From ball game to boardroom, yoga can improve your performance

Young people are doing yoga not only as cross-training for their sport, but also to psychologically cope with the pressures of modern living.

At Beyond Yoga studio, the practitioners are one in saying that the regular practice enables them to develop self-discernment. They realise that yoga isn't just physical development, but its real purpose is mastery of the spirit and the body.

Yoga instructor Rhiannon Halley took up yoga for weight loss and to improve muscle tone. She started yoga at age 17, hoping to sweat off the excess poundage. However, she wasn't losing weight.

She shifted her focus from exercise to yoga's holistic approach. The exercises became metaphors for discipline and flowing in life. When she became more aware of her nature through the meditation, she got better results. Aside from losing 20 lbs in three years, she has adapted a healthy lifestyle, such as eating more raw foods.

"Before, I would take a class and count the calories burned. Because of meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises), I've learned to slow down. I don't eat impulsively. I wouldn't do something that is not beneficial for me."

Meditation has given her mental clarity. "The cumulative effect is that I make better decisions," says Halley.

She is a certified yoga instructor who took a 200-hour programme at the Marianne Wells Yoga School in Costa Rica. She teaches Dynamic Hatha Yoga at Beyond Yoga.

"We keep basic yoga poses in the primary series, such as the Warrior poses. There are not too many inversions and not too many fancy arm balances. The most challenging would be headstands and handstands for the stronger students. I like to build up to a pose. I do Warrior and build up to the Triangle and other standing series."

Halley's classes offer exercises to open the hips. "In the city, people tend to be tight around the hips from sitting a lot and running. It is hard to progress in yoga if you are tight. As you progress, you work on hip openers and the lotus. If you do hip openers at the start of the day, the back is straighter and you have more energy," she says. "My practice is alignment-based. I like to be precise when I go into a pose to prevent injuries."

Building strength

Athletes observe improved flexibility after months of practice. Basketball player Kirk Long says yoga works out the muscles that aren't used as much in his sport. "It gives me mobility in my ankles, loosens my hamstrings and eases pains in my knees. My muscles have more endurance in practice. It takes me less time to warm up and to feel comfortable because it already feels loose from doing yoga."

Long adds that he is able to apply the coordinated breathing when he stretches before and after basketball.

Cristina Garcia, who coaches football in Brent Middle School, gets her muscles oiled by stretching a muscle group five minutes at a time.

"As you get older, your recovery period is not as quick compared to when you were younger. Yoga helps you recover quicker. Stretching is what we take for granted. Yoga makes you stretch every part of your body fully. Because the muscles are warmed up, it's easier to get up from a fall."

Garcia points out that yoga cultivates self-awareness. "As a coach, I get stressed out by players and certain situations. Taking time out to breathe properly gives you sense of calmness. Then can you think clearly."

Actor, surfer and mixed martial artist Gerardo "Gerry" Sison initially learned yoga in Thailand to improve his mixed-martial arts technique. "My leg kicks got higher and higher-way above my head," he says. "A flexible muscle is a strong muscle. Yoga improved my strength and widened my range of movement. My strength increased dramatically. I could the challenging poses."

Sison observes that yoga has kept his ego in check. "In martial arts, you can easily get into fight mode. Yoga keeps you peaceful with the meditation and the breathing exercises. Throughout the day my energy is at the buzz level."

The sportsman cites how yoga has enabled 41-year-old American surfer Kelly Slater to surpass other surfing legends. "Surfing is about flexibility and power. There's a lot of wild movements. Slater is an 11-time ASP World Champion. He is an example of how, if you take good care of your body, there is no age limit to sports."

Attitude change

Nursing a shoulder injury, Maria Kristina Suarez, marketing manager of The Net Group, practices yin yoga, the gentlest of the classes offered at Beyond Yoga. "The poses are held longer and are good for the myofascia (tissues connecting the muscles and bones) and the internal organs," she says.

Having studied yoga for 14 years, Suarez says yoga is practiced off the mat, as well. "You're not just yanking your limbs around. Yoga goes beyond the physical. It balances the mind, the intellect and the spirit. If you've had a crazy day, do yoga so it brings you back to your centre."

Noelle Hilario juggles her time as a mother, art director for an ad agency, and co-founder of Flow Surf Yoga Samba, which holds weekend retreats on healthy lifestyles.

"The more I do yoga, the more patient I become. I learn to let go, and not sweat the small stuff," she says. The yoga poses which require lifting the body weight, such as chaturanga (the equivalent of a push-up), have strengthened her upper body. "Surfing requires paddling to catch a wave and a strong core to balance."

When Cristalle Belo Henares, managing director of Sexy Solutions, was dating Azkals player Jason Sabio, she recommended yoga. The poses lengthened the muscles that were normally foreshortened by football and weight training.

Likewise, she keeps a variety of workouts to prevent boredom. But yoga has an edge because it helps her think less. "As a business person, you're always thinking about work even in downtime. There is benefit in quieting your mind which comes from meditation."

Henares adds that one may be sitting in one place, but the mind is wandering elsewhere. She says listening to the gentle voice of the yoga teacher trains her mind to focus. "There is 'presenteeism' instead of absenteeism. At work, you are more efficient because your stress levels are down. You can unleash your creative spirit."

Since Sexy Solutions is in the same building as Beyond Yoga at Bonifacio High Street Central, Henares recommends that clients try out the classes. More than nutrition and machines (for muscle tone), yoga raises awareness that there's more to life than decreasing waist size.

"I advocate lifestyle change," says Henares.

Beyond Yoga is at Unit 316, C2 Bldg., Bonifacio High Street Central, Taguig; tel. 5533799; mobile 0917-6BYYOGA (6299642); e-mail