22 February 2016 Kat Selvocki

Yoga Isn’t Just Stretching

Yoga isn't just stretching, which is why it's super helpful for skaters and other athletes. You can build strength, focus, a better way to breathe, and yes, flexibility, that'll benefit you on the track.

I need to clear something up, hopefully once and for all: yoga isn’t just stretching.

I’m not sure when this became the predominant understanding of yoga. As someone who came to the practice from athletics (running and roller derby), I can assure you that when I started practicing, I was not very flexible. In fact, even when I did my yoga teacher training, I could only do a fraction of the things that the rest of my cohort could. Even now, one of the reasons that I don’t post a lot of “advanced” poses on my Instagram or here is because I don’t do them, because it wouldn’t be safe for my body.

I know that I’ve been guilty of talking about yoga in terms of mobility and flexibility only, too. For an athlete like you, some flexibility IS a useful benefit! The thing is, though: it doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things if you can touch your toes. It doesn’t actually matter if you do super deep backbends, or mermaid, or whatever the latest Instagram yoga craze is.

What matters is that your body is able to move in a way that allows you to do the things that you love. Like, say, play roller derby.

Yoga can be super helpful for you as a skater because:

  • Yoga helps you get more focused. When you move through a sequence, especially if it’s a little slower, it can be an ongoing battle with your mind to stay tuned in to what you’re doing. That’s part of the practice! That hour-long class, or five sun salutations in the morning, or whatever your yoga looks like, is a chance to notice each moment, each movement, each sensation–and to keep bringing your mind back to that every single time it wanders off. That might be 1000 times in five minutes. That’s cool. Come back to your experience each. and. every. single. time. The next time your mind is tempted to run away when you’re skating, you’ll be able to keep your head in the game and not take a hit from out of nowhere!
  • Yoga helps you grow stronger. C’mon, I know you didn’t think arm balancing was possible simply because of flexibility. Hello, core strength! Yep, that’ll help with your blocking, your transitions, and generally staying upright on the track.
  • Yoga helps you breathe better. I know there are a metric shit-ton of cheesy videos out there of yoga teachers talking you through breathing with the sound of the ocean in the background, or whatever. Guess what? They don’t have to be YOUR yoga teachers if that’s not your thing. How you breathe affects your nervous system. Your nervous system affects how your body moves and reacts. If you’re breathing effectively, you’ll be able to respond more effectively. Enough said.
  • Yes, yoga helps you with mobility. Have you ever seen one of those dudes with huge muscles, no neck, and barely any ability to move (and possibly zero ability to wipe his own ass on the toilet because of it)? You DO NOT want to be that guy. Roller derby is a sport that requires movement in all different directions, so you need your muscles to be responsive. This is where some degree of flexibility is hella important! You want to find the balance between strength and flexibility, and a good yoga teacher can work with you to do that. And sometimes, a slow stretchy yoga class after a rough bout can be nice to keep your muscles moving and help with recovery.

Like I said above, you don’t need to be able to touch your toes, today or ever. Your heels don’t have to touch the floor in downward-facing dog. You don’t need to become a super-bendy Instagram-famous yoga practitioner. But you do need to be strong, stay focused, keep breathing, and be mobile on the track.

Yoga can help with all of those pieces, and it doesn’t have to come along with all the woo-woo bullshit, either.

Ready to get more of the benefits of yoga (and learn how to stretch for roller derby, too)?

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