On your om
Leslie Goldman demystifies and debunks weird and wonderful trends in health and fitness.
During the NBA lockout, Jason Kidd has been assuming a very specific position. Nope, not lounging on the couch, channel surfing and watching reality TV shows. And no, he's definitely not crouched over the phone, biting his nails anxiously waiting for his agent to call. His lockout position of choice: Downward dog.
The Dallas Maverick is reportedly using his time to get grounded, relying on yoga and golf. He's not alone: Hope Solo, Venus Williams, Danica Patrick and Annika Sorenstam are all outspoken yoga aficionados, no doubt drawn to the workout's ability to enhance flexibility, build muscular strength and foster a sense of calm focus.
But is yoga enough to keep a top athlete -- or even an amateur one -- in shape? Personally, I've been guilty of uttering, "I work out five days a week, plus yoga on Sundays," as if yoga -- even my 90-minute, quad-shaking power class -- isn't "real" exercise.
Yoga guru Baron Baptiste has worked with female Olympic skiers, runners and gymnasts, as well as countless Ironman and marathon competitors. He says these athletes tend to run into trouble due to the one-dimensionality one their chosen sports, upping their risk of injury. (Runners are prone to tight hamstrings; swimmers struggle with aching shoulders; basketball players have a tendency toward unilateral imbalance.)
"Yoga is multi-dimensional," Baptiste said. "It puts your body through movements on different planes, at different angles, increasing flexibility, functional strength and range of motion." During the offseason, then, yoga can help even out imbalances while building or maintaining strength and endurance.
And if your body has forced you into an injury lockout, yoga is a smart way to pass the time. In the late '80s, Baptiste used hot yoga to help rehabilitate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "After six months of doing yoga six days a week, he unlocked muscles in his pelvis, hamstrings, back and shoulders and was able to start playing again for seven more years." Iyengar yoga, which is less athletic than hot yoga but focuses more on alignment, is especially beneficial for rehab and injury prevention.
The downside? While yoga can be cardiovascular, it might not bring your heart rate up enough to count as a cardio workout. That's not a problem if you're an athlete in the offseason and prefer resting a bit, but if cardiovascular endurance is a priority, you'd need to complement your yoga practice with running, cycling or some other heart-pumping activity.
Shoot or pass? Bend it like Kidd.