There’s a lot of talk about why yoga is important in general, but we’re diving into why yoga is specifically important for your mountain and outdoor pursuits. For me, yoga has always been a way to bring balance to all areas of my life – particularly to my mountain activities. Whether this be through cross-training or simply needing to relax, it’s a constant in my routine regardless of the season.
Beyond my personal experience with yoga, I’ve come to learn some solid (i.e. not relying on the planets to align) reasons why yoga is a valuable tool for any mountain athlete. Some of these may not resonate with you, or maybe you’ve had a bad experience with yoga before, and that’s so okay. The biggest thing to take away from this is if there’s any areas you can explore to better your own mountain experiences.
Build Strength and Flexibility for Your Mountain Activities
It goes without saying for any type of exercise, we’re typically using key groups of muscles. For example, with trail running and hiking, there’s a big emphasis on the quads, hips, core and glutes, so it’s very important that these groups of muscles stay in tip-top shape to ensure you stay… well, strong. Where yoga helps is that most your standard classes bring in an element of strength building. With poses like high lunge, warriors and balancing postures, these help build strength while also releasing tension for these key muscles.
Psst – need ideas for strength building modifications for your yoga classes? Check out this post here.
Yoga Creates Balance in the Body
Like I mentioned above, yoga has always been a means for me to find balance. When we’re highly involved with a particular sport (skiing, running, etc.), we’re putting strain on key muscles. While it’s important to keep those muscle groups strong, it’s equally important to balance the rest of the body with strengthening and stretching. With the trail running and hiking example above, where quads, hips, core and glutes are important to stay strong, you’ll also want to focus on stretching these muscles groups and strengthening other key groups of muscles like the hamstrings, shoulders and back-body. In short – greater overall strength equals more easeful performance.
Increase Lung Capacity and Breath Control Through Your Yoga Classes
This point is no joke. In yoga, there’s always an element of working with our breath. Whether that’s through ujjayi (it’s okay – keep reading if you just got weirded out by the yoga-talk), or simply focusing on deep breathing and linking breath with movement. What this does is simply bring awareness to the breath and how you’re able to better use it with your movements. If you catch yourself holding your breath, you’re essentially making yourself work harder than you normally would, for the same action. However, if you’re able to breathe deeply through any activity, you should find greater ease and be able to feel stronger, longer.
Find Focus and Body Awareness
This one may sound a little woo-woo, yoga BS, but hear me out. With yoga, we are regularly told to focus on the present, which typically includes noticing our current emotional and physical state (which, surprise, can also be done through focusing on our breath!). When you’re able to tune in, you’re hyper focused on how your body is doing. If you’re nearing an injury or dealing with any ailment – your own body awareness is what’s going to tell you to stop or to change your approach. Because we all want to stay out as long as possible, right?
In short, exercise puts stress on our bodies. That’s why it’s crucial to take rest days – this time allows our bodies to rebuild and come back stronger. Where we can get into trouble is if we’re working eight to ten hours a day at a stressful job, then heading into the mountains for a four hour mountain bike ride. Overtime this wears on the adrenal glands – the system responsible for processing stress – and potentially decreasing our immune systems. While I’m certainly not promoting to NOT go for that mountain bike ride (or quit your job if you really need it), I am promoting to simply notice when you’re truly tired and worn down. And if so, find yourself a restorative yoga class or do anything to recharge. I have three non-BS meditation techniques here.