A2Z Yoga Blog
Peak Performance: Yoga to Improve Athletic Performance
Athletes call it “being in the zone.” Author and learned professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , calls it Flow. Osho, or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh said, “this is the secret of happiness. Whatever you are doing, don’t let past move your mind; don’t let future disturb you. . .” There is a paradox that yogi practitioners are aware of, and that is this: if you live in the flow of a moment, your movements and mental choices become super-human, extraordinary, divine as if guided by some great invisible hand. In order to achieve peak performance, or rest easily in this paradox, professional athletes use tools such as yoga and meditation.
When you have a calm mind, that which a consistent yoga practice helps to provide, you see a greater number of possibilities. Anger, stress, jealousy and other unstable emotions create an imbalance in both the brain and body, and make it very difficult to do your best in any sport. If it’s the last inning of a World Series Game or your team is against its arch ‘enemy’ in a World Cup, then you need to be able to keep your body and mind in perfect balance. Did you know that feeling angry can raise your heart to upwards of 180 beats per minute? It also makes your body tight and your muscles tense up. This isn’t exactly and ideal physical state when you need to achieve peak performance. Anger slows your metabolism and even constricts blood flow. If a referee of your game calls something that you don’t agree with, you can choose to keep your cool or let anger win the game instead. Yoga and meditation practice help to give you the choice.
Utilizing meditation, athletes can train their minds to complete a seemingly impossible task mentally before actually doing it in real life. The brain doesn’t really know the difference between the two, so if an athlete can get into the ‘flow’ of a game or match, and tap into a complete presence in the now moment, they can call upon previously stored memories of success, and bring them to the present moment. A great jump shot or a perfect golf swing can be the results of meditative training just as much, if not more, than physical practice.
Performing in No Time
When Magic Johnson performed his best, the basketball hoop seemed to widen in diameter. When Handel wrote the Messiah, he did it all in almost one sitting without realizing weeks had passed. He didn’t remember eating, sleeping, or using the restroom. Soccer players, runners, ballet dancers, you name it, experience the Nirvana or absolute freedom of their sport when they loose track of time. They feel they could dance, run, jump, swim or play all day, without tiring. This is the power that yoga and meditation provide. It goes beyond the physical. It is literally a matter of mind over matter, though there are significant physical benefits. The Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, among other teams, use meditation and yoga to increase the chances of an athlete performing in the zone. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers practices yoga. Tightend Dudley LaPort practices for his amazing football skills. The list of pros who use meditation and yoga is in the thousands.
Breaking it down:
- Meditation has been clinically proven to change oxygen consumption and respiration rates. Athletes can experience better power with less oxygen use.
- Meditation changes the way cells metabolize. In one study participants realized a 20% increase in phenylalanine concentrations which is one of the essential amino acids needed for building muscle.
- Meditation increases endurance. The muscles are not the only thing to fatigue in endurance sports. Athletes participating in the Tour de France and numerous marathons talk about how meditation increases both mental and physical fortitude to go the distance.
- Meditation reduces distraction. If a competitor or fan at an athletic event is calling out your name, you need to be able to focus on your next action, and not distractions like these. Meditation creates laser-like focus in athletes.
- Yoga teaches mindfulness in every posture – a form of moving meditation.
Yoga and meditation isn’t just for monks and flower children. It’s the recipe for peak performance.
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What is the meaning of 108? It is a magical sort of number that has meaning, but what is that meaning? 108 seems to have a certain vibration to it. Not sure what it is, but there is no mistake. The Buddhist have 108 mala beads and count them when they do their prayers. We do 108 sun salutations when we salute the sun. What is it’s meaning, let’s look into it and see what we can find. Yogi’s want to know, does anyone know what it is?
Tantra often conjurers up images of people having sex in a spiritual way. The truth is is that tantra is an ancient aspect of yoga and is one of the original schools of yoga. It was concerned with activating and controling the vital life force that is the energy behind the sexual attraction and the main driver in most people’s actions. Instead of driving people’s desires and thoughts into the sub-conscious, tantra acts to bring these energies to the forefront of ones mind and allow the energies to be harnessed for the amazing power that it contains.
Often in this day and age, people assume that tantra is just about sex, but the truth of the matter is much deeper. One must be very careful to discriminate between ‘new age’ tantra and classical tantra. If you are interested in finding more, I suggest finding an accomplished teacher who has walked the path, but make sure you enter with both eyes open. There is often a temptation to step in the deep end and become attached to a teacher.
It’s no wonder our eyes get tired, from the moment we wake until the time our heads hit the pillow, our eyes don’t stop working for us. Reading, working all day on a computer, and bright day light all take their toll. Your eyes take a lot of strain, and can ache, water and at times even develop a constant twitch!
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of tired eyes, try this little remedy.
Either sitting comfortably with the legs crossed and the spine straight, or lying down:
- close your eyes
- hold your hands up in front of your face, fingers pointing up and palms towards you
- now place each palm over each eye so the eye sockets are covered (careful not to squeeze the nose, breathing is important!)
- if possible, the eye lid should gently touch the middle of the palm (make sure its just a light touch, no pressure at all on the eye)
- Sit for 5 minutes or longer if you can. The shoulders may start to hurt after a while, just gently move them around to relieve them.
The theory behind this is that the eyes radiate a thin, strong stream of energy outward. The palms redirect that energy back into the eyes, so refreshing!
Start observing the sensation around the eyes. You will start noticing some heat building up. As the heat builds up, the muscles around the eye sockets will start to relax. As they relax, tension will start releasing – nice huh?
Another beautiful benefit is that the energy is also directed back at the heart chakra, opening up the heart. So don’t be surprised if you move through the rest of your day with feelings of compassion towards every one you come across, and they will no doubt reflect those amazing feelings back towards you!
I often get people asking about how one should go about becoming a yoga teacher. Many people fall in love with yoga and decide that they want to quit their day job and teach yoga. Often these people have only been practicing for a short time and don’t really have the essence of yoga within them. My response to them is that they should need to spend more time practicing, incorporating a yoga lifestyle into their daily life. It is helpful to find a teacher who can show you the path.
Once the person feels that they have enough experience to teach, it is important to find a quality teacher training program. There are hundreds all over the world. The first question is if you can immerse yourself in a full time program, or would a part-time course be more suitable? Also it is important to decide how long the course is. Most yoga training are either 200, 350, or 500 hour courses. To become certified in Australia, one needs to do a 350 hour course. This is probably the minimum for someone series about teaching yoga. Then one needs to make the commitment, as it is a huge undertaking to become a yoga teacher.
Once you have completed the training, it is important to find someone who you can become an apprentice to. Someone who will teach the important aspects of yoga teaching and guide you and give you confidence. The last important ingredient is Karma, without Karma pointing you in the right direction, you will never be able to succeed as a yoga teacher.
Ray Long’s books on the anatomy of yoga. He’s just released a 4-book series, recognized as the Mat Companion Series, and it’s phenomenal. have a look.
Please let us know of any other books that would be useful to yogis all over the world.
a2zyoga is here to help people find out more about living a yogic lifestyle. This includes more than just the Yoga postures and meditation. It involves how we live our life: The decisions we make in everyday life, whether in our personal decisions or event the thoughts we choose. By growing in our understanding of what yoga is and how it applies to all aspects of life. We can overcome past karmas and become who we really are!
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The risks of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS) go hand in hand. Current studies suggest that the more belly fat you carry, the more likely you are to succumb to one or both killer diseases. Couple that with our high stress, low downtime lifestyles, and most of us are ticking time bombs waiting to happen. But a recent review of scientific literature spanning over 30 years of research suggests that yoga may contain part of the solution to reducing this epidemic. At present 37% of all deaths are attributed to cardiovascular disease, so anything that shows promise of reversing that trend should be welcomed.
The statistics are startling and damming. As the Western world becomes more industrialized, the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses surrounding sedentary life and poor diet increase. Salt intake, junk food and low impact, low motion lifestyles coupled with stressful situations in family, life and work, all lead to increased risk factors and create a myriad of health problems such as high blood pressure, increased weight and time off sick due to illness, injury and general malaise.
A big issue for many people however is Insulin Resistance Syndrome – a disorder that makes you more likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes in the future, which is why current research is focusing tightly on prevention and cure.
IRS and CVD are eminently preventable, with lifestyle choices and exercise, but for various reasons many people struggle with exercise. They either find the high impact, ‘traditional’ aerobic exercise, such as running, classes or weight training too physically exerting and struggle with them, sometimes causing themselves greater injury, or experience minor injury that discourages them at the start of their routine. Coupled with the fact that many people with weight problems are also shown to suffer from self image and lack of confidence, and the problems with them taking up any kind of sport becomes one of both practicality and mental health.
Where does Yoga fit into the puzzle?
An overview of 70 studies between 1970 and 2004, conducted by Dr Innes, suggests that Yoga has a list of benefits that support its use in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and IRS. The result of these studies was astounding.
Of all the reviewed studies, 51 showed the greatest promise. They measured areas such as lipid profiles, weight lost, body composition, blood pressure, free radical production, and markers of cardiovagal functions. These studies also gave insight into insulin resistance and mental health.
42 studies suggested that Yoga had a positive effect on the vagal nerve, which controls the heart and breathing, and that respiratory function was improved. This may also have allowed for the reported increase in antioxidants, reducing free radical volume in the test subjects. This long term health benefit may also feed into the other results.
37 studies into blood pressure indicated that those undertaking Raja yoga and its coupled meditation (the ‘classic’ yoga), exhibited more than a 75% drop. This over 3/4s drop in their blood pressure was in their diastolic measure, indicating a better, stronger operation of the circulatory system and heart. This drop alone would indicate a major benefit for those with cardiovascular problems in the first place, as decreased pressure may mean they would see a reduction in other blood pressure based problems such as headaches.
These studies, spanning over 34 years, suggest that the average weight loss because of yoga practice was between 1.5 and 13.6% of initially body weight. Specifically, 18 clinical trials demonstrated that there was a marked improvement in body weight and body composition – The clinical trials, which took place in six countries, suggest that the weight loss benefit of yoga should not be ignored.
Lipid profiles were examined in 14 studies and the news was good there too. LDL cholesterol, associated with hypertension and CVD, dropped between 13 and 26%, which is a marked improvement. Additionally, an increase in good cholesterol was charted. This shows that yoga affects how the body metabolizes and stores fat and possibly makes us use the food we eat more efficiently. The overall reduction in cholesterol is specifically good news for those with high levels and facing coronary disease warnings, as yoga is easy for anyone to start, and has few barriers to learning.
Insulin resistance (where the body fails to use glucose in the blood for energy, causing diabetes) was examined in 13 studies. It was concluded that the markers of insulin resistance were improved significantly. In all but one of the eight studies, whether they lasted just over a month or up to 12 months, it was suggested that improvements were reported in type 2 diabetes. In health adults, fasting glucose levels were improved. A specific random control trial of diabetic adults in the UK showed a decline in fasting glucose and glycohemoglobin, a form of hemoglobin increased in diabetics. This is an especially positive finding as IRS causes serious health problems.
The evidence that Yoga is a solid form of both exercise and preventative support is mounting daily. Yoga is easy to get into and creates these favorable health conditions, alongside a reduction in stress response, which in turn leads to greater feelings of wellbeing, positivity and possibly healthy eating. Since there are no barriers to learning, and very few contraindications, yoga should be considered in anyone’s regimen for combating the issues caused by lifestyle, health and genetic choices.
These factors may or may not be changeable, but the message that these studies send is that Yoga, in any form, can create a solid base to start combating the factors that could contribute to severe illness and can support those people who may or may not otherwise manage to exercise in a healthy and traditional manner. As yoga increases in popularity, we can only hope that the benefits will become more and more apparent and that more people will discover their risk factors for these and other illnesses dropping. Until that happens, there is no reason that you couldn’t take up yoga to combat your own risks. There are no apparent side effects and even a few of the benefits shown in this trial could have a marked impact on your weight, which in turn will impact on your health, your wellness and your confidence.