By Coach Shelly
There is something awesome about challenging myself on my yoga mat. I have found it to be a perfect complement to triathlon training in the off-season months. This is not the first year where I have been consumed by the balance that yoga provides in my training (and in my mind). If you have never tried yoga I suggest you try it out. You do not have to be an expert and pretty much every pose can be adjusted to a beginner or a more advanced level. I practice yoga at Down Dog Yoga in Virginia, www.downdogyoga.com. Here are some reasons I make yoga an important part of my off-season:
- Challenge. It keeps me interested in doing something active that is “different” than swim/bike/run. I am challenged by trying something new and seeing how I can improve each of the poses. When I do a pose much closer to correct (I’m not going to pretend that I do any perfectly) it’s a nice sense of accomplishment!
- Hip Flexibility. Yoga allows me to focus on hip flexibility and range of motion. This is a limiter, especially in my running. My hips are so tight. Yoga is a wonderful way to stretch and strengthen the hips. At Down Dog, we always end the practice with a few minutes in pigeon pose. Pigeon pose stretches the hip flexors and the hip rotators (glutes). It often feels great because I know how good it is for me, while at the same time feeling terrible, because it feels awkward. But afterwards my hips feel so much better.
- Focus. Hard poses require a lot of focus. This is an area that many of triathletes need to work on.. When something hurts and is not comfortable, it’s easy to stop the pose. Staying with it teaches good lessons in mental toughness.
- Core Strength. Core is the easy thing to forget to do during the triathlon season. It is also the thing that triathletes first drop from their training week. The off-season is a good time to reintroduce and recommit to core work. Yoga has been great to help work on my core, especially the lower back.
- Balance. I have a different amount of balance on each side of my body, that comes from a fall from 18 feet, which resulted in a leg break and a 1/2 inch leg length discrepancy. I am unable to properly fire the muscles in my left leg. This is the reason I manage to feel most of my aches/pains/injuries in my left leg. Yoga poses such as eagle and tree allow me to focus on firing my left leg muscles to allow staying upright during the pose. Hopefully focusing on this inequality will help to make my legs more symmetrical and end the feeling that I can run a marathon with my right leg while my left leg is done after 2 miles.
- Heat Acclimation. Down Dog yoga studios are heated to 90-95 degrees. There is also a nice humidifier. A 90 minute practice gets “juicy”. These classes will become more important for acclimation for an early season warm weather race.
- Breath control. As a lifelong swimmer, I have a problem with holding my breath. In yoga I am much more aware of breathing as many of the poses are timed and controlled by the breath.
- Cleansing. Yoga just makes you feel better. If I have had a bad night sleep, or have a headache, I typically feel back to normal after class.
- Injury Prevention. The years I did yoga in the offseason I just felt better when the training got heavy. Less nagging injuries.
Of all the benefits I listed above, the most important, in my opinion, is how I just feel great after class. I have worked hard, had fun, worked on my limiters and did something active that is just different than the normal swim/bike/run.