Secrets from the training room: Is yoga right for you?

Yoga can help build core strength, increase flexibility and improve your ability to focus. Firdia Lisnawati/AP

With all of the quick-fix promises in the world of sports, it can be overwhelming determining which ones are legit and which are not worth your time. So we’re ducking into the training room each week to get the scoop straight from the experts’ mouths--the coaches, trainers, and professionals who make telling the real from the completely bogus their everyday jobs.

Up this week? Yoga.

What It Is: A combination of spiritual, mental and physical disciplines, yoga started in ancient India as a way to obtain enlightenment but has since infiltrated the American culture, creating a fiercely loyal community and spawning consumer brands, individual studios and countless variations of the original practice.

How It Works: Stretching, breathing, meditation and balance are all integral parts of yoga, but the emphasis varies depending on the type of class. Derived from the Sanskrit word “union,” the common goal among all types is a unity between mind, body and spirit, and if that turns off the weight-lifters and cardio addicts in the room, it should be noted that a stronger core, elongated posture, increased flexibility and an enhanced ability to focus are among the key benefits.

When To Do It: Pretty much any time you want, although many followers like to begin their day with yoga-based stretches and meditation.

Who Does It: A widely varying crowd made up of everyone from high school kids to retired dads, from celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston to athletes like LeBron James, and countless women of all ages and backgrounds. Originally more common among the female set, with the onset of classes and studios making all types of yoga widely available across the states, today anyone can reap the benefits.

Does It Work? Similar to any physical activity, one should consult with a doctor on the right approach, but the majority response is a resounding yes.

While many girls don’t begin practicing until college, “it would vastly benefit them in high school,” says yoga instructor Megan Dawson, who is based in Chicago. “Yoga can not only help mitigate some of the physical stress of sports, but mentally give women the tools to thrive and keep a healthy perspective amidst all the chaos that accompanies a day in your teens.”

Katie Christensen, a sophomore cross country runner at Waunakee (Wis.) thinks of yoga “to stay relaxed, and to help increase flexibility and skill set.” As a cross-country runner and a member of the school’s dance team, she’s even considering taking classes during her offseasons.

And she should, according to Julia Wipf, Doctor of Physical Therapy at AthletiCo in Oak Park, Ill., because track and cross country runners are among the athletes that stand the most to gain from yoga. With a sport that “requires repetitive use of the same muscles, like running, it’s necessary to allow those muscles a chance to relax, and yoga provides that,” she says. Plus, many running injuries are “due to lack of sufficient core strength and stability. Yoga focuses on improving both middle-body strength and flexibility in a way that one cannot get from running alone.”

But don’t be fooled by thinking it’s simply an hour of stretching.

“I wish I could have embraced it in high school,” Dawson says, “instead of naively dismissing it as stretching. It would have helped me identify what truly matters as well as helping me excel at my sport.”