Now that we have taken a look at some of the reasons why swimmers should do yoga the next question is what kind of yoga should they do?
Hatha, Vinyasa (power/flow), Yin, Restorative, Bikrams, Hot, Therapeutic, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, Kundalini, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Sivananda, Ananda and Viniyoga.
Don’t worry some of the names still confuse me!
All styles of yoga have benefits, but not all styles are for all people and not all styles will fit into your training plan at all times.
Hatha yoga is the foundation of most of the yoga done in the West. In the West hatha yoga most often refers to the physical practice (asanas). A hatha yoga class is typically slower moving and is focused on basic poses and postures which are held for approximately 15-45 seconds.
Many styles of yoga practiced in the West are often considered subcategories of hatha since most are movement (asana) based.
Benefits for swimmers: Hatha classes are a great way to introduce yoga into a training regiment. By starting with this type of practice swimmers can learn the proper technique for several different poses and breathing in a low key environment.
A hatha practice brings it’s own benefits of increased mobility, body awareness and enhanced recovery.
Since hatha focuses on foundational poses and breathing techniques it will allow swimmers to gain the maximum benefit from several other styles of yoga.
2. Vinyasa (flow or power)
A vinyasa practice contains a series of poses that flow from one to another connected and co-ordinated with breath. A vinyasa class takes many poses you see in a hatha class and links them together in a more dynamic manner.
This style of yoga is often referred to as flow and/or power.
In some styles of yoga there are a set number of poses that are used and do not change, most vinyasa classes will be different each time you attend.
The intensity in these classes is determined by the poses used and the pace of the class.
Benefits for swimmers: A vinyasa class will develop strength, mobility, body awareness and ease of movement through a dynamic practice. They tend to be more challenging because of the pace of the class.
Because of the dynamic nature of this practice it can mimic aspects needed to improve performance in the pool.
Swimming is a dynamic sport requiring strength, mobility, body awareness and co-ordination of movement with breath; all aspects that a vinyasa practice is centred around.
Most hot classes will range from 93 degrees F (34 C) to 105 degrees F (40.5 C).
The primary style of hot yoga that people think of is Bikrams, but not all hot yoga is Bikrams yoga.
Bikram Choudhury created the Bikrams sequence, which is copyrighted. It is a 26 pose sequence that is performed in a room that is 105 degree F (34 C) and is at 40% humidity.
Other styles of hot yoga have developed their own sequences (Moksha) and some hot classes are run more like a vinyasa class in a heated room.
Benefits for Swimmers: Many people find that practicing in a hot environment will allow them to have more mobility in their joints because of the effect the heat has on their musculature. This is one positive aspect of a hot practice, but it needs to be applied with caution.
When in a heated room the nervous system is dulled thus changing the awareness of how far you are pushing the body which can lead to over stretching and potential injury.
Because of the heat there is a detoxification effect caused by the amount you sweat during a session.
In a hot room your heart rate is elevated therefore it can also have a positive effect on the aerobic system.
Hot yoga can also be used as an acclimatization strategy for those who live in colder climates and will be competing in warm weather environments.
Yin yoga is a slower moving style of yoga and when I say slow I mean slow! The intent of yin is to not only stretch the muscle tissue, but to affect the deeper connective tissue in the body by using poses that are typically held between three to five minutes (possibly longer).
The poses chosen for a yin class are determined by two factors; does the pose allow the musculature to relax and can it be held for a long period of time.
A yin class will typically have poses that include a back bend, a forward fold, a twist and a hip opener.
This style of yoga can be quite intense dependent on how you approach the practice.
Benefits for Swimmers: Yin is a great way for those who are very tight to increase their mobility because it is slow moving and the challenge is not getting into a specific pose, but how long you hold the pose.
The mental aspect of yin is very beneficial in two ways. The first is it challenges you to be out of your comfort zone for a longer period of time. The second is that by having to stay in stillness you are challenged to create meditative mindset which develops the ability to create sharper focus.
Restorative yoga is a way to access the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows for more effective and efficient recovery. This style of yoga uses many different props such as bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets. The intent of using these props is to be able to come into a pose with little effort which in turn allows you to let go and lets the body completely relax and release.
Restorative poses are typically held from five to 15 minutes.
Benefits for swimmers: Plain and simple it allows you to rest and recover. Since you are coming into poses that are supported by props and are focused on breath it allows you to release tension. Your body is put in an environment where it can relax completely.
The challenging part of this practice is to learn how to be in stillness and allow your mind to focus on your breath, which also has great restorative benefits.
Most find that it also has the additional benefit of improving the quality of their sleep.
Therapeutic yoga is a style of yoga that is used to prevent and rehabilitate injury. The intent of this approach is not necessarily to improve how a pose is performed, but to use the elements of a pose to improve an individual’s health.
Benefits for swimmers: The benefits for swimmers is outlined in the description above.
The following is a specific example. I am working with a former gymnast who is having low back issues.
After a thorough evaluation we have pinpointed a few different areas which need to be worked on to relieve their back pain. I have developed a way to progressively improve those specific areas. When working with them I take certain elements from each of the styles of yoga described above.
The sessions do not follow a strict structure, but we use a system developed for what they need to help relieve their back pain.
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