In yoga, we concentrate on physical health and mental well-being. Many athletes participate or compete in their chosen sport for the same reasons of achieving physical health and mental well-being. Therefore, being an athlete and practicing yoga go hand-in-hand.
Yoga can relieve muscle tension and loosen joints, hips, hamstrings, and shoulders while also providing increased strength both physically and mentally. Athletes should incorporate some form of yoga into their training schedule to enhance performance and reduce injury.
Increase Strength and Flexibility
Repetitive motion can cause muscular imbalance, leading to misalignment and injury. By doing different asanas (bodily postures), athletes can utilize less used muscles, providing more balance in the body. Athletes will also find that the muscles they call upon most can also be lengthened and strengthened in a different way through yoga, resulting in better performance.
Yoga is also recognized as being a great way to strengthen your core muscles. The core can be thought of as the link between the upper body and the lower body. A strong core provides balance and stability for the body in motion; athletes will find that strengthening their core through yoga will help their posture, their movements in all directions, bending, lifting, and twisting.
Body Awareness for Better Performance
Body Awareness can help athletes both on and off of the mat by becoming aware of what the body feels like in a healthy, uninjured state. When practicing yoga, the mind becomes calmer and more connected to the body and spirit, which brings more awareness to the energy of the body and how it flows. During yoga practice ‘scanning your body’ for tension, tightness, or pain while holding a pose is one way for the athlete to become more aware of their own body and how their body ‘speaks’ to them.
Taking that same awareness into their sport, the athlete is able to do continuous self-checks to monitor how their body is performing and if there are areas in which an adjustment needs to be made within the body to ensure better performance and to prevent injury.
Increase Endurance through Stillness
An athlete must not only utilize the body, but also be mentally strong to endure the long hours of training and to compete at their very highest level. When matched with other athletes of similar physical ability, mental strength can be the difference between winning or losing in a race or competition. Holding a challenging pose for a few more breaths, staying focused within the pose, being aware of your mind telling you to quit even though you know your body can keep going, learning how to deal with sensations such as discomfort, boredom, anxiety, resistance—while training or competing are all benefits of regular yoga practice.
Strengthening the mind and mental focus can be achieved in yoga through balancing poses, breath work, and quieting the mind in meditation. Breath work, also known as Pranayama is a process of purification in yoga. Practicing pranayama can increase energy, bring serenity and peace of mind, be a preparation for meditation, and teaches how to be both still and dynamic at the same time.
Meditation for the Win
In addition to postures, body awareness, and breathing exercises, athletes should also incorporate meditation. Meditation is a method used to steady, quiet, and open the mind and is often practiced as part of a yoga class to compliment the physical poses.
Yoga is physically cleansing and strengthening while meditation is mentally cleansing and strengthening. During meditation the body relaxes while the mind concentrates. Visualization can be incorporated as part of the meditation practice and can lead to the athlete’s greater chance of success. A common quote accredited to Zig Ziglar states “If you can dream it you can achieve it.” When an experience is visualized it prepares the mind and body to act accordingly when presented with the same or similar experience in the physical world.
According to Jen Morel’s article “How Does Meditation Help Athlete’s”, scientific research shows that athletes benefit from meditation through improved concentration, relaxation and endurance, helping athletes of all ages excel. Visualization techniques employed during meditation can also lead to success on the track, court or field.
In order to obtain maximum performance and decreased injury athletes of all types should incorporate yoga into their training. Through yoga postures, increased body awareness, increased mental strength, breathing, and meditation; what is learned and experienced on the yoga mat can be incorporated into the athlete’s sport as well as into daily life to reach greater success and enjoyment.