If you think yoga is just for gentle relaxation, think again. Today more athletes are learning the many dimensions of performance that can be improved by adding yoga to their training.
Want to improve your running, cycling, swimming, baseball, golf, tennis of basketball game? Look to the 5,000-year-old secret that is giving professional athletes an edge over their competition. Whether you do the Iyengar, Ashtanga, Viniyoga or another style of Hatha yoga, it can help improve your overall state of well being as well as your athletic performance. Here are 10 benefits yoga practice can bring to your sport, no matter what it is.
1. Improves Flexibility. Increasing your flexibility with yoga leads to more ease of movement and fewer injuries. It enables you to move more freely with a greater range of motion. The more freedom your body has to move into the positions necessary for your sport(s), the more quickly you can do so, with less effort, strain of risk of injury.
2. Improves Balance. Many sports, because of their quickness and/or concentration, require your body to be able to move in any direction with ease within a split second. If your body is off balance and the upper half of the body feels disconnected from the lower half, your response time increases. Many yoga postures require you to find your center, that is your balance. Through the conscious practicing of balancing postures, your body learns where its center is and how to find it rapidly.
3. Increases Mental Focus. Many athletes will share that they play a mental game; either their mind was or wasn't "in the game." Yoga teaches the discipline of being present in the moment through the physical postures and breath work. In learning to hold postures, you automatically become more clear in your mind. You learn to focus on what is happening that moment in your body, breath and mind. This skill of learning to be in the moment will not only help improve your athletic game by allowing you to stay focused on the task at hand, but it will also help bring more joy into your life.
4. Increases Strength. Yoga uses your own body as the weight you lift or hold. Many yoga postures require many major and minor muscle groups to be used simultaneously. In some it feels like every muscle in your body is being used! This is much different than traditional weight training in which you isolate one or two muscle groups per exercise. The strengthening in yoga requires your entire body to be working as a unit so the strengthening of one muscle group is connected to that of another muscle group. This improves your overall sense of strength from a centered, connected place. You'll find it much easier to move quickly and effortlessly in sports when your whole body feels strong as a unit.
5. Improves Your Mind/Body Connection. In yoga you learn to listen to your body through your mind and learn to quit your mind through your body. The breath is the essential tool used to unite body and mind. The word "yoga" means to yoke, establish a relationship with each other that affects every area of your life. The more you tune into the mind/body connection, the more awareness you have of your movement and your state of being. With this tool, you can assess where your mind is when you are playing your sport and draw your mind and body back into union if they become separate. This helps you prepare to be present in whatever sport you are playing.
6. Reduces Stress. One of the quickest and most significant benefits of yoga is the effect it has on reducing stress. How does this affect athletic performance? When you are stressed out, your body holds onto that stress. It can be held in the neck, back, hamstrings, stomach, head - just about anywhere. Tense muscles decrease flexibility and energy and increase pain and risk of injury. Yoga helps release stress in your body and mind so the body has more freedom to perform at its best with the least amount of pain.
7. Improves Posture. Yoga strengthens the core muscles in your torso, specially those that support your spine. Unlike a typical fitness routine, practically every posture in yoga has a positive effect on the spine. Keeping the spine flexible and strong is one of the highest purposes of yoga. The stronger and more flexible your spine is the more your posture falls into proper alignment. The alignment becomes effortless rather than effortful and thus your posture improves. As yoga helps to improve posture, the body begins to move in proper alignment which is where the body is naturally supposed to be. This impacts every aspect of how you move, especially in sports where you are most challenged to be quick, strong and balanced.
8. Increases Kinesthetic Awareness. Through yoga you begin to discover and explore kinesthetic awareness, that is, where your body is in space. You learn to place your body in exact positions and know when it is in the correct place. This is at the core of leaning to balance and move your body as a unit aware of the space around you. It has a wonderful effect on your game because it also helps you be more aware of both your teammates and your opposition.
9. Improves Agility. Almost every one of the above mentioned aspects of yoga assists in improving your agility. The combination of total body strength, flexibility, posture, balance and kinesthetic awareness is aimed at improving your body's ability to move freely, quickly and without pain or stiffness. This, of course, is what is most important to athletes and most likely one of the main reasons to practice yoga for your athletic performance. 10. Improves Sportsmanship. Aside from the physical and mental aspects of yoga, there is also a spiritual element. Basically, yoga teaches you about connection with yourself and all living things. Through the discovery and realization of the connection that all living things have to each other, and element of camaraderie, non-violence and peace begins to shine through. So, no matter if you win or lose, you can be injury free, agile and live with a sense of appreciation for your competitors and a feeling of peace.