by Penny Leimbrock, Yoga Instructor

Whether you’re in a beer hockey league or you’re a high-performance athlete training for the Olympics, yoga is something you should add into your training regime. There can be a bit of a misconception when it comes to yoga, but I am here to tell you it isn’t all crazy poses, candles, and chanting.

All of us who have gone through yoga teacher training had to learn about anatomy and biomechanics. We had to learn how the body moves within 3 planes of movement. How our muscles, tendons and ligaments work together; and most of all, how to keep our yogis safe to avoid risk of injury. We are constantly watching those we lead through a yoga practice for body alignment and hypermobility of the joints.

Yoga is about breathe and movement. It is about staying in the present moment and listening to your body. At the beginning of any class I teach I will always remind my yogis that this is their time and their practice. To listen to their bodies and rest when they need to and modify if something doesn’t feel right. If something hurts, stop! Find your edge without pushing yourself too far. Most of all, be playful and curious and see what you can do! It is amazing how many people will say “I can’t do yoga since I am not flexible”. The truth is, you NEED yoga if you are not flexible. Yoga is a practice that both stretches and strengthens our bodies. Like anything else, it takes time and practice and consistency.

High performance athletes push their bodies to the limit, typically training multiple times a day. Depending on the sport there can be anything from intense cardio work to weight lifting. While some stretching is done as a part of the daily training, taking time to really work and stretch out the muscles is of great importance. For example, if you are a marathon runner you may feel more tension and strain through your hips and hamstrings. Yoga can target areas that will help to lengthen them. You can take something such as a pigeon pose and get a very intense hip stretch. Or perhaps holding a forward fold and finding length through the hamstrings. If you can work through the “problem areas” you will find an overall benefit to your training and readiness for competition.

You also learn very quickly how strong your core is in yoga. If you think about having to balance on 1 foot, you need to engage your core muscles to stop yourself from “dumping” all of your weight on the standing leg and to keep yourself steady. Even from my own experience, the first time I took a Core Flow class, my abs were on fire for 2 days!! Even though the poses were quite simple, just focusing on the engagement to keep my alignment correct really fired them up

While there are classes out there, ie. Yin or Restorative classes, that are more calming and relaxing, you can actually get a very intense workout from something like a Vinyasa or Power Flow class. These classes incorporate breath and movement. They can move through various sequences to build up to a Peak pose and can actually be quite challenging.

If you haven’t tried yoga, give it a shot. Remember, we all lose our balance and occasionally fall down. There is no such thing as perfect and most of all…ignore the models you see on Instagram 😉