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  • Julia Wöllner

YOGA x SPORTS - Yoga in competitive sports.

Yoga in competitive sports. Two in principle contrary components show benefits

in their targeted alignment. What yoga is, what it can do and why the practice is so essential for the training plan in competitive sports is shown in the following article.

Learn about the benefits of yoga and the regenerative style of yoga developed specifically for competitive sports.


My mission: Yoga belongs in competitive sports!


Leave my comfort zone. Continuously develop myself and constantly optimize my skills. These guiding principles have shaped me for many years and are my motivators both in sports and in everyday professional life. Yoga is not only the perfect balance in my life, but the best complement and my foundation to be fit, vital and focused in everyday life. I have been profiting from the physical and mental benefits, which I will discuss later, for 12 years now. I have become more physically flexible, mentally stronger, and have gained the serenity and grounding in my life that I needed to keep a clear mind and focus. Especially during times when I was particularly challenged.


I am convinced that these benefits belong in competitive sports and can add significant value to people who not only want to reach their performance limits, but exceed them. I don't just see bringing yoga and sport together as extremely valuable - it's a matter of the heart that I approach with my professional expertise and a lot of tact.



Yoga and sports - how do they fit together?


Yoga - the teaching of mindfulness, in which serenity and acceptance are practiced; time is consciously taken for oneself to "take a break". Competitive sports, on the other hand, are about competition; about being better than you were yesterday and, above all, better than your opponent is today. Justifiably, one asks "how does that fit together"? My motto: "Opposites attract" sums it up quite well here. In yoga we can come to rest physically and mentally and draw strength to be permanently fully resilient over a long period of time. Exactly this, a complete and unhindered resilience, is a basic requirement in competitive sports. For this reason, I see it as essential to include yoga as an integral part of the training plan. It is important for me to emphasize at this point that yoga training in no way "softens" athletes. It is exclusively about self-optimization! The athletes learn tools to better control their own nervous system and thus be more stress-resistant and "tougher", more focused in their performance against opponents.

Excursus: Not only opposites! Cultural similarities in yoga and soccer.

Yoga and sports do not only have opposites. There are also some similarities, as I have experienced myself. The yogic philosophy treats all people equally; sees the world as one community. The word YOGA comes from the ancient Indian Sanskrit and means "unity" / "union". The ultimate goal is to be so "at peace" with oneself that one is open, tolerant, and understanding of the world and all people with diverse views. When I came into the soccer world in 2021, it didn't take long for me to understand this one. It's about much more than the all-important 90 minutes on the pitch. It's about a union of people coming together to feel free and belonging together. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, how old you are, what color your skin is.... it's about experiencing the emotional moments of the club - as one, one union.




Training on three levels and what the monkey has to do with it all ...


Yoga is a holistic practice that involves balancing (1) body, (2) mind, and

(3) soul. To put it a bit more comprehensibly, this means: (1) making the body more flexible, stronger and more resilient through certain asanas (=postures), (2) bringing the many constantly active thoughts in our mind to rest so that space is created to concentrate on what is really important, and (3) learning to control and accept the many emotions that accompany us every day.


I would like to illustrate the interaction of these three components with an example: Imagine that your performance goal is to run a lap on a 400m track in under 70 seconds. You align your training with this one goal - optimize your sprint, supplement your food wisely, and train with full commitment according to plan. You fully align your body to reach your goal. So far, so good. But what about your thoughts and feelings? In sports and on the way to performance optimization, these are often forgotten. In relation to training, too many thoughts, e.g. "why wasn't I good enough?" or "what can I do better?", often express themselves in pressure. In addition, thoughts from private everyday life, such as organizational matters, reflections on past conversation situations or thoughts about the future, come along and intensify the carousel of thoughts. I also like to speak here of the so-called "monkey mind" - that is, the state when thoughts whirl uncontrollably and wildly around in the mind - like monkeys in the jungle, shimmying from tree to tree - and we can only bring them to rest with difficulty, if at all. And what about the feelings that come up in training and also in everyday life? How long do you hold on to negative emotions? Ask yourself now: are you really physically fully capable?


This example should illustrate that the balance of these three components is enormously important when it comes to being powerful. We can train the body in perfection more and more towards the one specific goal - if we ignore or are not in control of our mind and emotions, we will lose.


For this reason, it is important to define tools for yourself that will help you be more mindful with yourself.

 

Monkey Mind: Ask yourself what the biggest monkeys in your jungle are. Which thoughts come up again and again, distract you in everyday life or prevent you from falling asleep in peace at night?

 

Benefits: Why yoga is so essential for competitive athletes


BODY | Physical benefits

In yoga, the entire body is brought into relaxation, which results in faster regeneration. Faster regeneration in turn means that the athlete can also perform at his or her best again more quickly in training. The muscles, ligaments and tendons of the athlete, which are heavily stressed during competition or play, are stretched in a targeted and mindful manner in yoga. By training flexibility, the risk of injury can be minimized. Yoga therefore not only supports in the momentum of the current training but is also recognized as a preventive measure. Furthermore, muscular imbalances are compensated and the rehabilitation process for stuck fasciae, especially after surgical procedures, is accelerated. Walking barefoot in yoga actively addresses the often undeveloped or regressed foot muscles, resulting in better tendon stability of the ankle joint. If the focus in a yoga session is not exclusively on regeneration, the sense of balance can be specifically trained through balance postures. This has a positive effect during sprints, for example. During sprints, various forces act on the body from the outside, which have to be balanced by the muscles, especially the torso-pelvis area. Certain breathing practices can also double the volume of the lungs, which has a positive effect on fitness.


MIND | Mental benefits

Concentration is challenged by the interaction of movement and breathing. Lack of concentration can lead to an increased risk of injury and can also be a trigger for tactical errors. In yoga, athletes learn to focus their thoughts and concentrate on a goal. In addition, yoga strengthens stress resilience, improves the handling of performance pressure and optimizes the ability to relax. Stress and tension are triggers for negative thoughts, which often also take place "only" in the subconscious, but nevertheless have a great impact on behavior and performance. Active relaxation techniques allow athletes to quickly regain their strength after intense training sessions or competitions. By actively focusing on oneself, the mind (our "monkey-mind") automatically becomes more at ease. Once the mind is "shut down", space is finally created to continue building mental strength.


SOUL | Emotional benefits

In yoga training, the athlete has space and time to concentrate on him/herself, far away from performance-oriented training. By blocking out external factors, emotions can be experienced more intensely and consciously. Especially those that are not consciously perceived in the dynamic and planned everyday life. By creating awareness of one's own emotions, the athlete has the opportunity to learn to control them. This manifests itself, for example, through improved handling of negative feelings, such as anger, rage, conflict situations with opponents or the acceptance of a disappointment in one's own performance. Yoga thus reduces the level of emotional tension by consciously dealing with emotions.




Incorporating yoga into the training plan


Basically, it is very good to include yoga in the context of regeneration, because the body and mind find very good rest. On the regeneration day, no further active training should be carried out after the yoga session in order to offer the muscles the necessary time for complete regeneration. However, a subsequent sauna session can help to continue to promote muscular regeneration.


Even though yoga is a solitary practice where everyone focuses on themselves, when performed together as a team, a good group energy quickly develops and can strengthen team spirit. In individual sessions, there is of course more room to work on very individual issues. Especially on a mental level, individual training is a popular complementary measure for athletes. If you are an athlete and wonder at what point in time yoga or mindset training makes the most sense, it is of course important - as always in yoga - to listen to your own body. For some it may be a welcome morning routine, for others it feels more sensible to do a session before a game or competition.



The Yoga-Style: Regenerative Yoga in competitive sports


As part of my theoretical work as well as collaboration with athletes and my practical experience, I have developed a regenerative style of yoga for competitive sports. It is a mix of a Vinyasa Deep Flow and Yin Yoga. Vinyasa means to perform a movement parallel to the breathing in order to get into a flow state. Since this style would be too fast and powerful for athletes or yoga beginners, it is performed more slowly and the asanas are held a little longer. Yin yoga, on the other hand, is a quiet, passive style in which the asanas are regularly held for several minutes. Since this would again mean too much intensity for athletes in terms of long, deep stretching, the postures are held for shorter times, 30 seconds to a maximum of 1.5 minutes. Combined, these two modified styles are the optimal solution for athletes. Furthermore, before performing deep stretches, preparatory stretches are practiced to gently prepare the muscles, ligaments and tendons for the targeted posture. Conscious breathing is also a fundamental part of the practice. It helps to better endure deep stretches and brings the necessary calm to more easily focus inward. Relaxation techniques, such as guided meditations, body checks, dream journeys or progressive muscle relaxation as well as mindfulness practices, also help to find peace and also bring a welcome change to the practice. A calm atmosphere should be provided in order to better block out external influencing factors. Pleasant light and relaxing music are also important to me in order to consciously create a space for well-being.


The physical focus in yoga training I set sport-specific. In soccer, for example, the focus is on the heavily stressed hips and shortened hamstrings. Within each sport there can be differences; for example, goalkeepers aim to stabilize the front of the body and neutralize the hollow back and to neutralize the hollow back. The development of a sport-specific and targeted yoga program is essential and the basis of my work.




Does that really work?


I've often been asked how athletes, who find themselves in a purely performance-oriented and often masculine-dominated world, embrace yoga. Because yoga is still socially perceived predominantly as a feminine practice. Nevertheless: very well, as I was able to discover. Some athletes who have already had their own experiences with yoga, meditation or mindfulness in general, and have learned about the benefits, are open and consciously use the time for themselves. Others are simply curious and want to acquire tools that will help them on the path of self-optimization. Of course, there are also those who are not so much into the practice. These make my work particularly challenging and following their path is especially exciting. I don't want to say that every athlete does the same good, but to see that even those who participate in a class with reservations take away one or two positive experiences for themselves is enriching. Be it a better body feeling, the experience that rest works and can do good, or simply a pleasant power nap in the final relaxation of the hour.


Conclusion.


The benefits of yoga in competitive sports have become clear in this article. It is important for me to emphasize at this point that despite all the positive impacts, yoga is not a magic bullet for optimizing one's own performance. If one does not stand behind oneself and the practice, it is of little use. A commitment from the athlete as well as a high level of compliance and initiative towards this new training tool is a prerequisite to ultimately reap the benefits of yoga training. If the athlete is willing to get involved, successes usually become apparent after a few sessions.



 

First Try.

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by phone or zoom. To make an appointment please send me an email to

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