What if you could have a race that didn’t feel like the Colossus coaster at Six Flags? What if you had the tools to control your mind and stop negative thought streams that sabotage your ability to race to your true potential? What if your hamstrings were less tight? Would you be able to power more watts on the bike? Would you have better running form if you had more core strength?
These are questions I used to ask myself and after a personal quest for answers, I found the solution. Yoga. Not just once in a while or once a week but a steady practice that is seen in my training as the non-negotiable 4th discipline. I’ve practiced many types of yoga over the years; Hatha, Kundalini, Bikram, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Nidra and Yin. Currently, I practice Heated Power Vinyasa 3 times a week at a studio that is equipped with steam. So on top of increased temperatures the element of humidity is added to the room. Muscles respond best to a moist heat so if you can find a studio that is rigged for steam I recommend trying that out first. I find this to be excellent heat training simulation for race day especially if you are training in a cold climate for a typically hot race. Practicing in the heat isn’t for everyone so it’s important to find a style of yoga that works best for you. Most studios offer drop-in fees so you can try a class with little commitment. Try out a few different studios until you find the one that connects best with you and your schedule. Also be on high alert for any inclination to get addicted to a certain teacher. Give other instructors a try as each will bring their own spin to the class.
I think the greatest thing about yoga is you can do it anywhere, anytime, for free. I’ve practiced yoga in airports, on the streets, the beach and in the middle of training workouts. Once you know the poses, you’ll figure out which ones you need most (they are usually the ones you hate) then anytime you need to take it down or open it up, go ahead and strike a pose. Yoga supports all three disciplines of triathlon in both the physical and mental training aspects. I’ve heard many triathletes reference their yoga practice as their secret weapon and I agree. Don’t worry about not having time, just make time for one class, then another. You will feel the benefits immediately and soon you’ll wonder how you trained without it. I’ve found yoga to be the most powerful tool in my ability to control my mind on race day and keep my body strong so I stay in the game. What I can tell you is that, like a super cute race day kit, I will never be without it.
Every triathlete has been victimized by their mind during a race. Whether its the dreaded panic attack on the swim, the egoic blasts of power on the bike that are paid for on the run or unnecessarily feeding the drama of physical pain. We’ve all visited those dark places where we begin to judge, doubt, bargain, pray, cry, hate and sometimes quit. A yoga practice will give you the tools you need to gain control over your mind through the practice of presence. Taught through breath and body awareness, presence will bring you into the moment and show you the truth of your experience. It will teach you how to pause and notice which thoughts are worthy of your attention and which do not serve you. It will help you quiet the mind and reduce the mental noise saving you vital energy needed to train and race strong.
Strength is key to performance as well as avoiding injury and time out of training. It is also important that physical strength is balanced to minimize the body’s tendency to compensate due to areas of weakness. Hamstrings, hips, core and low back tend to be places of weakness in the swim, bike, run body. Yoga poses will help strengthen all of you from the inside out. Deep lunges, balance poses and back bends will offer your body great opportunity for strength building and increasing your durability.
Tense muscles can become adaptively shortened over time which lead to poor bio-mechanics and postural abnormalities. Yoga will help release tense muscles and restore normal resting length. Benefits of increased flexibility include better posture, lower risk of injury, decreased pain and more power potential. Sustained holds, floor poses and flowing to full range of motion will help to reset your body and restore length to shortened muscles.
Yoga brings awareness into the body by shining a light on physical blind spots. The practice will help you gain a complete understanding of your body’s blueprint as the postures require equal use of each side. This insight will show you areas of imbalance or weakness which can lead to pain and injury down the line. By paying attention to the movements of your body in the yoga poses you will bring more awareness to your form, patterns and areas of opportunity. This awareness will translate to your workouts where you will start to notice how these patterns effect your training. Over time this awareness and the benefit of a balanced physical practice will create a more stable body that will hold up better under the stresses of training.
Besides the finish line, there’s not a lot of time for triathletes to stop. All of the poses in a yoga class prepare your body for the final pose, and my personal favorite, savasana. It is a brain calming, stress reducing period of silence and stillness that lasts about about 5-10 minutes. Resting the physical body is essential to every triathlete but with work schedules, family time and obligations, not to mention training, there isn’t much time to just be. Savasana is a pose I rely on many days to give me the pick me up I need to carry on. It’s simply the ultimate integration and restoration.