As many of you may know I am a qualified yoga teacher and am currently doing additional training for working with athletes but I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you why I think all athletes could benefit from yoga. When I talk about athletes I literally mean anyone that is involved in sport or physical activity of any kind. So you might not be training for any sport in particular but just go to the gym regularly but you will still benefit from yoga. I have put together some of the main benefits that you can gain from yoga below:
1. Flexibility (Stretching)
Stretching is what most people associate with yoga although this is only one part of the discipline. The reason this is so great is you can use the yoga poses to target muscles that need to be more flexible. This will depend on the sport you practise and your particular requirements but can have a significant impact on your performance. For instance I was recently watching a video on YouTube about Cristiano Ronaldo where it showed the power he got in his free kicks and that this required maximum stretch in his quadriceps, so stretching these muscles could have great benefits to power.
There is also another great reason for stretching and that is exercise preparation and cool down. Most athletes are aware of lactic acid build up and that stretching can help with this so by using targeted stretches from yoga you can gain amazing benefits. A good yoga teacher should be able to put together a small sequence that can help with this and target the areas that an athlete most needs to work.
Strength is a huge topic with all sorts of different aspects including muscular endurance, power and power endurance to name a few. There are many of the yoga pose that can help to build strength in targeted areas. In particular it can help with alignment by working the small slow twitch muscles that will give more stability when doing other strength exercises in the weights room or training ground.
Yoga is also a great place to start if you are just beginning your strength training as you are only using your own body weight and gaining initial strength in this way can be an excellent stepping stone to going on to other strength training. This is particularly true for young athletes who may not be ready for the weights room yet but can use yoga to build structural strength.
One of the major components of yoga is balance and many people are unaware that if they don’t practise the skill of balancing their abilities reduce. Balancing is vital for many sports as a strong balance can help with aspects like direction changes and other things like kicking in football. By balancing you are also strengthening the stabilising muscles in the legs that often do not get worked. This can help with endurance and injury prevention.
One of the other great benefits of balancing is that it can aid proprioceptive skills as it requires the ability to know where you are in space. If balances are made dynamic then this skill is increased further. Another positive benefit is that you will become aware of your centre of gravity which is needed to maintain the balance and this can have applications in a number of sports including football and tennis.
4. Injury Prevention
There has been a lot of theory about whether yoga can help with injury prevention and if so how with very little evidence to back it up. However there are a number of reasons why this could be the case. The first takes us back to the topic of stretching and if you are effectively stretching before you exercise/compete and after then you can reduce your risk of injury. Then there is the fact you are strengthening more of the stabilising muscles which can help to protect the prime movers and so reduce the chance of straining those muscles.
You also need to think about the central nervous system (CNS) when it comes to injury. It is widely accepted that when the CNS is exhausted you will feel tired and this will increase your risk of injury. One of the benefits of yoga is that it stimulates the rest and restore response from the CNS which aids recovery of the body and reduces the risk of CNS exhaustion and so reduces the risk of injury.
The other benefit that can be associated with injuries is awareness of the body. As you practise yoga you will become more aware of how the body feels which could help to reduce the intensity of an injury. For example if you do a lot of running you may notice a slight twinge in your hamstrings that in the past you would ignore and this would result in a much larger tear and a long time out of action. As you become more aware you will be able to stop at the twinge and reduce the amount of time you are out of action.
Staying focussed while competing is vital to all athletes and yoga can help with this in a number of ways. The first and most important way is through breathing techniques that can be used to bring the mind into focus. There are also a number of breathing techniques that can help with the intake of oxygen during competition and keeping your oxygen levels high keeps you more in control of your mind and able to focus on your sport rather than on your breathing.
It is also worth mentioning that while practising yoga you learn awareness of your body and what is going on around you which can have a significant impact on your ability to maintain focus in a competitive situation.
If you regularly practise sport and have not yet tried yoga I would really recommend it and you can contact me for 1:2:1 classes by visiting my website www.kridayoga.co.uk or just use the contact page on this blog.
Bompa, T.O., Carrera, M.C. (2005) Periodization Training for Sports, 2nd Edition, published by Human Kinetics for Kindle.
Rowntree, S (2008) The Athletes Guide to Yoga, published by Velo Press.
Winter, H. (2010) Yoga Sports Coach Training Manual, published by Yoga Sports Science