Yoga and Functional Health by Andrea Trank
As the yoga journey takes me more into the realm of helping athletes and others with injuries and illnesses, I have come across some very interesting reading material. In fact, just this morning (January 19, 2016) the News Press had an article by Angie Ferguson entitled “Make Your Fitness Routine Functional” The term Functional is showing up a lot these days when it comes to being healthy.
As Ms. Ferguson points out “Regardless of the number of stretches, exercises and physical therapy a person does, if the foundations of how the body works are not applied, all your efforts can be for not.”
What’s more, according to this article, functional fitness is as unique to each of us as our histories and or habits.
So how does this apply to my style of yoga teaching?
First of all, I need to constantly be updating my knowledge of how the body works and apply the understandings to my own yoga practice and my teaching. Here it what I have learned recently about teaching yoga for golfers and tennis players. There are three main ways yoga can help these athletes with their physical game. (I am not going to address the other elements in this article like breathing, focus and a calmer state of mind.)
Muscular Strength– usually the ability to exert force, which is very helpful when swinging a golf club or a tennis racket. Using your own body weight, in my opinion, is one of the safest ways to develop muscular strength. Yoga poses such as plank, downward facing dog and boat pose work strength while developing stability. From a functional perspective, while they are isolating certain muscles, they are requiring a group of muscles to work together to give you the added benefit of stability and balance.
Muscular Endurance—“effort without dynamic movement.” If your yoga class is moving through the poses too quickly, you are not developing endurance. Holding a pose (as I require my student to do) develops endurance and also has the added benefit of helping you feel exactly where in the body you are working. Mindful attention to the body will allow you to better access your functional health.
“Functional Flexibility is a combination of Mobility – ROM (range of motion) around a joint site, and Flexibility – Muscle Elasticity or Tensile Resilience of muscles or muscle groups being dynamically challenged to lengthen. I use the term functional flexibility because this is not about getting your leg behind your head. Yoga is not about extreme flexibility.”
This is a quote from Michael Brantl , a male golfer, yoga teacher and author of a book called The Empowered Golfer, Yoga for Optimal Golf Performance. This is a very important point that is overlooked in many yoga classes and in the on-line glamorization of yoga.
What I explain to my students is if you are already very flexible in one area like you have very open hips then you will naturally gravitate toward a pose like cobbler’s pose or butterfly. My knees touch the ground whenever I sit in these poses. However, what that usually means is my ability to internally rotate my hips in poses such as Staff Pose or Warrior 1 will be more challenging. So you guessed it. I should be working on those poses and need to be very careful not to overstretch in the poses which have my hips open.
During one of my favorite workshops led by Dr. Steven Weiss called the Injury Free Yoga Practice, he put it this way…”In Yoga we put our worst foot forward.” So let’s all focus on getting functionally healthy by first, accessing our weakness without judgment, secondly, tuning in mindfully to poses and how they feel within our body and thirdly, committing to strengthening those parts of our body that are weak and creating flexibility in those parts of our body that are tight.
Most of all remember functional health is predicated on you, ultimately becoming the assessor and the teacher developing your inner wisdom so that you are not relying on some generic instruction to help you reach your fitness goals.