foregone conclusion.

Much like a muscle, the mind can be trained and consistent practice of the asanas followed up with savasana is the best way to not only reap all the aforementioned benefits but to direct your entire approach to training and racing.

So, if you’re after that competitive edge … get into yoga and make sure you hang out for savasana.

Sublime savasana.



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