Yoga for Athletes
The very essence of Yoga, and the many different elements and goals of the practice differ immensely from the achievement or performance sought by sports practitioners. Yet the benefits of the practice at a physical, mental and spiritual level have proven to be incredibly complementary to more traditional methods of sports training.
Yoga is a practice that dates back thousands of years and aims to prepare the mind for greater self-awareness and inner peace. By focusing on the breath Yoga makes the connection between mind and body and leads to a state of physical and mental well-being whilst also offering athletes an improvement in ability and performance.
The many Yoga “asanas” (postures) open, stretch, strengthen and balance the body whilst integrating breath into every movement and encouraging the mind to remain focused and calm.
Yoga has multiple benefits. Athletes will particularly be enhanced by:
1. Increased Flexibility and Range of Movement
A regular yoga practice encourages greater flexibility of the spine and the muscles; helping to prevent injury and moving the body smoothly through its full range of movement. Physical flexibility is coupled with mental flexibility, by learning to focus on the breath; on the present moment and the ability to stay calm, despite the challenges that may present themselves in sport or daily life.
2. Integral strength and efficiency
Yoga focuses on the central core strength of the body as a whole, using its own weight and balance to improve coordination, and training the muscles and tendons to both stabilize the joints (in a dynamic practice) or encourage joint mobility (in a passive “yin” practice) to avoid over-use or repetitive stress injuries.
Improving core strength (abdomen, lower back and pelvis) and balance also encourages an increase in overall power and fluidity by using the body as a unit, which greatly assists in physical sporting performance.
3. Improving Focus: staying present
Being able to stay present is a great tool whether practicing sport or not. Learning to focus the mind and concentrate on the activity at hand, whilst being aware of the breath and energy levels at each moment, can be of great assistance to an athlete’s performance. Moreover greater sensitivity and self-knowledge of the body, guides the athlete towards more efficient and non-harmful movement and even to maintaining a yoga “practice” within their sport. In the face of physical or mental intensity or challenging circumstances Yoga trains the mind to remain calm and focused, and is an invaluable life skill.
Unlike the competition that drives sports practitioners, yoga breaks everything down into much smaller chunks:- each breath and every single moment offers its own little insights and challenges, and goes way beyond the simple concepts of “win/lose” or “succeed/fail”. Listening to the body, understanding its limits, recognizing each individual moment as a new, fresh breath of life and movement, leads to greater satisfaction and an enjoyment of the actual process itself, rather than merely the goal of any sport or task at hand.
4. Balancing the body
Many training programmes involve repetitive, systematic and one-dimensional movements which eventually create imbalances in the body by emphasizing certain muscle groups and completely ignoring others. Runners may suffer from tight hamstrings, cyclists’ from their quadriceps or lower back, swimmers from their shoulders.
The great variety of yoga asanas moves the body in every available direction, to improve both physical and mental balance and encourage greater proprioception (awareness of the body in space).
5. Staying active
A regular practice of yoga brings the body into balance and helps to reduce the number of injuries often provoked by the repetitive movements of sports or endurance activities.
Yoga corrects flexibility and strength imbalances as well as encouraging self-awareness of body sensations, to know when it is ok to push harder and when it is time to cut back.
Yoga is a long-term sustainability practice which can help athletes become greater performers in their individual sports discipline. Moreover using yoga as an essential part of their sports training to prepare for a marathon, triathlon or other sporting competition will help prevent injury and increase the length of theirs sporting life; to continue practicing the activity they love without any risk or physical complication.