The roots of yoga stem back to the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.E. in ancient India, where Brahmans practiced it as an exercise to seek enlightenment. Through time, this image of yoga has radically changed as it reached further audiences and cultures. No longer just an activity confined to spiritual devotees of the practice, professional sports teams and national teams have engaged in yoga as part of training in recent years to improve performance. Many NESCAC schools, following this trend, have also created programs for their students. During Winter Study 2014, this yoga movement hit a new degree of relevance in the Purple Valley with the College starting its own yoga program specifically for athletes.
Currently, “Yoga for Athletes” is a drop-in class taught by certified yoga instructor Mary Edgerton. Running twice a week in upper Goodrich, the program mostly features off-season athletes, currently ranging from golfers to ice hockey players, seeking an alternate way to maintain fitness or prepare for their season. Not only that, many teams have sought Edgerton to prepare individualized yoga regiments that coaches and captains can integrate into their training beyond the off-season classes. For many athletes, yoga has shown benefits, including injury prevention and decreased tightness. Edgerton notes how yoga helps target mindfulness in students, making them more aware of their breathing and it’s strongly linked to performance in sport. “[The classes] are more focused on bringing athletes deeper into their stretches” than normal sessions, Edgerton said, which are more focused on strength and spirituality. Edgerton maintains that the classes still touch upon all aspects of well-being in a holistic approach through asanas, ancient poses that integrate the five components of yoga: strength, flexibility, range of motion, focus and balance.
Even for athletes, yoga is not particularly easy. The kinds of motions that are required are of a different category than those for competitive sports. Though athletes are often better at holding the harder poses for longer periods of time because of their strength, focus and balance, they often have difficulty stretching and parting from a competitive mindset. Many athletes struggle to focus on concentrating on mindfulness and how the motions affect them personally instead of focusing on performance. Edgerton also says that for many athletes, tightness is necessary for stability and rebound, making it “a badge for their athleticism.” However, muscles can also become too tight and become prone to injury and inhibit range of motion. Especially tight regions are usually hips and psoas muscles. To help students stretch out these regions, Edgerton creates workouts that employ the six motions of the spine, four motions of the hip and two motions of the core. Even within the same teams, athletes often have different needs in terms of flexibility, strength and balance due to the different positions they play. Edgerton warmly recalls instructing the football team in yoga, noting that the offensive and defensive players had varying abilities in balance and range of motion. Athletes also often use one side of their body more than the other, creating disparities in balance and strength. Edgerton uses the multifaceted, holistic asanas to work with the students in balancing their strength and eliminating the disparity between the different sides of the body. The class is held later in the day so that people can come after practice, as the exercise yields optimal results after muscles have been warmed up.
“Yoga for Athletes” meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and is among a host of yoga offerings at the College, including beginning and advanced yoga P.E. classes, wellness classes for staff and faculty and sessions with Yogephs, a student run club on campus.