This article on the Benefits of Bikram Yoga for Triathletes
was Posted on Jan 12, 2012 by Kim Landrum for DREAMBELIEVERTRI.COM
As an athlete and triathlon coach I am always on the lookout for training methods that can compliment the multisport lifestyle while also offering recovery benefits and enhancing injury prevention. Triathlon presents unique challenges in that to be well-rounded and prevent injury athletes must balance intensity with recovery, build strength along with flexibility, and possess extreme mental and physical strength across three disciplines. Many athletes limit their training to the big three (swim, bike and run) and forgo the opportunity to make gains in other areas such as strength, balance, agility, and body awareness, not realizing how greatly these aspects contribute their overall performance.
On invitation, I attended a Bikram or “hot yoga” class at the new downtown studio of Bikram Yoga in Athens, Georgia, expecting nothing more than a stretching session…but hotter. I went home to the best sleep I’ve had in weeks, and woke with the realization that Bikram yoga offers some direct benefits to triathletes that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
I should tell you that I have never been a consistent practitioner of yoga – I’ve gone through periods of regular practice but couldn’t find a style that held my interest for very long. I have always considered yoga an excellent option for active recovery, injury prevention and rehabilitation but like many triathletes felt that I didn’t have time in my schedule on top of swimming, biking, running, and strength training. What I am learning is that the benefits of regular Bikram yoga practice will enhance all aspects of my current training and result in better performance, fewer injuries and faster recovery.
Bikram Yoga is a challenging 90 minute beginning yoga class that consists of 26 postures and two breathing exercises practiced in a heated room (105 degrees to be exact). The class is designed to work 100% of your body, bring your body back in to balance, and create strength and flexibility so you can live better. It is a wonderful way to detox the body, improve cardiovascular fitness, relieve stress, boost energy, and heal previous injuries.
Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury is the founder of the worldwide Yoga College of India™. Born in Calcutta in 1946, Bikram began practicing yoga at the age of four and at the age of thirteen, won the National India Yoga Championship. He was undefeated for the following three years and retired as the undisputed All-India National Yoga Champion.
At seventeen, an injury to his knee left doctors with the prediction that he would never walk again. Unwilling to accept this fate, Bikram returned to Bishnu Ghosh’s school and within six months his knee had totally recovered.
After being sent by his guru to teach Hatha Yoga to sick people, Bikram realized that it would be impossible to help everyone individually. He later devised the 26 posture sequence to help people regardless of their disease or condition and also to work as preventative medicine. This 26 postures sequence, called Bikram’s Beginning Hatha Yoga Class has a profound healing power on your body and mind.
Heat Acclimation: Bikram Yoga is practiced in a heated room to promote cellular metabolism, detoxification, and suppleness of the muscular system, and to provide a greater level of safety when doing the poses. Yes, we live in Georgia and train in high humidity and extreme temperatures but this is different – it is an all-encompassing heat that produces more sweat that I thought possible. In fact, the sweat is so abundant it can be uncomfortable at first and one has to learn to let it be. I am still working on that. With regular practice, the body will become more efficient at regulating its core temperature which is highly beneficial to endurance athletes.
Improved Mental Strength and Focus: Like I said, it’s hot. It is so hot that it is normal to feel lightheaded and dizzy the first few classes until you become accustomed to the heat and learn to relax and trust it. There were moments during my first two classes where I had to fight the urge to leave the room but by the third class I had enough confidence in myself, the instructors and the process that I was able to relax and give in to the experience.
Having battled anxiety during open water swimming, I felt an immediate correlation between the two experiences. I knew that if I gave into the fear and panic in my mind, my body would react accordingly. By quieting my mind, pushing out the negativity and keep my breathing relaxed and controlled I was able to resist the urge to leave. I acknowledged the reality of the situation (it’s hot!) but didn’t allow my mind to wander into a state of “what ifs” – from there I was able to return to the postures. Trusting my own mental and physical strength in class gave me immediate confidence and will have direct benefits in competition.
Endurance and Lung Capacity: According to Choudhury, many of us use only half of our lung capacity. Our lungs must be stretched in order to withstand holding more oxygen which is why each session begins with a series of exercises designed to do just that. He went on to say that with regular practice we will be able to enhance oxygen conversion and absorption, as well as improve blood circulation.
Think of your Bikram yoga practice as part of your endurance training. Learning to control your breathing and pace yourself through 90 minutes and 26 postures in extreme heat will build stamina, improve your circulatory system and increase your lung capacity for better aerobic and anaerobic performance.
Body Awareness and Imbalances: I find that many endurance athletes, especially runners, lack the fundamentals of single leg strength, balance, agility, and body awareness. Injuries or chronic tightness or pain could indicate an imbalance on one side or the other – they aren’t uncommon and most of us have them. I have athletes perform single-legged exercises on a regular basis (as well as agility and balance drills) to help develop strength and awareness in the feet and lower legs, and correct any imbalances. Triathletes in particular should take steps to improve overall body awareness and increase balance and mobility since our sport requires full participation from head to toe.
The 26 postures of Bikram yoga require the same participation of body parts, in fact my hands and feet are often more fatigued than any other part of my body following a session. Learning to apply pressure evenly throughout the hand or foot has a direct application to swimming (catch and pull), cycling (even pedal strokes) and running (foot strike and biomechanics) and provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen the small muscles and joints in our extremities.