In recognition of April as National Youth Sports Safety Month, MomsTeam is again asking our friends in the health, fitness, nutrition and athletic training communities to write blogs answering two questions: first, how or why did they get into their field, and second, how have they made a difference in the life of a youth athlete in the past year.
Today, we hear from certified yoga instructor, Deb Bowen.
When my son was playing sports (football, basketball, and lacrosse), the kinds of injuries I feared he might suffer included concussion, an ACL tear, broken bones and on-field trauma.
It turned out that I was afraid of the wrong things. He was playing sports year-round and I had no idea that every time he went to practice or a game, an injury was slowly sneaking up on him. When intermittent pain became consistent, it came in the form of dying bone in his knee. His injury, Osteochondritis Dessicans, took months to develop, was initially misdiagnosed and then resulted in 6 months of rest, crutches and a brace.
His physician was very knowledgeable about how to treat him and the mechanics of how the condition developed, but could not offer an injury prevention strategy other than to stop playing sports. An assessment from a PT during his rehab indicated that he had extremely tight hips and hamstrings . This was my "aha" moment, as such tightness impacts mobility and range of motion  and can create an imbalance on one side of the body. An imbalance, coupled with repetitive motion, creates the perfect environment for an overuse injury to develop.
As a yogi who had already experienced the power of yoga in my own body, I was inspired to become a certified yoga teacher. As a mom who wanted to help her son, I was inspired to learn how to bring the physical and mental benefits of yoga to athletes.
The more time I spend with young athletes, the more I see that the benefits go well beyond increased flexibility. Yoga also provides them with breathing techniques to manage game day stress and anxiety, an opportunity to develop the body awareness to identify and fix imbalances and a very tangible way to find rest and recovery for their muscles and their minds. Plus, they really love the final pose, the complete stillness of savasana, and who can't use more of that in their life?
As a yoga teacher, I hope I make a difference in many small but impactful ways. Recently, a student had his own "aha" moment in the symmetrical Child's Pose when he realized that his left side felt "different" and "tighter" than his right. He is learning to hold asymmetrical poses longer on his left side until he feels more balanced. I don't know when else he would have had an opportunity to make this important discovery if he hadn't taken the time to come to his mat and pay attention to what his body was telling him.
If he wasn't listening to this subtle but important information, the first warning would have come in the form of pain. By then it is too late and the focus shifts from prevention to treatment. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has said, "I believe that yoga is one of the reasons that I was able to play as long and as healthy as I did. Yoga is somewhat hard to quantify in terms of benefits because you see them in all the injuries you don't get."
I'm gratified every time one of my students comes back to their mat. They tell me that their bodies feel better when they do yoga, that it is one of the few times in their week that they don't feel anxious, or that they used one of the breathing techniques to find some energy or to calm themselves down.
Teaching yoga to teen athletes doesn't come with a scoreboard to measure the result, but my students make every class feel like a huge win.
Deb Bowen, a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher (RYT 200), is also certified in teaching Yoga for Athletes by author, yoga teacher and coach, Sage Rountree. Deb's passion for yoga's role in supporting athletes' goals and preventing injury is inspired by the athletes in her home which range from multi-sport kids to aging adults. She lives, practices and teaches in Cohasset, MA and wherever athletes and teams want to down dog. More information can be found at www.debbowenyoga.com . You can "like" her on Facebook Deb Bowen Yoga  and follow Deb on Twitter @debvbowen