Fitness Magazine

Yoga for Agility: An Overview

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Yoga for Agility: An Overview

Tennis Game by the Sea by Max Lieberman

As the weather warms—even in the Bay Area—I see more and more people out and about, running, biking, playing softball, basketball, and soccer. All of these activities require a bit of “agility” to perform effectively and safely. What exactly do I mean by agility? A standard dictionary definition is “The state or quality of being agile; nimbleness.” In the world of sports medicine, the definition goes a bit further: agility is the ability to maintain or control body position while quickly changing direction during a series of movements. 
From my vantage point, agility requires all three of our other YFHA physical skills—flexibility, strength and balance—plus the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance. The two qualities we have not discussed previously are coordination (a complex interaction between our senses, our mind, and our body) and speed, which is not always needed or encouraged in many modern yoga styles. But as one study below illustrates, our yoga practice as it is may still improve agility, even if poses are done statically.
How does agility relate to our everyday lives? Most of us need to be agile enough to move up and down stairs quickly, traverse a messy room of toys and clothes in a child’s room without tripping and falling, or deftly moving the lawnmower around the yard. And on occasion, we might need to move nimbly through the crowded streets of New York City, as Nina likely is doing on her recent visit there, or through the crowded field of blankets and lawn chairs and seated people at a big music festival as I will need to do this weekend. And these requirements of daily living don’t really change much as we age, even though we may! And for those who still participate in certain sports, like tennis, basketball, soccer, and such, agility will improve your chances of success if winning is a priority!
How does aging affect agility? There are many general changes of aging, many of which we have written about previously at YFHA, that will negatively affect impact agility: 

  • sarcopenia, where you lose muscle mass and muscle fibers, which will negatively impact slow and fast twitch muscle fibers by influencing the speed and explosiveness of your muscle contractions (turns out we lose more fast-twitch fibers, the ones needed for explosive speed and power)
  • gradual changes to our connective tissue that leads to some background stiffness that will also affect our agility negatively
  • changes in vision, such as loss of vision, development of cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, can have a negative impact on agility
  • changes to hearing also could affect reaction times that are required for quick, graceful changes in movement
  • general slowing of reaction times of the nerves traveling back and forth between you brain and body
And when agility worsens, it leads back to one of main concerns as we age: our risk of falling. Agility, referring to the ability to move freely and swiftly, turns out to be closely linked to reduction of falls in older adults. One major way to reduce falls is to improve “obstacle avoidance” by deftly and safely avoiding objects in your way by side-stepping or stepping over objects that you could trip over. A number of independent factors predict falls in older adults including age (>65 years), arthritis, impairment in activities of daily living, depression, diabetes, and hypertension to name a few. Other significant factors, some of which I alluded to above, such as decreased processing of visual stimuli, limitations to cognitive processing, and slow reaction time also contribute to falling incidents, and are often part of the aging process. One particular study Vision and agility training in community dwelling older adults: Incorporating visual training into programs for fall prevention that looked at the effects of visual and agility training on the elderly (not using yoga) can provide those interested with more info along these lines. 
What advantages does specific training in agility confer on a person? A research study 
The influence of agility training on physiological and cognitive performance. done on military recruits that used agility training (AT) vs. standard physical training (PT), found that AT had advantages beyond just improving agility:
“Further, it is potentially more effective than PT in enhancing specific measures of physical and cognitive performance, such as physical agility, memory, and vigilance.” 
Yoga practitioners often anecdotally report many of the same findings as well.
As for research looking at Hatha Yoga and agility, at least one study specifically looked at yoga’s effect on agility. The 2009 study conducted in India 
Study of Hatha Yoga on Agility & Flexibility Level of Human Body by Selected Asanas.looked at the effect of a series of static yoga poses on flexibility and agility and found the study protocol lead to significant improvements in overall agility and flexibility. The poses included: 
  1. Svastikasana 
  2. Mayurasana 
  3. Matsyendrasana 
  4. Paschimottanasana
  5. Gomukasana 
Yoga practices specifically improve strength, flexibility, balance both static and dynamic, endurance as it relates to strength, and coordination of movements, when practiced regularly. When we use our body mass and hold our limbs up against the resistance of gravity, such as with the back leg in Warrior 3 (Virbradrasana 3), we build our remaining fast-twitch fibers up in those muscles to maintain our overall strength and muscle speed. Many vinyasa styles of yoga involve fairly brisk changes in body position between many yoga poses, which helps maintain coordination and speed. Even when doing static poses, the precision required to step the feet, for example, into an exact position to enter and exit the pose will engage hearing, vision, and accurate placement of body parts, all or which can improve agility and coordination. And the yoga study shown above involved several static poses that improved agility without any direct attention to speed, which is quite interesting. And although yoga does not have the same method of visual training that was used in the above study of older adults (they used the Wii games), there is a specific emphasis in yoga brought to improving our attention to seeing and adjusting body alignment using our vision. And in many yoga traditions, they teach specific eye exercises that would theoretically strengthen the muscles around the eyes and could improve overall visual performance and its effects on agility. So, our modern yoga tools are well suited to maintaining and improving agility as we age.
Tennis anyone?

Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :