Football players and other athletes who lift heavy weights and train frequently can benefit greatly from regular yoga practice. According to the Mayo Clinic, yoga aids the body in flushing excess lactic acid from muscles. Since lactic acid is primarily what leads to soreness and stiffness, yoga can alleviate a great deal of the pain sometimes associated with weightlifting. In addition, flushing lactic acid can make the next workout more effective, as the athlete will meet with less soreness, which can inhibit the ability to lift more weight. By pulling oxygen into muscles, yoga helps them perform better. Ultimately, yoga can help individuals become stronger.
Restorative yoga is designed to rejuvenate tired and sore muscles. More traditional forms of yoga can reduce the tension in athletes’ bodies. Even if weightlifters do not want to dedicate a significant amount of time to yoga practice, simply performing a few yoga stretches in between sets can have an immense impact on the session. When stretching, individuals should aim to hold a pose for a minute or more to maximize rest and repair time.
The practice of yoga involves physical postures designed to enhance the body’s flexibility, endurance, and suppleness. However, practitioners who choose to focus only on the physical fitness aspect of yoga are missing an important way to gain calmness of mind and a feeling of inner peace and overall well-being.
To reach the true yogi’s goal of samadhi, or spiritual liberation and union with the divine, the practice of pranayama is key. Pranayama, or the study of controlling the breath, is one “limb” of the traditional yogi’s eight-fold path. It involves focus on the cycle of inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Through the correct practice of pranayama, a student of yoga is said to be able to span the gap that exists between his or her soul and the spiritual source of the universe.
The great teacher B. K. S. Iyengar taught that the practice of pranayama promotes energy, growth of the spiritual self, and an awareness of the divinity within each living being. He instructed his students that through the deliberate regulation of the breath, they could better organize their thoughts and direct energy from the outer world inward.
Both Iyengar and the ancient teacher Patanjali considered pranayama an advanced practice, one best developed after a student has become comfortable with the physical practice of the yogic postures, or asanas.
However, for those who undertake it, pranayama can reduce stress, improve focus and the ability to concentrate, mitigate stormy emotional states, and promote deep and restful sleep.
The nonprofit group Yoga Across America, in order to spread awareness of the physical and non-physical benefits of the discipline, sponsors yoga classes specifically directed to soldiers and military veterans, at-risk students, people in community centers and homeless shelters, and other distinct populations. Yoga instructors who have worked with prison inmates, victims of trauma and domestic abuse, and other members of underserved groups say that such outreach can be extremely rewarding.
People who have felt powerless in the past can become disconnected from others and even from their own bodies. They may only have the ability to focus on a few basic postures and relaxation practices at first, and may display extremes of hypervigilance or detachment. Instructors must demonstrate patience and foster a supportive, nonthreatening atmosphere, incorporating simple means, such as rolling back and forth on a mat, of helping individuals coping with trauma recover their body awareness.
The Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council represent other organizations that focus on expanding the potential of underserved men, women, teens, and children through the teaching and practice of yoga. These groups have held workshops that bring together yoga instructors, social workers, and other professionals to share information and best practices for promoting the well-being of vulnerable people through yoga. Teachers who have literally taken their yoga mats to the streets have reflected on yoga’s ability to heal not only individuals but also neighborhoods facing crime, violence, and the multiple stressors inherent in today’s society. Through a focus on serving those most in need, these instructors have become a force for positive change in their communities.