Educational Article

Power Yoga Adds New Dimension to Fitness Training

By Dr. Robert Martin

Traditionally yoga has been considered a form a stretching and meditation to improve flexibility and encourage mental and physical relaxation. Recently an especially vigorous form of this discipline known as power yoga has been gaining popularity in the US particularly with competitive athletes like triathletes, professional football players, runners and basketball players, that want to focus on aerobics, flexibility and concentration.

Power yoga is a type of yoga in which participants move swiftly from one pose to another, stopping for as little as a few seconds in between- poses that frequently require flexibility and significant strength, such as push-ups and handstands. As they strike poses, students often use a breathing technique called pranayama in which the breath passes across the back of the throat like a hiss, a practice that’s supposed to increase concentration energy, and the ability to do poses.

Power yoga is a type of ashtanga yoga, which may be new to the U.S., but is actually a practice that’s thousands of years old in India. The word ashtanga means “eight-limbed.” Ashtanga yoga is a system of eight practices, including moral codes, physical exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Power yoga has the reputation for being a tough workout, not meant for the couch potato. Some athletes believe it’s the perfect addition to their conditioning regimens. Other sports medicine experts aren’t so sure.

Bender Birch, the author of Power Yoga (Fireside, 1995) and Beyond Power Yoga (Fireside 2000), is considered by many yoga teachers the bible of American ashtanga yoga. She has tutored many college and professional athletes in power yoga, including basketball players, triathletes, and skiers, and runs the yoga program for the New York Road Runners Club.

Though many people consider athletes the epitome of fitness, Bender Birch feels most athletes have tight muscles that they haven’t stretched sufficiently or have injured, as often build up muscular strength unevenly. Power yoga restores range of motion to those tight muscles therapeutically realigns the body. It exercises all the muscles and joints of the body. Power yoga also builds strength, since the asanas (poses) often require that you support your entire body weight. It increases concentration, and enables an athlete to train harder and at a higher level.

Independent review by other sports medicine experts has confirmed the benefits of power yoga. In a review of the medical literature on mind-body exercise methods published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, March 2000, Jeffrey Ives PhD associate professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, found that yoga does reduce stress, decrease hypertension and has cardiorespiratory benefits.

Another study in the Indiana Journal of Medical Research found that athletes that incorporated power yoga into their training program achieved a higher work rate and a reduction in oxygen consumption over athletes on the same training program that excluded yoga.

With poor flexibility being a major cause for injury in the middle age athlete yoga could greatly reduce injury risk. So, if you are bored with your work out routine, want to enhance your concentration and flexibility, or just want to try something new consider power yoga.

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