Yoga for Athletes: The Benefits
As a traditional practice that has been around for centuries, yoga has grown into a well known addition into athletes lives. But are you aware of the benefits? Here are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits to the practice of both body and mind.
So let’s kick this off with the most commonly taught benefit. Flexibiltiy.
Traditionally, the practice of yoga is designed to bring the body into a comfortable posture for meditation (to seek enlightenment). But now, we are after far more than just enlightenment. Squats must be deeper. Hamstrings must be longer and this requires range!
By using yoga in many different styles, we allow the body to experience a range of flexibility training. From longer holds in yin-style form that require holding poses statically and passively for longer periods of time. To hatha-stlye poses that require hold for a few rounds of breath that use a more active-passive form of stretching. To vinyasa that is a dynamic-flow form of yoga that dynamically stretches the muscles.
All have many different purposes and best times to use but the goal of increasing range of motion (flexibility) stays the same. By increasing flexibility we increase the potential of strength and performance in the body, reduce the risk of injury, reduce overall tension (stress) of the tissues and improve recovery.
Yoga poses that require holding unique positions (poses) are not usually in traditional strength and conditioning routine plane of movement. The ability to hold these positions calls for muscles that aren’t regularly tested, which helps support other training and teaches the body to be strong through ranges.
At Sport Yogi, we are large proponents of athletes having a strength program that their yoga practice sits alongside to complement and boost all of the benefits of the program.
In control of body and mind.
By simply moving our bodies we become more aware of them. But adding in what would be referred to as ‘mindful movement’ in yoga whereby really examining the feeling of the poses, the areas that either release tension or use strength, inadvertently gives you as sense of awareness in the body that you may not of been aware of before. With each time you step onto the mat you increase this awareness.
Whether it’s through breathing practices or meditation or even the movement. Being fully immersed in a task, whether it’s psychological or not brings a focus to your mind that, with repetition and practice is transferable into your sport, activities and life.
Reduced injury risk
The mixture of building flexibility and strength allows for a better quality of muscle, reducing the risk of injury. Consistent practice allows the muscles to relax and recovery better resulting in better efficiency during activity. It also allows for better awareness of imbalances in the body leaving you to understand where you may be holding tension and give you a practical solution to use before a full-blown injury has the opportunity to occur.
Yoga allows you to improve the ability to relax muscles through calming practices but also teaches the mind to follow. Studies have shown that for athletes, the ability to learn to relax before competition helps reduce anxiety that can impact your performance.
“I wanted an edge on and off the court”
NBA Star, Kevin Love on Yoga
Practising yoga helps the reduce stress levels through reduced cortisol (stress hormone) when we lower this stress we allow the body to switch on recovery mode. Reducing any tension in the body, leads to reduced tension in the mind and a sense of calm, which is perfect for before bed.
The physical practice of yoga gives you a greater understanding and awareness of the body, building your confidence by realising what your body can achieve. Consistent practice builds consistency in your habits that boost your overall well-being and image of yourself. Through the practice of meditation, athletes become more and more familiar with the dialogue inside the mind. By noticing the chatter in the mind, the storylines being told, that usually are unkind or unhelpful. By noticing these thoughts, you can practice more positive based affirmations and mantras and allow true confidence to come through as a result.