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Balancing Yoga and Fitness

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Effectively incorporate yoga to enhance your business and your client's experience
By Beth Shaw

Do your clients have repetitive use or chronic injuries? Are your routines becoming stale? Do you want to mix up the tools you offer your clients? Have your clients asked you about yoga? Are they curious about how this mind-body fitness regimen fits in their training program?

By incorporating specialized yoga in client sessions, you and your clients will both benefit: physically, mentally and financially. Fitness professionals have found yoga a powerful tool for training the body and mind. Yoga can be used as a session warm-up to facilitate coordination and body awareness along with multi-joint exercises that focus on functional strength and flexibility. It also allows fitness professionals to help their clients create a leaner, more graceful physique. There is a growing body of research available confirming yoga reduces stress (including lowering chronic cortisol elevation), decreases tension and fatigue through its focus on mindfulness, and develops fluid movement and deep breathing.

However, as yoga is becoming more popular, the number of injuries is increasing. Proper training is important, and learning yoga from a school or program that focuses on the combination of fitness and yoga and emphasizes adapting practice for the individual client can help reduce or prevent injuries. Learning SAFE yoga is key.

Physically, yoga added to fitness routines offers a balanced body, lengthening muscles, improving core strength and balance, flexibility and injury prevention. If you work with athletes or weekend warriors, such as golf or tennis players, you can demonstrate how a regular yoga program can improve their game. This improvement also comes in part from yoga's ability to help practitioners develop physical self-mastery and greater body awareness. This heightened body awareness is an asset in many areas of life.

Mentally, a quality yoga program offers tools for stress management. You can help clients learn how to handle stress by letting go through movement, breathing and mindfulness. Without this process, your clients can become candidates for a host of stress-related conditions such as heart attacks, ulcers and migraines.

As a fitness professional, incorporating yoga postures into your personal training sessions will not only help your clients, but will ultimately create new opportunities for you to earn income and retain them over longer periods of time.

Fitness professionals can utilize sequences of yoga postures as a complete training session, or simply incorporate some poses at the beginning or end of their weight training or other workout. Yoga mat work and the mind-body focus can be a great way to end a session. You can use simple standing poses such as Mountain (standing posture with both feet on the floor) and/or Tree (one-legged balance) as transitions to ensure the heart rate and blood pressure are sufficiently low enough to move to the mat. From here, poses that are lying, sitting or kneeling are great for training the core and back while incorporating flexibility and breath into the cool down session.

Here are some basic postures that are complementary to a weight training session; these can be added to the beginning or end of a routine. You can also instruct your clients to incorporate these during the week for their own cross-training and stretching aids.

Hold each posture for five to 10 deep breaths (while breathing only through the nose).

Focused Breathing and Visualization: Teach your clients the importance of breath and relaxation for stress reduction for overall health. Incorporate breath work effectively into your sessions. With the hands on the belly and the knees bent, feet on the floor, inhale and exhale into the midsection. This simple exercise can be used as a centering warm-up to visualize the upcoming workout so training becomes a complete body-mind exercise.

Chest Expansion and Forward Fold: Expands the chest, pulls shoulders down and back, squeezes shoulder blades together and eases mid-back tension. It is a great counterpose for weight training or anything that contracts the chest and shoulders. Stand with knees slightly bent and interlace hands together behind your lower back with the palms as close together as possible. Lift your arms off your butt and relax muscles of the face and neck as you arch back for 20 seconds. Then engage the abdominal muscles and slowly bend forward folding the upper body in close to the shins. Bend the knees as needed if the hamstrings, hips, or low back are tight. Keep hands interlaced and press knuckles up to the sky for another 30 seconds. Bend the knees deeply and roll up one vertebra at a time.

Cobra: Strengthens and stretches the postural muscles along the upper to lower back. Lie belly down and stretch your legs behind you, with the legs touching the floor and the muscles of the thighs engaged. Place your hands adjacent to the top of the ribcage, roll your shoulder blades down your back, look down the end of your nose and breathe deeply. Slowly begin to peel your chest off the mat, keeping bent elbows tucked into your ribcage, and hold for up to 30 seconds before slowly working in reverse until forehead touches the mat. Repeat this several times, coming up higher each time yet keeping hip bones glued to the floor.

Pyramid Pose: Stretches the hamstrings and spine, and soothes the hips and lower back. Stand with your right leg in front, left leg in back, about three feet apart (adjust distance to accommodate flexibility). Keep both feet straight and parallel (not on the same line). Square your hips to the front, place hands at your hips and engage the abdominal muscles. Slowly hinge forward from the hips and begin curling your torso over your front shin and hold for 20 seconds or so. Place as much body weight as you can into the rear foot, keep front right knee soft and slowly reach hands to each side of the front foot (or on the calf if hamstrings are tight). When you're ready to come up, bend both knees and roll back up, then switch sides.

Upside Down Pigeon: This pose stretches the hips, glutes, legs and lower body. Lie on your back with knees bent and bring your knees over your belly. Cross your right ankle over left knee and reach through your legs to grasp the left hamstring with both hands. Flex your right foot and point your right toes and keep your tailbone on the mat at all times. To deepen the stretch, you might pull the left knee in toward the body and hold for 30 seconds before you switch sides.

Superperson Pose: Strengthens muscles of the back. Lie face down, lift arms and legs off floor, hold for five breaths and repeat five times. This back strengthening pose helps creates good postural muscles in and out of the gym.


Beth Shaw, E-RYT, BS, CMT, is the president and founder of YogaFit. She has been showcased in numerous fitness magazines and shows including Oprah's O magazine, Time, CNN, NBC and more. Shaw is the innovative educator and entrepreneur responsible for more than 30 DVDs and CDs. Learn more about YogaFit at www.YogaFit.com.

 

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