Yoga is an appropriate practice for many athletes, providing physical exercise, breath control and flexibility, as well as mental focus. Yoga helps athletes gain knowledge about the mind and body connection, improving body awareness and enhancing mental clarity.
Every Athlete– irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice, if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.
Here are only five of the many benefits Our young athletes can gain from a regular yoga practice:
1. Improved Strength
Some styles of yoga, such as ashtanga and power yoga, are very physical. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles of yoga, such as Iyengar or Hatha, can provide strength and endurance benefits. Many of the poses, such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. Poses that strengthen the lower back include upward dog and the chair pose. When done right, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles
Why is this important? Better balance and coordination means enhanced control over how we move our body, which in turn leads to better technique and form -- the brass ring every athlete spends a career refining, whether your focus is a swim stroke, baseball swing, running stride, jump shot or wrestling move. Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. People with bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor proprioception, which has been linked to knee problems and many other injuries.
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture.Enhanced joint and muscle pliancy translates to greater range of motion, or an increase in the performance latitude for a particular movement or series of movements.
4.Supports Your Connective Tissue
As you read all the ways yoga improves your health, you probably noticed a lot of overlap. That’s because they’re intensely interwoven. Change your posture and you change the way you breathe. Change your breathing and you change your nervous system. This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—your hipbone to your anklebone, you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding yoga.
5. Mental Control
The physical benefits of yoga for the athlete are huge. But they’re nothing in comparison to the more ephemeral benefits. Most people, particularly athletes, tend to think of yoga as a great “workout” – a means to tighten the core, flatten the stomach and tone that butt. Sure, it does that. But as soon as the rigorous portion of the class comes to a close and it’s time for savasana (corpse pose), otherwise known as the meditative portion of the session where the student lies down on his or her back for a period of quiet meditation, people flees for the door, ducking out early under the false belief that this most important asana is optional and unnecessary – the hard work is done.
From a traditionalist point of view, the series of physically challenging yoga asanas were originally designed for a specific purpose that has nothing to do with the strength or flexibility. Instead, they were conceived and organized solely as a means to prepare the mind and body to reap maximum benefit from the important meditation that follows, which, taken as a whole, is a routine designed not to give you a nice butt, but to improve your ability to quell, quiet and control the impulses of the mind -- to clean mental house, center focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines the expression of our “best self” within.
What does this have to do with athletic performance?
Everything. When you look at the highest levels of sport, all the athletes are incredibly talented. They all train equally hard.
So what distinguishes the Olympic champion from the also-ran?
The mind. The guy or girl who wins typically knows he/she is going to win. Unrestrained by fear, free from negative thought patterns, and laser focused, I think it’s fair to submit that the champion athlete most likely has enhanced dominion over his/her thoughts when compared to his/her competitors, able to leverage it’s incredible power to focus entirely on the task at hand and remain thoroughly rooted in the present moment without the invasion of unhelpful thought patterns. Much like a muscle, the mind can be trained. And consistent Yoga practice is the best way You have to not only improve your sleep, reduce stress, quell negative mental chatter, and manage (and walk through) fear, it informs your entire approach to training and racing. Makes all the difference in helping You achieve some rather fantastical athletic goals that seemed not only far beyond your capabilities, but almost impossible from any objective or logical perspective.
Looking for an athletic edge? This is it. So get on it, before your rival does.