It seems every day there is an article or video claiming the benefits for athletes to practice yoga—even for NBA stars LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. From gaining flexibility to calming the mind, there surely are many reasons why any athlete could get an edge doing some sun salutations and warrior poses.
Here are some reasons why:
- Connection with your body. Nothing is worse than an injury, and being aware of both your body’s limits and depths is powerful knowledge to help you avoid injury and train stronger. Yoga hones in on body awareness, tuning in deep into the subtleties of your muscles, joints, ligaments and posture.
- Building focus. Training the mind to be quiet and focus one one thing at a time takes work. In yoga practice, we aim to tune out everything but what is going on in the moment. Nothing else matters. There are no expectations, only acceptance of what is happening now. Focus leads to awareness, which can push you toward stability and success, free from distractions.
- Improving flexibility. You wouldn’t be the first person to say, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” Throw that out the window. You don’t need to be anything to do yoga. Just be yourself, and be true to yourself. Yoga is practice. If you are not flexible, your body will allow you to be in the pose that is right for your body. And it will eventually open up, and you will find more flexibility. When you are more flexible, you are less likely to get injured. Plus, it feels so good to stretch.
- Building strength. You’re an athlete. You’re fit. You’re strong. But are you strong all over? You might have some muscle groups that are more developed than others, and that can lead to imbalances, which again, can cause injury. Those pesky injuries. Building strength throughout the body through the integration of yoga poses (asanas) will help bring balance to your body’s strength. Yoga is great for developing core strength in those deep core muscles, as well, which will help not only make you a better athlete, but will protect you from, yes, injuries. Those deep abs help keep us strong all over, protect the back and allow us to have proper form while training.
- Finding your breath. Breathing is central to yoga, as it is to life and athletic training. When we can maximize our lung function and bring awareness to our breath we can become more in control. Specific breathing techniques (pranayama) are key to a full yoga practice. Practicing breathing and becoming aware of the way we breathe and how it feels will help us notice how we’re breathing when we’re outside of yoga class. Breathing exercises can also calm the mind, reduce stress and lower blood pressure.