Yoga: not such a stretch for walking footballers…
Sarah Owen is a fully qualified iyengar yoga instructor and an enthusiastic evangelist of the benefits that yoga provides footballers, in particular for players of a certain age. Here, Sarah advocates – with some great, practical advice – how a yoga regime can build your flexibility and your stability, and how this ancient practice could prolong your enjoyment of our fantastic version of the beautiful game…
These days there is a wider acceptance of yoga in professional football.
The change in the game over the last 10 years to be faster, sharper, more athletic and more gymnastic is what has really driven the change in attitudes to yoga. There is no age limit to be able to practice yoga and the benefits for walking footballers are just as beneficial as those in professional football. Being supple and having good movement patterns helps speed, power, sharpness of movement, efficiency and recovery, and players can see and feel the difference it makes. Of course, when high profile players, past and present, like Ryan Giggs, talk about keeping themselves flexible and supple, it makes everyone stop and think.
Yoga also keeps players feeling young and ache-free. In terms of injury prevention, it helps slow down the creeping stiffness of age – and that protects your joints. If you are tight through the muscles around the hips – hamstrings, groin, glutes, quads, hip flexors – then you usually develop a pattern of excess movement and compression in the lower spine which results in back problems. Yoga can help free the hips and reduce back issues.
It is clear that what works for Premier League footballers can also help amateur athletes, and those who are slowing down a little due to age with certain bodily challenges, whose mix of sporadic exercise and prolonged sitting can cause similar problems. Yoga builds flexibility and stability and it helps to reduce muscle imbalances which can lead to injury. Think of yoga as training for your flexibility and core – it should be doing both.
A regular yoga practice will lengthen muscles that have become short and tight, keep your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles moving fluidly and freely, and keep efficient power and movement through your core. You will feel more free and you will move more fluidly and more efficiently; your niggles and minor complaints should disappear; and you will be able to go on doing the sport you love for longer. What’s not to like?
Most yoga practitioners and teachers will tell you that it is never too late in life to start practising yoga. Anyone planning on starting yoga practice after 50 needs to be aware of the differences in body and health between themselves and a younger yoga beginner. Begin by starting slow and finding an instructor or a class that specialises in beginners or older adults.
Beginners should first of all attend a class to learn the correct alignment and then go on to practice around three times per week (in class or at home) in order to get their body used to moving in a new way.
Iyengar Yoga is one of the best types of yoga to begin with due to props being used to help achieve the pose and develop an understanding of the postures.
So how do I get started?
Get a complete physical before you start. Check in with your doctor to make sure your body will be able to handle yoga. Once your doctor signs off, make sure you continue checking in with them regularly, especially if something starts to hurt.
Make sure you speak to your instructor and let them know of any health concerns or injuries you have, so they can modify your poses accordingly.
Find a yoga class that’s right for you. Many yoga teachers offer classes for those 50 years of age and above. If there are no studios near you that offer those classes, consider signing up for a beginner yoga class in your area.
Beginner yoga classes often offer additional support objects that might help you get started, including pillows to support your body, belts that help provide length for stretching, and sturdy blocks to be used as a hand or foot rest.
If you are not able to find a beginner yoga class, consider investing in these items on your own to make sure you’re able to do the poses without pain!
Invest in a good yoga mat. Some yoga teachers provide mats, but getting one of your own helps guarantee quality and gives you a choice over what type of mat you’ll be using during your Yoga practise.
Dress appropriately. You will want to wear comfortable clothing in a breathable fabric for yoga practice. Shorts and t-shirt is fine. When buying yoga clothes, aim for items that are comfortable and stretchable – make sure you can move easily in the clothes you have chosen!
Think peaceful thoughts. Meditation is a central part of yoga. Keeping yourself calm while you practise yoga is good for your mental health and thought clarity. To meditate, focus on your breathing and let your other thoughts fall away. Feel free to meditate before or after yoga practice, and on your own time as well.
Meditation through yoga can help both short and long term memory!
Through meditating, you are helping synchronize your left and right brain to improve overall brain function, leading to better focus, more creativity, and generally increased feelings of happiness!
So if you have been thinking about how to improve your overall health, flexibility and fitness and wondered if yoga could be for you then I hope this has helped!