Overuse injuries and inflammation due to the overuse of skeletal muscles are common in sportsperson. The isometric muscle contraction and stretching involved in asanas are very much beneficial in reducing inflammation in connective tissues. Yoga helps improve sports performance in multiple ways and reducing inflammation is just one important way through which yoga helps.
In fact yoga is more than just a series of stretching and twisting as popularly being portrayed in the media. However, it is recognized as a mind-body medicine by the World Health Organisation and is one of the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy used in the management and prevention of various conditions. Yoga could provide the perfect balance to a sportsperson both at physical and mental level, in addition to the agility which is much needed. Improvement in the cardiovascular and cardio-pulmonary endurance is one of the key benefits of yoga and I would like to share a few effective ways in yoga that could improve the endurance in sportsperson.
1. Surya Namaskar: Arguably, one of ‘the’ best ways to improve endurance in yoga is through surya namaskar. There are different schools of yoga, such as Vivekananda Kendra, Bihar School of Yoga, Power yoga, etc and each teach Surya Namaskar in their unique styles which obviously creates a doubt on which of this would be good to practice. Not to worry, as all these schools of yoga (& many more) have made Surya Namaskar only as a dynamic practice and therefore we would get the desired result.
2. Virabhadrasan series: These set of practices not just engages the largest group of muscles in the body, engaging muscles such as quadriceps (Rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis & vastus intermedius), hamstring (Biceps femoris, semitendinosus & semimembranosus), gluteus maximus, gastrocnemius and soleus, but also improves sense of balance at the same time. It is one of the high intensity practices, involving isometric contraction with normal breathing for a sustained period of time. Increased hamstring flexibility is also found to decrease lower extremity overuse injuries.
3. Pawanmuktasan series (abdominal group): The abdominal group of asanas are helpful in strengthening the core muscles- a very important asset for a sportsperson to give the basic stability- when practiced along with vyagharasan and bhujangasan.
4. Nadi shodhana: Nadi shodhana is one of the most popular pranayama and it will fill your lungs and in fact, your whole body with adequate amount of oxygen, if done in a proper manner. Our total lung capacity is approximately 6 litres, however during breathing we normally inspire only 500 ml (tidal volume). Likewise, as per the normal nasal cycle of human beings, only one of the two nostrils would be open every 1.5- 2 hours until and unless there is a cardio-pulmonary demand. Nadi shodhana is beneficial in both increasing the amounts of oxygen we take in and also open up both the nostrils if practiced regularly. Nadi shodhana practice involves slower and deeper inhalation, followed by breath retention and then slower exhalation. Breath retention during the practice allows ample time for internal respiration to take place. Internal respiration is a process of respiration between the lungs and the hemoglobin in blood, wherein oxygenation of blood takes place which in turn carries oxygen to all parts of the body including the skeletal muscle cells.
5. Kapalbhati: If Nadi shodhana increases oxygen intake in body, Kapalbhati helps in removing excess carbon-dioxide from the system. Kapalbhati is the Sanskrit word for ‘frontal brain cleansing’ wherein your frontal brain involved in cognition gets activated.
Scientific research studies show that yoga has a profound effect on the frontal area of brain which could be called as a Neo-brain or rational brain which is involved in the process of planning, decision making and execution with rational thinking. Any decision that we take would actually involve either using our rational brain or emotional brain involving our paleo brain or the limbic system. Regular practise of yoga is believed to improve the mental endurance and gives a sense of mental balance as well, staying grounded both at times of victory and defeat. Yoga also improves self-determination and prevents mental exhaustion while progressing towards a higher goal, by removing anxiety or frustration which are often linked with our path in achieving higher goals. Yoga provides the much needed self-confidence and improved self-image. The moral principles involved through yama and niyama ensures one to become a complete sportsperson with high moral values.
Dr V Venugopal BNYS, MSc Diabetes (UK), MSc (Yoga), PhD
LinkedIn: Dr Venugopal Vijayakumar