I am a cardio junkie by nature. I really live for the day when research tells us that all we need for a total real fitness foundation is an hour of cardio a day. Circuit training with weights is a close second since I discovered the Focus T25 Gamma phases (my new soul-mate workout program, in case anyone was interested). While I can say Yoga has grown on me over the last five years, I would be lying if I said that I LOVED yoga. There are days when I do enjoy it and other days when I have to dig deep to prepare to get in an uncomfortable position and do nothing. So it would be safe to say that I do not love yoga.
What I do LOVE unquestionably is what yoga does for me, my overall health, fitness and most importantly, what yoga does for my rider fitness. As much as I love being fit for the general health benefits (and will always be inching toward that coveted flawless 6-pack), I am a horse lover at heart which means my efforts at fitness are usually directed at improving my time in the saddle.
Five years ago I had never practiced yoga for a minute in my life. All I knew (or thought I knew) was it involved stretching in advanced looking positions-and you had to chant “ohms.” Wow, huh? My very first yoga ‘class’ was the 90 minute DVD that came with my P90X program. Way to go big or go home…oh that’s right I was home. I was in my basement! I broke a sweat in the first five minutes and stumbled and toppled and tumbled. And I was humbled. I had always considered myself to be fairly strong and athletic but had no idea the strength required to hold the positions while maintaining a stabilized breathing pattern.
Who knew a fit and athletic person could break a sweat and whimper just from getting in an uncomfortable position and doing nothing? I have actually had this lesson on whimpering twice now. The first was, of course yoga, and the second was my first time using a foam roller on my quadriceps. We can thank the Tai Cheng program for that lesson in humility.
So here is a simple list of the reasons I believe rider fitness and any real fitness program really really needs yoga for the athlete to be successful:
Most of what we do in life creates compression. When we run for example, we compress our spine. Sitting trot on a horse? Compression. Yoga encourages elongation to create space between the delicate and valuable discs in our spine.
Yoga focuses on creating depth in movement. In many sports the speed of the movement shortens our range of motion. Feeling insecure in the saddle? Your legs tighten and shorten as you curl up into fetal position (granted when not feeling insecure we realize this position is the worst position one could take in the saddle-but that is another topic). Yoga focuses on length and depth of motion.
Tension created from sports or just life in general is often carried in our shoulders or our hips. Yoga is unbeatable in relieving tension stored in these places in our bodies. As a rider, it is extremely important to be free of tension in our hips. Our hips need freedom of movement to receive the energy of the movement of the horse. When our hips are tight and tense, that energy is misdirected to the lower back. The lower back is not meant for that kind of energy. If you are a rider or any sort of athlete, yoga will seem like a miracle for your hips. I used to suffer daily from low back pain. So long as I am consistent in practicing yoga one time a week, I have no lower back pain.
Athletic performance requires a calm and focused mind. There is no question about the need to have a calm and focused mind when dealing with a 1200 lb equine partner. While the ability to respond unemotionally has value in all sports (think of Tiger Woods at the peak of his career), it can be life protecting or threatening when equestrian riding is your sport of choice. The horse is an animal that is very responsive and sensitive to our emotions. Yoga can create habits in mental focus and physical awareness that can truly be the game changer all sports. From personal experience my very best riding days are just after a wonderful one long yoga practice.
Have I convinced you to give yoga a try? If so and you don’t currently own a Beachbody program that includes a Yoga workout, I would recommend checking out Bryan Kest Power Yoga or Rodney Yee Strength and Flexibility.