What athletes love about their sport, whether it’s running, cycling, or swimming, is the rhythmic and repetitive motions that their bodies thrive on for the physical results and their minds gravitate towards for the meditative effects.
But when the same kinds of motions hit the body over and over again, it can take its toll on muscles, joints, bones and ligaments, leaving them misaligned. In addition, certain sports may favor one side of the body over another, like golf, while others such as cycling create powerful legs but weak and tight hips. This over-utilization of certain muscles and under-utilization of others can over time create imbalances, which can lead to injury.
Yoga not only counters these developed asymmetries, but it also provides the athlete with a host of benefits that can improve their performance.
Here is what you need to know about yoga for athletes:
From the runner with inflexible hips to the basketball player with shin-splints, here are just a few of the benefits yoga can have for athletes:
- Stretching of tight and overworked muscles
- Strengthening of under-utilized or weak muscles
- Enhanced concentration and focus via yoga’s breath control
- Expanded range of motion
- Improved flexibility of tight muscles
- Enhanced performance and endurance
- Improved sense of body awareness
While yoga has a near universal benefit to the athlete’s body, there are a few hallmark poses that are ideally suited for the dedicated sports enthusiast.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): This poster child of yoga postures is wonderful for loosening tight hamstrings and glutes and broadening the range of motion in the shoulders. As the athlete performs downward dog, he or she should focus on breathing into those tight and restricted areas of the body while also using their breath to lengthen and strengthen the large muscles of the legs and arms at the same time. This posture should be done for a minimum of 10 breaths.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I): As its name implies, this powerful yoga posture cultivates both inner and outer strength while also keeping the mind focused and steady. As the athlete performs this posture, he or she should focus on pressing through the back supporting leg while stretching through the ribcage and reaching through the arms. Perform the right side of this posture first and hold for five breaths and then repeat on the left side.
Since athletes are used to breathing through their mouths, it may take some time to get used to the yoga breathing, which is done only through the nose. In addition, since athletes are known for their astute discipline, they should begin a yoga practice with a sense of humility, knowing that while they have a master of their own beloved sport, when they roll out their yoga mat, they are a beginner and should therefore eliminate any expectations on themselves other than to have fun and be open to how yoga can benefit them.
Also, if a person has an injury, it is important that they seek a well-trained yoga instructor who has worked with athletes or those who have been injured before.