Yoga is really starting make its mark in the world of sports. Maybe you’ve even noticed that there is a growing number of professional teams, athletes, and coaches that recognize yoga as a fundamental part of their training.
Using yoga as a supplement to your sports specific training boosts athletic performance on so many levels. Essentially, it improves the overall physical and mental state of your body, allowing you to get even more from your training. Sport-specific training, and participation in your sport, consistently develop certain areas, while other areas remain underdeveloped. By using yoga to address these imbalances and restore balance, you give yourself the opportunity to move better, generate more power, and prevent overuse injuries.
Don’t dismiss and shy away when you hear the word ‘yoga’ and relate it to the requirement of flexibility. If you’re a good athlete, your body should be tight in the right areas. That tightness is a result of your training and is what helps you generate the right amount of power and strength.
Yoga isn’t only ‘yoga’ if you can contort yourself into some magnificent expression of a pose, in fact, as an athlete, going too deep into a pose can be counter productive.
So, regardless if you can touch your toes or not, the benefits of yoga for athletes still exist. As you will see below, the benefits are vast, and hopefully they bring a greater understanding of why yoga is quickly becoming an integral part of the sports world.
The repetitive movements involved in performing a sport concentrates tension in specific areas of your body, which reduces your range of motion and your ability to move and perform with the greatest efficiency. Yoga can help to reduce the impact of that repetition by focusing on those overused muscles and releasing excessive tension. Maintaining flexibility in areas that are prone to holding tension improves ease of movement, meaning you can maneuver your body in ways that are most effective for generating strength and power.
Sport-specific repetitive movements also have the consequence of continuing to strengthen certain muscles while others remain underdeveloped. This creates muscular imbalances, which in time can be a precursor for aches and pains, poor range of motion, and even injury. So, while your sport can indeed make you strong, it develops strength only in areas that are required by your particular sport. On the other hand, a yoga practice that is tailored for your sport and addresses your undeveloped muscles, can restore balance back in your body by promoting full body strength.
Yoga asanas are poses that help bring your attention to, and achieve, proper alignment. This helps improve performance by promoting efficiency of movement and thus the ability to generate more power. The combination of strength, flexibility, and proper body mechanics allows your body to move, recruit muscles, and transmit force in the most efficient way.
A well paced yoga practice must be approached in the same way as any endurance sport; with a focus on breath and the ability to properly pace yourself. Breathing and maneuvering your body around into several different poses that demand balance and strength improves your body’s respiratory capacity, improves your circulation, and teaches you how to conserve energy by becoming more efficient with your movements. Overall, this will help you pace yourself appropriately for the long haul.
Incorporating balancing poses in yoga helps to strengthen the many stabilizing muscles that serve to protect your body. Improving your overall balance can also bring confidence to your movements, reduce falls, improve recovery from stumbles, prevent injuries and develop greater control of the way you move your body.
Injury prevention not only allows you to keep performing your sport now, but it also extends the amount of time that you’re able to enjoy it, and participate in it, in the future. The strength, flexibility, and improved body mechanics that you gain from a consistent yoga practice help maintain a healthy body, including healthy joints, which are common injury sites from repetitive sports movements. Nothing derails performance like an injury can. So, doing what you can to stay injury free puts you in a place where you can continue to keep progressing in your sport without any unnecessary diversions.
Having a strong, focused and resilient mind is invaluable to an athlete, and can make the difference between success and failure. With athletes constantly training to push their physical limits to the max, it’s often the one with greatest mental strength that perseveres. Learning to stay focused and composed as you step outside your comfort zone is a valuable skill as an athlete, especially when the pressure and stakes are high. New poses, uncomfortable sensations, and resolving to be still are all aspects of a yoga practice that help build mental toughness and sets you up to excel when faced with a challenge.
As an athlete it can be easy to focus all your efforts on ‘doing’ and ‘pushing’ to reach that new level of peak performance, and therefore struggle to allow time for rest and recovery. Even though you likely understand the benefits and importance of recovery, taking time to rest and be still can be almost unbearable for those who just always want to be on the go. Yoga is an excellent tool for both passive and active recovery. It can relieve physical and mental stress, gently release tension, and give your body and enjoyable break from the demands of your sport. Sports require an enormous amount of repetitive contractions, which makes a slow-paced or restorative practice a great way to restore balance by countering all that contraction with expansion. In addition, a consistent yoga practice can improve your circulation and lymphatic flow, which means that it can speed up the time it takes for your body heal and recover from your last training session.
Athletes know how important it is to be completely in tune with their body. It’s important for you to know when it’s time to pick up the pace, slow down, rest, or even take a step back when something’s not feeling right. Since a big part of yoga is learning how to stay present throughout your practice, a consistent practice can improve your understanding of your body. With a heightened awareness of your body you’ll begin to pick up on it’s cues and learn how to move with more efficiency. This can help you determine the appropriate level of effort you need to execute a particular move; preventing you from overusing or underusing energy, as well as steer you away from injury.
Control of breath. Control of movement. Control of mind. Yoga helps with essentially every aspect of control. Control of your breath, and pairing it correctly with your movements, improves your efficiency, oxygen intake, oxygen output, muscle function, and reduces muscle fatigue. Control of movement results from improved mind-body connection. Yoga strengthens your neural pathways, allowing you to better connect your brain to your muscles. Control of mind is developed from yoga’s objective to stay present and focused, while proper breathing patterns help keep your mind at ease.
The demands of performing a sport, regardless if for pleasure or competition, is stressful on your body. Your body is working hard to help get you to that peak performance level. Sport demands a lot from your heart, muscles, bones, joints, mind, and more, and just like your phone needs a restart every once in awhile, so does your body. A yoga practice can be used to balance that stress with some well needed relaxation. Not to mention the anxiety and pressure that comes along with competition sports! Yoga can help you better manage your response to stressful situations and flush those stress hormones from your body.
Sports are both physically and mentally demanding. A dynamic yoga practice can be structured to stimulate the nervous system and provide you with a boost of energy, or a slower paced practice can provide a well needed break for your mind so you can return to your sport feeling refreshed, invigorated and motivated.
One thing that makes yoga more that just stretching is the emphasized focus on breath, and intentionally pairing your movements with breath. This breath-movement connection helps strengthen your body awareness, and as a result, how you move your body, by keeping you present and in the moment. Your breath is always occurring in the present, so by focusing on your breath as you move, you give yourself the opportunity to stay present throughout the movement. This allows you to be more mindful and intentional of muscle recruitment, body positioning, alignment and establish better breathing patterns.