How Yoga Helps Improve Athletic Performance
Athletes tend to be power- and strength-focused with tight muscles. Yoga for athletes not only helps with flexibility, but also helps to keep athletic bodies balanced and strong. By addressing imbalances in conditioning and sequencing yoga poses to realign, athletes can find increased range of motion, better body awareness, and a competitive edge with yoga.
“It was my first week teaching yoga to a high school football team. Forty teenage boys crowded into the wrestling room . . . the coaches and trainers wanted increased flexibility and core strength, a decrease in injury, and more mental focus.
I think the players just wanted a break from conditioning.
They quickly learned yoga would not be the break they were expecting. Yoga for athletes is specifically sequenced to address imbalances in the body caused by overuse of certain muscles.
My linebackers, for example, were constantly hunched over, so they needed to stretch their chests” and shoulders. The whole team needed to stretch their hips so they could move with more agility.
Here Are 6 Ways Yoga Helps Athletes Increase Athletic Performance:
1. Yoga Increases Flexibility
For athletes looking to increase flexibility, the long, deep holds in yoga are critical to your training. You’re going to need a timer for this! Start by holding stretches for 2-minutes, and each day you need to meet or beat your hold time.
This means that on Monday if you’re holding a forward fold for 2 minutes, on Tuesday you’ll hold it for 2 minutes + 10 seconds, Wednesday will be 2 minutes + 20 seconds, and so on. Work your way up, holding poses between 2-5 minutes.
2. . . . And Flexibility Increases Power
I love the analogy of a bow and arrow to highlight the relationship between strength and flexibility. If the string on the bow is wound too tight, there will be no give to pull the arrow back. If the string is too loose, there will be no tension to pull from, and the arrow will flop.
Like a bow and arrow, we want our bodies to be strong and muscular, and capable of power. To do this, we need to also be flexible so we can harness all that power to launch with speed and precision.
3. Balanced Bodies Prevent Injuries
When the body is out of balance, it’s more prone to injury. If you’re compensating for tightness or stiffness, you hold and move your body differently, setting yourself up for injury.
Yoga helps bring the body back into alignment and address imbalances before they become injuries.
”After a few months working with the football team, their trainers and coaches were happy to report a decrease in injuries from previous years. The players were taking better care of their bodies, and it showed up on the field.”
4. Yoga Can Compliment Your Sport
Think about your sport and the ways you repetitively move your body. Then, think about which poses will work in opposition to these poses to even out the body. For example, tennis players and wide receivers need their spines to be able to twist, often quickly, in both directions.
If you’re playing baseball, you need to open up the shoulders more, and work on deep squats for hip flexibility. Yoga for athletes is really about increasing mobility so you can perform at your peak.
5. Pranayama Increases Performance
Most of us don’t know how to breathe properly. If you haven’t practiced breath techniques, called pranayama in yoga, you may be using your shoulders, chest or neck to breathe. This leads to tightness and decreased range of motion.
When you breathe correctly, you’ll find it takes pressure off the rest of the body, and increases mobility in shoulders. When you inhale, imagine your low ribs opening and expanding, when you exhale, low ribs hug in and down.
6. Sport Specific Visualizations
Towards the end of a session, before Savasana, is a great opportunity for a sport specific visualization. With eyes closed players can visualize the game, the excitement and anxiety they may feel, how the field looks, how their jersey feels against their skin.
They can visualize themselves performing at their best, effortless and natural. In the mind they practice themselves being successful, enjoying the game, and having their teammates’ backs. They may even imagine themselves coming back from mistakes, and turning the game around. It’s a chance to practice confidence.
Creating good results in the mind first with this meditation technique will fuel athletes out on the field. Many players have physical talent, but can’t manage their minds. The mental game helps distinguish top athletes, and yoga teaches you how to control your mind.
Yoga For Athletes: The Takeaway
“As I closed out the yoga session with 40 high school football players I wondered how they’d react to Savasana. They loved it! They finally had permission to just be still, with no more expectations.
Turning the lights down, and allowing them a few moments to just be, and know that’s enough, is something they craved. It’s something we all need. A few moments in stillness. Permission to let go, knowing you are enough, exactly as you are.
That’s how yoga helps athletes. Not only is it great for your physical body, it also allows you permission to just be. Namaste!”