Wait.. What do we mean by ‘yoga for athletes’? Although it may seem strange to read that title (after all, yogis ARE athletes), there still somewhat of a disconnect between the practice of yoga and traditional training programs that are used by athletes in a wider variety of sports. From athletes that train and compete in running, cycling, swimming, and even boxing — there are numerous and invaluable benefits from including yoga as part of a regular training program.
Again, although you won’t need to tell a seasoned yogi, but the reality is that yoga builds physical strength in a unique way. If yoga isn’t part of your workout schedule yet, you may be focused on building strength through other approaches — perhaps through weight training? Although weight training and weight lifting is effective at engaging your muscles, putting your body through repetitive and stressful sequences also tends to cause muscular injury — this is why most trainers recommend putting caps on your workouts. Yoga is advantageous because it builds lean, flexible muscles. How is this different? Although yoga develops muscles more slowly, through the varied and dynamic poses taught by yoga, muscles are built to support a larger variety of movement more easily. This means yogis build muscles that are more flexible in more positions, have higher stamina and recover from injury more quickly — all desirable traits for any serious athlete.
Of course yoga also improves balance and control (key to many sports like wresting, and skiing or snowboarding). By moving through a variety of positions and holding poses as long as possible, balance is improved in a natural way. Even if balance is something an athlete already has, it’s important to remember that yoga is also as progressive a challenge as any. No one is a perfect yogi, and you can always push yourself further in yoga — whether it be through a new position or a variant on an existing position, or by providing extra challenge using yoga blocks. While we’re talking about holding poses, it’s also valuable to remember that understanding how your breathing impacts your fitness through yoga can go a long way (figuratively and literally) in other sports as well. Efficient breathing allows you to utilize your respiratory system to maximize your oxygen and reduce fatigue (increasing endurance).
The meditative qualities associated with yoga are also extremely beneficial. Particularly for team sports, where pressure can come from all angles, mental clarity and control that can only truly be realized through an understanding of your own mind through meditation can give athletes an edge and ensure they perform at the highest level possible. One of the reasons we find yoga so beneficial (and addictive) is that it forces us to isolate ourselves with our bodies and constantly understand where our energy is directed. Yoga classes are great for this — having an instructor talk you through poses and encourage doing so with a clear mind often leads to yogis focusing on their practice in ways that they didn’t know were possible previously. On the most professional level, sports like cycling are often called mental pursuits, as the separating factor between the good and the great athletes often come down to a defined ability to focus on a clear goal and coordinate with your body to achieve it.
Flexibility, balance and mental clarity — all benefits your body can realize through yoga. The bottom line? Yoga provides stretching and movement you don’t get in any other sport, and the benefits of yoga can help push you forward in every aspect of your physical activity.
Keep moving, Be.. A Yogi!