With yoga reaching huge levels of popularity it seems everyone you meet is either a yoga teacher or training to become one! But in a world dominated by picture-perfect Instagram poses by Rock-star yogi’s in colorful leggings is there a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd?
The Institute of Yoga Sports Science® (YSS), is now a recognized world-wide leader in the twin fields of athletic performance enhancement and cutting-edge yoga education. The Yoga Sports Science MethodⓇ has blended an evidence-based and scientific approach to movement and the ancient wisdom of yoga to create the Yoga Sports Science MethodⓇ for athletes and the Yoga Sports Coach™ Course to train professionals. But how did we get here? Our faculty member Dr Abby Hoffmann investigates.
2001: Hayley Winter teaching relaxation techniques to players at Ipswich Town FC.
In the beginning
As our last blog, YSS: A Recognized Yoga Centre with the British Wheel of Yoga explained, the journey towards becoming a recognized centre of excellence with one of the most renowned yoga organizations started with a single step. By answering the call to become a teacher, YSS founder Hayley began her process of enquiry into the potential that yoga holds for human development. As she realized and experienced so many of the benefits yoga could bring physically, mentally and emotionally to those who practiced, she also started to wonder what these benefits would mean for those working in the professional sports arena. Hayley’s connections brought her into contact with many opportunities to put yoga to the test in a sporting environment.
She has worked with UK Football clubs Southampton and Ipswich to name but two. Ruby Union legend Sir Clive Woodward brought Hayley in as a consultant Yoga Sports Scientist to work with the Southampton FC players including Gareth Bale. She has also worked with top-level cricketers including England Captain Alastair Cook. Her fascination with the human body and it’s workings led her to study for a Biomechanics MsC at Roehampton University, in London and it was at this point she began to see the value that yoga could add to a sport-specific training regime.
Background to the science of yoga
Yoga works. Whether you’re a teacher, or a newbie practicing for the first time there’s that lightbulb moment when you realize that perhaps you are sleeping better, performing better at work, or feel less anxious or depressed. And now, more than perhaps ever before Yoga’s popularity has reached record heights. Throughout yoga’s 5000 year history, it could be argued that the early years practitioners and teachers were the originators of a scientific approach which aimed to provide a functional practice or system enhancing both human performance and human experience. Pattabhi Jois, the originator of Ashtanga yoga and BKS Iyengar his contemporary, were encouraged by their teacher Krishnamacharya to practice and study Hatha Yoga and observe the emerging patterns. These emerging patterns became the main systems widely practiced around the world today. Yoga in the 21st Century has developed and evolved away from the mystical and secret and is now established firmly in the mainstream. This continuing evolution sees it moving into the world of sport where the demand for greater performance excellence is unrelenting, requiring athletes to achieve the all important marginal gain.
Heavy on lycra, light on quantifying results?
It could be argued that the development of these forms, along with many other forms and practices are proof of yoga’s effectiveness in so many areas. However, sport demands stats and evidence and while yoga studies are increasingly becoming better designed and more geared toward measuring physical outcomes, there still exists this myth that yoga is heavy on lycra but light on quantifying results. However, it seems that yoga performs better under the microscope as study designs improve as this recent study into Bikram Yoga and Core Temperature shows. And as this review shows, more and more interventions are proving the efficacy of yoga in many areas.
Sport is now big business
Sports science as a discipline is relatively young, during the Cold War when the sporting rivalry between the former Soviet Union and America was at its height, the training tactics of both nations took the fitness regimes of their athletes to a totally new level. In today’s equally competitive climate sport is now big business with big money behind it. The pursuit of performance excellence continues and so does the proof of the efficacy of new training methods that may seek to improve an athlete's performance or prevent injury. The future of sport will continue to demand more of the athlete and as advancements are made in technology the future athletes will need to go further, faster, stronger and for longer. This means the potential for injury and stress will increase and so coaches and bosses will be looking increasingly toward practices like yoga and specialists who are able to deliver sport-specific interventions.
2013: H. Winter delivering a YSS session to the women's soccer team at the University of New Mexico.
Benefits of yoga in sport
Working with athletes is an art as well as a science. The art is the ability to laser in on what that particular individual needs and appreciate their motivation, attitudes and beliefs. The science is to understand their movement, sport-specific demands and the context of the environment within which they are working and performing. Yoga adds value in some particularly key areas which include: improved efficiency of movement, greater body control at both high and low speed, improved VO2 max, stability, focus concentration or performance nerves. Yoga also helps to prevent injury by introducing sport-specific yoga warm up and cool down techniques as well as a regular and varied yoga program throughout the athletes periodized training schedule. Our extensive Research Index demonstrates the efficacy of sports-specific yoga and its place within athletic training.
How yoga and science can give you the edge
Your professional advantage is always linked to your passion, and as YSS graduate and keen cyclist Benjamin Du Bernard found when undertaking the YSS training in 2016, the sport/yoga connection was just the beginning of a transformational journey! There have never been as many capable and experienced yoga teachers out there. In 5 years there will be even more. It's becoming harder and harder to stand out but, by adding knowledge of evidence-based yoga, biomechanics, and by being able to deliver yoga to a highly specialized group as well as to the general population you can add credibility and versatility to your skill-set.
The Yoga Sports Science Method® blends the ancient practice of yoga with modern sport science practices, adding value to the quality of training to help improve athletic performance and prevent injury. Just as yoga was traditionally taught 1-1 our approach is to address the individual's needs first, then address their sport-specific demands and finally integrate the appropriate sport-specific yoga techniques into the athletes training. If you are a personal trainer, physiotherapist or strength and conditioning coach you might also feel that the fitness industry is overcrowded this is where YSS can help - bridging the gap between the two worlds.
The future for YSS
Since 2009 we have amassed a huge body of research and data collected by students as they undertake their Case Study research. Our goal now is to make this research more widely available and over the coming year we are exploring working with partners to make this possible. We are being approached by Universities to consider integrating a YSS module into exercise and sports science curriculums and YSS graduates are finding their way into environments such as Premier league football and other elite environments.