There is a misconception among many athletes that yoga is only for those individuals who are already incredibly flexible and that there would be no benefit to their training if they were to include yoga as part of their routine. This misunderstanding needs to be set straight. The truth is actually the opposite. Yoga provides many benefits to athletes of all types from football players to golfers to swimmers there is a benefit for all. Here are six reasons that all athletes should practice yoga:
1. Flexibility – Though it is not required to practice yoga, by practicing yoga the athlete will improve their flexibility immensely. Yoga is actually better for those who are inflexible and strength-training likely better for those who are incredibly flexible so that each party can focus on their weakness and become more balanced in their body. Opening up hamstrings which are often tight in runners, lengthening quadriceps which tend to be tight in cyclists and improving flexibility in shoulder muscles for athletes like swimmers and quarterbacks are all benefits of a yoga practice. By holding and breathing into postures the athlete will lengthen the muscles and reduce the risk of injury while playing their sport.
2. Mobility – Gentle stretching using little to no muscle contraction, often referred to as yin or restorative yoga, will help with joint mobility. By slowly moving joints through the entire range of motion and slowly pushing the edge athletes will find increased mobility as fascia within the joints loosens up. Inflammation of the joints will also be reduced as synovial fluid is moved, circulation to the area is improved and the joint is lubricated on a regular basis.
3. Alignment – By improving flexibility and mobility of the joints the athlete is able to keep proper alignment reducing chances of injury. Alignment is necessary to optimally produce and reduce force which in turn minimizes the risk of injury. Well-trained yoga instructors will be able to determine muscle imbalances and tightness that result in poor alignment and can assign proper postures to improve the problem areas and restore proper alignment.
4. Preventing Injury – Not only is alignment important to prevent injury but having a strong core and balanced strength throughout the body is a necessity to be a top notch competitor. All types of yoga have a strong focus on building core strength and balance. Practicing restorative types of yoga, such as yin yoga, will help to balance out the high intensity of training and give the body what it is not getting when practicing for your specific sport. This will help to prevent overuse and increase one’s longevity.
5. Releasing Stress – Many athletes are always on the go. Whether they are training, working, eating or sleeping there is always something on the agenda that needs to come next. Often high strung from the adrenaline rush that comes from playing a competitive sport these individuals do not have the time to just relax the body and calm the mind. Yoga gives them this ability. By focusing on a calming breath and getting the mind in the present moment these athletes get time to mentally and physically relax and release stress.
6. Focusing the Mind – When practicing yoga the instructor often encourages students to set an intention for the next 60 minutes or 90 minutes that they are in class. It may be as simple as “remember to breathe” or “acknowledge what your body needs today” or some other type of focus of the mind for the duration of the class. By regularly practicing this focus athletes are better able to focus when they are in a game time scenario. Whether they are focusing on the tee during their golf game, focusing on making the free throws as the crowd goes wild, or focusing on making the penalty shot in the soccer match to win the game, yoga helps them to get their mind in the right place and close everything else out when they need to do that the most!
It is important to note that if you are an athlete going into yoga for the first time there are precautionary measures to take so you do not injure yourself in the yoga practice. Most athletes are competitive and the yoga studio is not a place for competition. Instead of competing with the person on the mat next to you turn inside and assess your own alignment and body needs. In addition, your yoga practice should balance out your training routine. During times of peak training go for restorative or yin yoga practices that will be more gentle on the body and during the off-season check out a more strength-building power or vinyasa class!
For more information on yoga types or classes or what type of yoga is best for you in your specific sport shoot me a comment!