Yoga is a powerful complementary modality for athletics and for those in weight training programs for numerous reasons.
Everything begins at a cerebral level. When you move your body the command given to contract the muscles travels through the nerves in the spinal cord. Motor neurons then carry the command to the muscle fibers. Each motor neuron controls the contraction of a specific group of fibers and the more motor neurons that are activated, the greater the quantity of muscle fibers that will contract. The practice of yoga asana is aimed at building this motor neuron-muscle connection (neuro-muscular patterning) over time and thoroughly throughout each muscle, which allows you to build muscles and strength much more effectively and quickly.
When you do move your body, it is rare that you have to contract only one muscle at a time. Generally, a whole group of muscles is activated to produce a movement. The shoulders and arms have to work together with the back and leg muscles in order to perform an action or produce a shape (as in yoga asana); and the muscles on the right side need to be in synch with the muscles on the left side, and the muscle in front body need to be in sync with muscles in back body. Through the yoga asana practice, an athlete’s muscles become accustomed to communicating and collaborating in order to sustain a specific shape. As muscles cultivate a conversation with each other, there will be more integrity in the muscular skeletal system. With more integrity, an athlete, weight lifter or cross-trainer can access more power and strength. In addition, an athlete is more likely to prevent injury when they sustain integrity in their weight lifting. Otherwise, muscles begin to compensate for the misalignment. As a result, certain muscles become inappropriately overdeveloped and other muscles become weak in order to perform an action or take a specific shape when misaligned. Athletes are more likely to injure themselves during misalignment. For example, if someone is weight lifting with lack of alignment in the shoulder girdle, the upper trapezius and levator scapulae (muscles in neck and upper back) compensate and overwork (causing all knids of discomfort and health conditions); whereas the rhomboids, seratus anterior and mid-trapezius are ideally doing the work to keep shoulders aligned (and therefore become weak). Yoga asana teaches the body how to stay aligned and how to build appropriate dialogue among muscle groups to cultivate coordination and healthy posture.
Yoga asana pumps blood and oxygen to the muscles and joints, keeping them supple and healthy. The blood itself carries oxygen, nutrients and vitamins to muscles so they can heal and rebuild, especially after a tough weight lifting regime. Yoga and stretching also flushes the body of toxins and lactic acid which tend to create knots that bind muscle fibers together, preventing the muscle from functioning at their maximum potential. As a result, the yoga asana assists in producing healthy happy muscles.
The combination of both strength AND flexibility in muscles encourages healthy joints and allows the body to move the skeletal system more into alignment. The more the muscular-skeletal system is in alignment, the more our energetic body can expand. When our energetic body (pranic body) is efficient, then our blood moves through the body more efficiently, cleansing organs and encouraging a healthy nervous system.
Yoga encourages athletes and weight trainers to witness and explore the power of the breath. The breath is the primary thread between the mind and body. The mind is our most most powerful (and sacred) faculty for transcending and transforming ourselves: physically, emotionally, mentally and behaviorally. The more we integrate our layers as human beings, the more likely we are to feel whole and stable. And when our psyche is stable and integrated, we can begin to expand our awareness, inviting more clarity and ease.