These days yoga is everywhere, and it’s become pretty apparent that the benefits of this ancient practice reach far across the board. It comes as no surprise then that athletes are taking advantage of the many benefits yoga has to offer with many adding to their regular workout routine. Going far beyond simple stretching, yoga has the potential to dramatically increase performance regardless of the sport or discipline it is applied to. Yoga makes life better, and for an athlete this can make all the difference.
Only those dedicated to a sport or discipline know the feeling of performing at optimal levels. There is no feeling quite like the one you get when you progress and master something you love. Any athlete from soccer players to surfers know what it is like to accomplish things that once seemed impossible. Gaining mastery over a sport is, for athletes, a natural part of life and something that is held sacred within each individual soul.
If athletes knew just how much yoga had the potential to benefit their chosen discipline, there is no doubt that most would wonder why they didn’t start their practice years ago. Fortunately, it is never too late, and you can enhance performance almost immediately as soon as you add a yoga program to your current training routine. Yoga will only make things better and with time often ends up becoming a normal part of most athlete’s regular routine. A few of the benefits for athletes that take up yoga are:
Yoga is made up of different sequences of various asanas (poses). When practiced consistently and made part of a permanent routine these postures will dramatically increase strength and flexibility in the entire body. There are literally thousands of different poses and when they are combined in different sequences they have the potential to work every muscle of the body. Oftentimes when a certain discipline is practiced focus tends to strengthen a select group of muscles, leaving others underworked and ultimately weaker. A skier, for example, will more than likely have more strength in her legs than arms. Introducing yoga will help balance muscle use out and provide strength to under-developed muscles. This makes for a more balanced whole of the entire muscular system and increases strength and agility in the athlete.
Not all athletes necessarily use balance in their chosen activity. A soccer player will obviously use his balance far less than someone on a skateboard, but balance really does benefit all athletes whether they “need” to use it or not. Yoga increases balance tremendously, and increased balance leads to better control over how one uses their body. When you have better control of how you use your body, your form gets better which helps improve technique. It’s all connected together, and when yoga is introduced, you’ll find that balance thing really does make a difference.
In every sport injury is possible, and when striving to progress in a discipline, athletes are often hurt in the process. Even if accidents are avoided and there are no broken bones, continuous motion in a certain part of the body over time will eventually wear that part down. A snowboarder’s knees are likely to go out before a golfer’s, but that golfer is more than likely to tear his rotator cuff after years of perfecting his backswing. Yoga helps stretch all muscles in each range of motion. This activates all muscles, supports well-rounded development of each muscle group, and helps to prevent injury in the future.
Heightened Mental Control
While the physical benefits of yoga for athletes are nothing short of amazing, the mental aspects of yoga for athletes go just a bit further. The phrase “it’s all in your head” is beyond true for athletes at the top of their game. The most successful athletes know that in order to get to the top, they need to have the mind control to get them there. Some would argue that this is one thing that makes the best that way, and there are not many who would disagree. When yoga was being created by the ancients it was not to increase physical strength or bend their body in a bunch of crazy poses. Instead, it was a series of disciplines that would help train their minds for meditation. The whole purpose of this yoga was to cultivate awareness of mind and reach higher consciousness in the individual. What does this have to do with athletes? Everything. A calm mind is a focused mind, and with increased focus, performance is enhanced.
While there are certain yoga sequences that can be specific to certain athletic disciplines, there are a handful of postures that will benefit any athlete regardless of the sport they love. Following are ten yoga poses that will increase performance, offer greater strength, help prevent injury, and create mental mastery.
The headstand is often considered the “king” of all yoga postures. This inverted pose balances the entire body and for athletes will greatly improve performance. When done properly, the headstand will improve concentration, calm the mind and body, increase strength in the upper back and shoulders, strengthen abdominal muscles, and greatly increase stamina. It also increases the strength of the diaphragm allowing for deeper exhalations and better controlled breathing.
Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)
Dolphin pose is often thought of as an advanced extension of the downward dog, and is excellent for athletes to attain the full-body stretch they sometimes miss. Dolphin pose will stretch the upper back and shoulders, arms, hamstrings, calves, and ankle muscles all at the same time. It’s perfect for both pre and post-routine stretch.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)
Use downward dog in your warm-up program to increase strengthen and stimulate the entire body. If you find your lower body muscles are tight, use this stretch to improve flexibility. This pose also helps to decrease back pain as it strengthens the entire back. It is also very helpful in increasing respiration, which helps athletes perform for longer periods of time without getting winded. It also opens hamstrings, stretches shoulders, and keeps wrists strong.
Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Pigeon pose is one of the most beneficial of all yoga postures to open hips. When hips are open and loose, there is less strain that gets transferred to the knees. Practicing pigeon pose will help offer athletes a greater range of motion and help prevent knee injury. Open hips also helps with lower back strains that often go hand in hand with being an athlete.
This pose is a powerhouse of strength and is great for legs, knees, ankles, abs, and the back. It is also excellent for core strength which is pertinent for any athlete. It also helps open groin muscles that are often strained and tend to be a weak spot for many athletes. It’s also great for increasing ankle strength which will help prevent injuries due in this area.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
This more advanced pose demands your full attention for it to be accomplished successfully. It greatly increases balance while improving focus and will add strength to the arms, knees, feet, and ankles. For athletes, it is especially beneficial in its ability to add strength to the ankle. Practicing Eagle pose will also help keep hips open.
There are a huge variety of yoga twists and each is superior in its own right regarding benefits to athletes. Yoga twists are excellent in strengthening the waist, abs, and back. With time, yoga twists help further increase flexibility and improve spinal mobility.
Although this pose is basic and is used widely in yoga practice, its benefits do not even come close to falling short of benefits for athletes. It is great for core strength and also help strengthen arms, wrists, quad, and abdominal muscles. Especially beneficial to athletes is the increased strength it brings to the wrists. By increasing strength to the wrists, athletes are saved from the injuries that often occur here. Stronger wrists mean less sprains and breaks, and will increase the longevity of your favorite sport.
Warrior pose adds supreme strength to the body and will invoke confidence in those who use it as part of their practice. It adds strength to the core while increasing strength in the thighs, arms, ankles, and back. It is great for opening hips and will add strength and endurance to any athlete’s routine. Concentration is also increased and athletes will find that this pose brings greater focus and attention while performing.
Crane Pose (Bakasana)
In crane pose you will learn to balance your entire body and it will add confidence to any athlete’s routine. Not only excellent for increased confidence and overcoming fear, crane pose will add tremendous strength to arm, shoulder, and chest muscles. This pose is also greatly beneficial in strengthening lung capacity which, in turn, leads to longer endurance.1