Yoga Changed A Cheerleaders Life

legoutYoga changed my life, in every way. 
Athletes competing at a high level experience all of the positive, but also the negative effects of daily training, grueling schedules, bad diets, and pounding on the body. Being a competitive cheerleader, I lived in pain for the majority of my life. Not knowing any better, I thought that was just part of the sport; injuries, back pain, broken fingers, bruised tailbones, and focusing on your outward was all part of it…just part of the game, and it consumed my life. I still loved every minute, and endured it all for the love of cheerleading. It’s amazing what you can achieve while also being so disconnected and unaware of what my body was telling me. I often think how different it would have been had I had yoga in my life at that pivotal time, but one thing I know for sure, is that I am passionate about sharing this message, and this is why.

When you compete at the top level of cheerleading, or any sport for that matter- if you are not cross training, you are more prone to injury. Plain and simple.  Yoga, especially alignment based yoga known as Anusara yoga is what changed my life, and healed my body from the years of pounding, falling, being dropped, breaking bones and tearing up my self up from the inside out. I couldn’t believe the relief I felt after when I began a yoga practice after college. With proper alignment, breath and meditation not only was my physical body healing, but so was my emotional body as well.

Cheerleading is as much as a mind sport, as it is a physical one. Exposing young cheerleaders to yoga will not only prevent them from injury, but allow them to get in touch with their inner beauty, and not have everything pend on their outward beauty which is one of the pitfalls of cheerleading. Of course you need to be fit to perform at a high level in this sport, but what many of these athletes are not taught; are the keys to keep their active bodies fueled and nourished which will result in healthy, young athletes that are integrating body, mind, and soul practices in such a competitive, outwardly focused sport.

When you take time to sit, meditate, and close your eyes, the world changes. You are no longer concerned with what you look like, orKim Yoga care about other’s opinions on what you may look like because you are spending time loving yourself, and connecting with yourself. I believe that meditation combined with yoga blossoms that deep love that we all have for ourselves; but at times, we forget. This is easy to forget when countless hours are focused on the physical appearance; especially, when competing on the floor. In addition to cheerleaders’ athletic skills, they are also judged on how they look, bottom line. Not only will yoga benefit these athletes in their beloved sport, but will also create foundational skills, and awareness to oneself that they can keep as they grow into adulthood. I believe this to be a priceless result from integrating yoga with any competitive sport, especially cheerleading.

Let’s take a look at the first part of yoga: Meditation. Incorporating meditation into a regime will not only settle the mind, but also allow the opportunity to go inside, practice deeper awareness and connection with the body, and when you are completely connected, it will increase your performanceYoga and meditation and it’s positive effects that consist of but not limited to; increased positive self esteem, less ego, and a deeper awareness of how to take care of your body vs. taking it for granted and playing through injuries.

Kim Yoga StretchCheerleading is hard work, and hard on the body. Due to the extreme flexibility that cheerleaders have, there is often, if not always, a lack of engagement in the muscles, and hyperextension. Over time, the combination of hyperextension and flexibility without alignment will injure the muscles and body.  Muscle engagement will protect your muscles as well as open them properly, and safely. When you don’t engage, you overstretch and have that feeling of a pulled muscle. Most of the time, this feeling of a pulled muscle is because you have overstretched the muscle away from the attachment. When you engage, you hug into these attachments preventing injury. Take the split for example. In cheerleading, the split is completely different from it’s twin in yoga. In cheerleading, we stretch the leg as far as you can with little respect to alignment, leaning on one side more than the other, while clenching other areas to maintain the over stretch that is occurring in the front leg. In yoga, we align the body and allow the body to open naturally while keeping the hips square, and hamstrings engaged and hugging into the bones, using the breath to help us descend inch by inch, and with each breath you let out more stress and clenching as the muscles expand and contract. Overtime when you consistently work with muscle engagement, you will heal your body, and actually increase flexibility while protecting your body.

When yoga is introduced at a young age, and with competitive athletes, there is a sense of calm, and peace with oneself as well as their peers, and the ability to connect with each other in community which is really quite priceless.

backbend_CRKimberly Daniels is a former University of Connecticut cheerleader and UCA cheer camp instructor. Kim received her first teaching certifications at The Yoga Institute with Lex Gillan and Stan Hefner, specializing in Hatha and ViniYoga as well as Children’s Yoga from the Indigo Yoga for Children program in 2003. Visit Kim Daniels Yoga on her website to find out how she can help you or your team