What Yoga can do for Athletes.
If you think that yoga is just a form of alternative exercise that we simply relax during the course, you may need to think again. Today more and more athletes learn that yoga can improve their performance on multiple levels. We briefly mention some internationally renowned athletes who have added yoga practice complementary to their workout.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar basketball, Shaquille O’Neal basketball, Matt Geiger basketball, Kevin Garnett basketball, Karl Malone basketball, Grant Hill basketball, Ian Thorpe swimming, Lance Armstrong cycling, John McEnroe tennis, Patrick Rafter tennis, Yannick Noah tennis, Pete Sampras tennis, Carl Lewis track – runner, vaulter, Dan O’Brien track – decathlon, Silvio Guerraστίβος – marathon runner.
If you want to improve your performance in track, basketball, tennis, archery and other sports, this 5,000-year old practice is what gives many professional athletes an edge in the competition. Whether you choose Ashtanga yoga, Hatha yoga or some other yoga system, it can really help you improve your overall well-being and your performance in sports.
You can see below 10 benefits that yoga can bring to your sport, no matter what it is.
- Improves flexibility. Increasing flexibility by practicing yoga leads to more ease & comfort in all types of movement and fewer injuries. It gives you the ability to move more freely and increase the range of motion. The more freedom the body has to make the necessary moves for your sport, the faster you move, with less effort, less strain, and fewer injuries.
- Improves balance. Many sports, due to their nature, require haste and concentration. The body is called to move in comfort in any direction in seconds. If your body is out of balance and the upper part of the body feels cut off from the bottom, then the response time to the desired movement is greater. During many yoga postures you need to find your center, this is your balance. Through conscious exercise in equilibrium, your body learns where the center is, and how to quickly find it.
- It increases concentration. Many athletes agree that apart from physical participation in their sport, they also play a mental game and sometimes the mind is not always with them in the game. Yoga teaches us the discipline of being always present in our own present, through exercise in the physical body but also breathing. Learning to maintain a yoga posture automatically cleans the mind from unnecessary thoughts. One learns to focus on what is happening right now in the body, in the breath, in the mind. This ability, to experience each moment, will certainly help you improve your performance in your sport by keeping you focused on the goal, but it will bring even more real joy to the rest of your life.
- It increases power. In yoga we use our own body as a weight that we lift or hold in different poses. Several times we use primary and secondary muscles at the same time, some people feel that all the muscles of the body are involved. This is completely different from the classic approach that isolates one or two muscle groups for strengthening. The strengthening of yoga uses the whole body as a unit, so the strengthening of a muscle group is linked to the strengthening of another, and so on. This improves the sense of total strength. You will discover that it is more comfortable to move with speed and less effort in your sport when you feel the whole body strong as a single unit.
- Improves body and mind connection. In yoga you learn to “hear” your body through the mind and “abandon” the mind within your body. Breathing is the essential tool we use to unite the body with the mind. The word yoga means union. The more you coordinate the connection between body and mind, the more awareness you acquire about your movement and the state of your whole being. With this tool you can find out where the mind is when you are doing your sport and consolidate the union of body and mind when it is separated from other stimuli. This helps you to be prepared no matter which sport you are doing.
- It reduces tension and anxiety. One of the fastest but most important effects of practicing yoga is the reduction of tension and anxiety. How does this affect sports performance? When we are stressed our body restrains tension in a number different points e.g. in the neck, back, tendons, stomach, head or even the whole body. Tensioned muscles reduce our flexibility and energy and increase pain and the risk of injuries. Yoga helps to release tension in body and mind, so the body can perform as best as possible with minimal pain or strain.
- It improves the posture. Yoga strengthens the muscles of the trunk, especially those that support the spine. Unlike a typical exercise to maintain your fitness, practicing yoga is very practical as each posture has a very positive effect on the spine. One of the highest goals in yoga is to keep the spine supple and powerful. When we have a strong and flexible spine the body is lined up more easily. Alignment occurs spontaneously without much effort, and the posture of the whole body improves. This affects every dimension in body movement, especially in sports where the challenge is to be fast, strong and balanced.
- Improves the kinesthetic awareness. Through yoga, you begin to discover and explore the kinesthetic awareness, i.e. the awareness of where our body is in space. You learn to place your body at certain poses and know when it is in the right position. This is the basic element for the body to move in balance but also as a complete unit that is aware of the space around it. This has great results in team sports because it helps you to better understand your position and your teammate’s position within the game.
- Improves agility. Almost all of the above reasons help to improve agility. The combination of total body strength, flexibility, posture, balance, and kinesthetic awareness aims to improve the body’s ability to move freely, quickly and without pain or stiffness. For athletes, of course, this is a very important asset and perhaps the main reason to practice yoga to improve your athletic performance.
- It promotes noble competition. Apart from the physical and mental dimension in the practice of yoga, we would say that there is also a spiritual dimension. Yoga in Sanskrit means union, the basis in yoga teaching is the union of the body with the mind and the spirit, as well as the awareness that there are more things that unite us than those that divides us with all and everything around us. Through this awareness, the elements of companionship, nonviolence, peace are born. So regardless of whether you win or lose the race you will remain agile, you will avoid injuries, and you will feel appreciative to your competitors with a sense of inner peace and satisfaction.
Finally, we give you a small snapshot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s interview in Men’s Health:
“There is no chance I could have played for so many years without doing yoga at the same time,” says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who retired after a stunning 20-year career in NBA. Many believe that Abdul-Jabbar is probably the most important player of all time in the history of basketball. “My friends and colleagues thought I had made a deal with the devil. But it was yoga that made my workout really complete,” Kareem says.
He was only 14 years old when he a yoga book fell in his hands and immediately he noticed that he could benefit from this eastern approach that emphasized flexibility, concentration and breathing rather than purely physical strengthening. In particular, breathing: “Basketball is an endurance sport and you have to learn to control your breathing,” says Kareem, “this is the essence of yoga, so I began consciously using yoga techniques in my workout and games.”
Abdul-Jabbar insists about the role that yoga played in his rarely long-lasting career. “As a preventative medicine, yoga is unparalleled,” he says. “Since I started practicing yoga, I’ve had far less to very little injuries during games. Yoga can help any athlete with the joints, hips, muscles, tendons and knees. It also keeps you in touch with your body.”
Ο Abdul-Jabbar είναι κατηγορηματικός για τη συμμέτοχη της γιόγκα στη σπάνια μεγάλη σε διάρκεια καριέρα του. «Σαν προληπτικό φάρμακο η γιόγκα είναι απαράμιλλη,» τονίζει « από όταν ξεκίνησα την πρακτική της γιόγκα είχα πολύ λιγότερους έως ελάχιστους τραυματισμούς στη διάρκεια των παιχνιδιών. Η γιόγκα μπορεί να βοηθήσει κάθε αθλητή με τις κλειδώσεις, τα ισχία, τους μύες, τους τένοντες και τα γόνατα. Επιπλέον σε κρατά σε επαφή με το σώμα σου».