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Athletes and Yoga: A Complicated Relationship

The other day I came across an article exploring the myriad of reasons why athletes should do yoga. Actually, this was the second time I had read this article, but reading it again after some time had passed and after gaining more knowledge and experience in working with athletes on the yoga mat, I’ve come to some of my own conclusions. But I still have a lot of unanswered questions.

As an athlete myself, I love the way yoga loosens up my tight muscles and joints that have been working really hard to get me into race shape. Sometimes I am so tired and worked from training for triathlons that all I want is my yoga mat. I crave that time to nurture my body and give it some release. I crave the quiet and the attention to my body the yoga space provides. I don’t think I could train so hard without it.

But I also love yoga and have loved it for many, many years. And not all athletes do.

While exercise gurus and trainers will tout the many benefits of incorporating a regular yoga practice into an athlete’s workout routine, and while I agree with them, I have found a lot of resistance from athletes.

Reasons I’ve heard for not doing yoga are many, but the most common are:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I hate yoga.
  • I’d rather lift weights or do Pilates.
  • I’m not flexible.

Of course I could just shake my head or begin to argue with these reluctant athletes. Instead, I have found that allowing them to be on their own path and not trying to convince them that yoga will indeed help them as an athlete is a better option for me and for them.

It is true with non-athletes as well. People who come to yoga come because they feel drawn to it. Some are curious and come to their first class and never come back, saying it’s not for them. Others come to class and become a die hard yogi, starting up a regular practice that gets really deep. Both choices are OK. People will come when they are ready, and if they’re not ready when I think they should be, that’s OK too.

So, yes, I think it’s good to explain the benefits of doing yoga for athletes, and to encourage them to give it a try. But I also think it’s important that they come to it when they are ready so they will be more open to experiencing it and feeling its benefits.

Sure, sometimes people just need a little nudge, and I’m perfectly comfortable being the one to give that nudge. But I’m also perfectly happy to wait and let someone come around on their own.

Here are some things to think about if you’re an athlete who’s on the fence about yoga:

  • Take some time to find a good teacher who will help you feel comfortable in your practice but also challenged.
  • Don’t write off all of yoga after doing just one class and not feeling completely sold. Experiment with different styles and different teachers. It’s often the teacher who will make you feel connected with yoga at first.
  • Be patient with your body as you become familiar with yoga. If you’re not used to being in some of these rather twisty poses, give yourself permission to take it slow. Your body will gradually adapt and loosen up. If you take it too quickly and push too hard you will injure yourself.
  • Think of yoga as a time to heal your body and give back to it for all the hard work it does during your athletic training. Every stretch, every pose will bring balance to your body and the muscles that can often get strained from overuse. Even if going to yoga class means missing a regular workout, that’s OK. Your body will get a lot out of doing yoga that will enhance your training and protect you from injury.

If you’re not on the fence about doing yoga, you’re either doing it or not doing it. And if you are, great! I hope it’s helping you in your training. If you’re not doing it and feel like sharing reasons why you aren’t, please leave a comment and share what you do for activity/training.

Here’s Jack Maitland, coach to the very fast Brownlee brothers who do very well with triathlons, talking about why yoga is good for endurance athletes.

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About Shoshana Hebshi

I write about what interests me, which could be anything from a scrap of mossy wood to a revolution. Mom to twins, Californian living in the American Midwest, wife of fledgling physician and the daughter of an Arab and a Jew.

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