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You might think that yoga and adrenaline sports seem like an odd combination, but all athletes can benefit from yoga. Not just the grounding and centering it provides, but also the core strength and flexibility. You’d be surprised to learn how many skydivers begin their day with sun salutations and quiet stretching before hurling themselves out of airplanes!
Keep Calm and Focused
Here is why. Spending a few minutes doing calming breathing, pranayama, followed by a series of sun salutations and other stretches, allow us to disconnect our sympathetic nervous system – the fight or flight response. The result is a lowering of the blood pressure and the ability to make more deliberate movements and keep a sharper focus. If you’ve ever looked up after throwing out your pilot chute and seen a twisted mess above you where you’d rather see a fully inflated parachute canopy, you know that you don’t have time to debate the pros and cons of cutting away vs. kicking in the direction of the twist. You have to stay calm and rational, and act immediately in order to survive.
Of course, another benefit of yoga is the flexibility. Most athletes develop strength and endurance, but watch a freestyle motocross rider’s body contort as he does a back flip and you’ll know he spends time stretching. Flexibility also enhances resilience to injury – and injury is inevitable. Just ask Travis Pastrana, who must have to carry a medical file when he travels to explain to TSA why he looks like a cyborg on the x ray machine!
Yoga increases body awareness and the breathing techniques are believed to improve endurance. I first started experimenting with combining yoga and other sports when a friend I was running with told me that I was breathing all wrong. I could run long distances, but I was working too hard. My heart rate was high, and I was gasping for air with my mouth open like a fish out of water.
I began to use Ujjayi breathing in my training. At first I could only take 3 steps for each breath in and 3 for each breath out and frequently had to slow down and gasp with the feeling that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. In no time, I progressed to 6 steps and by then my heart rate had slowed, and the running felt effortless. An added benefit was that the focus on my breath turned running into a type of meditation.
I stopped wearing an iPod to distract me from the run, and really began to enjoy being in the moment. It may sound a little nutty, but there were times when I believed my feet were no longer touching the ground. I also experimented with tennis, and had positive results on the courts too.
It helped me the most in improving my deep freediving, and skydiving. In freediving, focusing on an economy of movement will conserve the oxygen in your lungs. The calmer and more relaxed you are, the slower your heart beats and the longer your oxygen lasts. In skydiving, I was competing in 4-way formation flying where we only had 35 seconds to perform a series of formations as many times as possible. It was very stressful, and the yoga training helped me to calm down and overcome performance anxiety. Where I’d like to try it next is archery, a competitive sport I’ve just been reintroduced to.
Would something you enjoy doing be improved by adding yoga?