Yoga for CrossFit

Yoga For Crossfit

While they may appear to be worlds apart, Yoga and Crossfit both have something incredibly important in common: They’re universally inclusive and you don’t have to ‘be’ a certain type of person to take part.

Creating a healthier, stronger and more flexible body and mind enables us to not only become better at a chosen sport, but more importantly it can create a health that isn’t just limited to one particular activity, it’s useful throughout the whole of life.

A Yoga class and a Crossfit gym are pretty different things indeed, but when a CrossFitter enters a Yoga studio, there’s the potential to create a combination of strength and flexibility that can’t be rivalled. Just as CrossFit works with a range of movements, Yoga does this too – and with the addition of meditation as well as a physical practice, we learn how the mind can enormously effect the body. [2]

Let's talk about stretching...

There are a lot of studies looking into the controversial subject of stretching, and its risks and rewards [3]. You can find some of them here:

The truth about stretching, Calgary Herald.

To Stretch or not to Stretch, New York Times.

Stretching Controversy, Science Knowledge blog. 

So let’s get one thing straight to start with; Yoga is not about ‘stretching'.

Physically, it’s about increasing your natural range of motion, strengthening the body from the inside out, and creating much healthier circulatory, immune and respiratory systems.

Mentally and emotionally, it’s about creating deeper awareness, the ability to be present in each of our experiences (instead of doing one thing and thinking about something else) and moving towards a calmer, more positive and peaceful mind.

Why Crosstrain your CrossFit with yoga?

Not only has Yoga been scientifically proven to boost mood and brain power [4] but it has the added advantage of being something which absolutely everyone can do, no matter how ‘stiff’ you think you are.

The old ‘I can’t even touch my toes’ excuse is out, because Yoga can benefit everyone – especially CrossFitters. Read on for a few good reasons to practice Yoga along-side Crossfit, and the specific practices you’ll gain the most benefit from to help create a more injury-free, healthy, lean, strong and supple body.

Improve Your Balance

It’s not uncommon for those who have spent years in the gym to notice that they’re able to squat and lift impressive amounts of weight, but when it comes to standing on one leg, they’re shocked to find it so difficult. Finding your centre of gravity and improving your balance helps the body to build more neural pathways and strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the feet – especially useful when lifting overhead and for preventing injuries to the lower body.

Practice your balance:

Yoga for Crossfitters

Vrksasana or ‘Tree Pose’

Emma Newlyn Half Moon Pose

Ardha Chandrasana or ‘Half Moon Pose’ 

Develop Body Awareness

While a big aspect of Yoga is all about realising that there’s way more to us than just the body we’re in, it does help encourage a type of body awareness that makes us more sensitive to subtleties we may have never noticed before. By becoming more body-aware, you’ll notice any minor training twinges and be able to treat them sooner rather than later, when it may be too late.

Practice body awareness:

We often only have awareness of the parts of the body we can see. The middle of the back of the head for instance, is one of the places that is most difficult for the brain to detect. Practice a simple body scan by lying on the floor and taking your attention to as many parts of the body as you can – starting from the toes and ending at the top of the head, and then move back down again. This is also a powerful relaxation technique and can aid insomnia issues. [5]

Breathe Better

Muscles need a large supply of oxygen in order to perform at their best.

It’s not just how deeply we breathe though – but when. Being aware of synchronising your movements with each inhale and exhale helps the whole body work together to perform an action.

Number one on the list of General Physical Skills of CrossFit Training is often ‘cardiovascular and respiratory endurance’: The ability of body systems to be able to gather, process and deliver oxygen.

A Yoga class is often the first time many people learn to actually breathe properly; as a society we tend to habitually restrict the breath in the chest area and keep the stomach sucked in – mostly due to the current social and cultural conditioning that enforces the apparent importance of an ascetically flat belly. [6]

Improper breathing is an underlying cause of many health conditions, and by learning to breathe properly and deeply, we not only improve how calm and focussed the mind is, but physical aspects such as digestion, circulation, and stamina are greatly improved. [7]

Practice correct breathing:

Belly breathing: The most natural (and healthy) way to breathe is by letting the abdomen move in and out with each breath you take. Due to learned behaviour and cultural pressures however, most of us now hold the stomach in and breathe into the chest, which creates tension and stress within the body.

A simple practice of consciously breathing deeply and allowing the abdomen to move with each breath can have profound benefits in relaxing the nervous system. Practice this for 5-10 minutes daily for a week, and notice the difference it can have on making you feel far less stressed throughout the day.

Increase a Healthy Range of Motion

Number four on the list of General Physical Skills of Crossfit Training from Reebok.com?

Flexibility. The ability to maximise the range of motion at a given joint.

Joint mobility is of huge importance when it comes to improving athletic form. Although everyone’s joints are shaped differently, allowing for different ranges of motion - ensuring the joints are healthy and able to move to their full capability - is essential when approaching physically demanding feats.

Again, we’re definitely not talking about attaining visually ‘impressive’ postures and tying the body up in knots; as someone who is naturally overly-flexible, I can attest to the fact that too much flexibility is just as dangerous as not having enough.

Crossfit does focus on mobility, but it’s still easy to encounter imbalances within the body, which can lead to pain and poor form.

Performing kettle bell swings with tight shoulders is likely to result in a torn rotator cuff, or at least some minor tissue damage if there isn’t enough of a combination of strength and flexibility, and repetitive lifting of heavy weights encourages a lot of tightness in the frontal plane of the body.

Simple wrist exercises like these can replenish inflamed tendons, and maintain healthy space within the joint. Training your shoulders and hips to stay active and engaged even at greater ranges of motion means you’ll be able to lift over-head and take part in gymnastics, deadlifts and squats with greater ease and less chance of tearing a tight muscle.

By practicing simple postures intended to open the hips and lower back too, you’ll be able to say a firm farewell to knee pain and torn hamstrings.

Practice Flexibility:

Eka Pada Raj Kapotanasana or ‘Pigeon Pose’ (aka ‘The Linford Christie Stretch - he performed this at each race time and suffered hardly any injuries throughout his career).

Virabhardasana 2 or ‘Warrior 2’ will allow you to practice a combination of gentle hip strengthening and opening simultaneously.

Baddha Konasana or ‘Bound Angle Pose’ encourages tight adductors to release and lengthen.

Anjaneyasana or a ‘low lunge’ is an accessible yet powerful opener for the psoas – a huge muscle ranging from the lumbar spine right down to the femur bone. When this muscle is tight, it’s usually the cause of lower back pain, hip tightness, knee pain and an inability for the diaphragm to expand to its full capacity.

 Yoga for CrossFit with Emma Newlyn

Anjaneyasana or a ‘low lunge’

Speed Up Recovery Time

Due to deep breathing and oxygen flooding the system, gentle movements and increased blood circulation, the amount of time you spend recovering from injury is likely to decrease dramatically. One of the key benefits of Yoga is that it reduces stress and anxiety [8], and studies have shown that Yoga is actually more effective than ‘relaxation’ at improving mental health and wellbeing.

Aggression is something that is easy to get caught up in at any sort of gym, which is why ending a Crossfit session with a short Yoga practice, or at least including a couple of Yoga classes a week in your schedule is imperative to preventing and healing stress in the mind and damage in the bodily tissue. Aggression has been proven to increase levels of inflammation within the body [9], but by practicing simple meditation techniques regularly, this stress can be greatly lowered, giving noticeable physical benefits.

Improve Your Focus

Getting distracted during a CrossFit workout is a direct link to poor form and injury.

Yoga encourages complete focus by paying attention to the breath, and using ‘drishti’ or a ‘focussed gaze’ in which you’d fix your eyes on one particular spot to hold your attention. The postures each have specific alignment techniques too, so practicing each one well requires mental discipline and directed effort.

The practices of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana (withdrawal of the senses, deep concentration and meditation) are also profoundly beneficial for aiding in concentration in day-to-day life. The ability to focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time is surprisingly difficult, but it’s this focus which trains the mind to be as skilled as the body.

Practice improving your focus:

Tratak means ‘to look’ or ‘to gaze’, and is simply the practice of fixing your focus and gaze upon a single point for a prolonged period of time.

It’s surprisingly difficult to train the mind to focus on one thing without wandering off, but by practicing this consistently you’ll be able to cultivate greater concentration and discipline of mind. It is traditional to stare at a candle, a black dot or a mirror, but any object or symbol you can focus on will work.

Become a Better Person...

Yoga encourages Ahimsa (non violence) , Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy) and Aparigraha (non jealousy and non attachment) in thought, word and deed – not just towards ourselves, but towards the world around us.

With a dedicated physical Crossfit and Yoga practice, we make our own body and mind a better place to live in, but when we bring that disciplined, strong, considerate, calm and balanced mind with us into daily life, we make the world around us a better place to live in for everyone.

And that is a truly useful and life-long benefit of both Yoga and Crossfit.

 

References:

[1] http://bottomlinehealth.com/yoga-improves-brain-power-more-than-aerobic-exercise/

[2] Rankin, L (2013). Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. UK: Hay House.

[3] J M Alter (2004). Science of Flexibility. 3rd ed. US: Human Kinetics. 187.

[4] http://bottomlinehealth.com/yoga-improves-brain-power-more-than-aerobic-exercise/

[5] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1207/s15324796abm3203_9

[6] http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/redefining-great-abs/

[7] http://www.breathing.com/articles/benefits.htm

[8] http://www.complementarytherapiesinmedicine.com/article/S0965-2299(06)00043-4/abstract?cc=y=

[9] http://ijp.sagepub.com/content/5/4/335.short

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