Yoga can be incredibly useful to an athlete. I, myself, run marathons and compete in triathlons.
Whether you run, cycle, swim, climb, play team sports, play golf, tennis, surf or any other type of sport yoga can positively assist athletes of all abilities. Yoga works on different muscle groups and posture and helps you tune in and listen to the body in order to protect from injuries and assist in the recovery process following exercise.
In my opinion, every athlete irrespective of their sport or discipline has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice. I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.
Here are a few benefits I have gained:
Improved Strength: Routine and consistent practice of the various yoga asanas has helped me build strength and improve muscle tone. This has been most notable with respect to several muscle groups under-utilised in my main sports of swimming, cycling and running. These gains have enhanced core body stability and reduced overuse injury by strengthening the supportive but normally under-developed muscles surrounding the more utilised muscles, creating a more balanced body.
Balance: I have always been rather flexible. But my balance used to be poor. But through a consistent yoga practice, my coordination and balance have improved immensely. Better balance and coordination means enhanced control over how I move my body, which in turn leads to better technique whenever I take part in sports.
Flexibility: Yoga invariably improves joint and muscular flexibility, which is crucial to the body’s overall structural soundness. Enhanced joint and muscle flexibility translates to greater range of motion, or an increase in the performance for a particular movement or series of movements. For example, a swimmer with mobile shoulder and hip joints is able to catch and pull more water than a swimmer with a more limited range of motion. The result is more forward movement per stroke for less effort.
Mental Control: The physical benefits of yoga for the athlete are obvious. Most people tend to think of yoga as a physical workout only and often in classes when we come to the savasana, otherwise known as the part of the session where we lay down on our backs for a period of quiet meditation, people start to head for the door assuming that the hard work is done.
This misses the point of yoga entirely. Deprive yourself of the meditation and you are missing out on the best and most beneficial part of the practice. From a traditionalist point of view, the series of physically challenging yoga asanas were originally designed for a specific purpose that has nothing to do with the strength or flexibility. Instead, they were conceived and organized solely as a means to prepare the mind and body to reap maximum benefit from the important meditation that follows, which, taken as a whole, is a routine designed not to give you a supple body, but to improve your ability to quiet and control the impulses of the mind, centre focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines us.