Alison Lewis | Traci Lee
What do LeBron James, the Seattle Seahawks, the US Women’s Soccer team and golf pro Annika Sorenstam all have in common? They’re all tremendous athletes, yes, but there’s something else. Give up yet? Yoga. They all practice yoga as part of their training regimens. The LA Clippers even have their very own yoga instructor on staff, the only one in the NBA. That’s how vital many top athletes and sports organizations are realizing yoga truly is to athletic performance and overall wellbeing. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, daily Crossfit devotee or like to lace up and hit the pavement to blow off steam after work every day, you too can improve your performance and longevity with a regular yoga routine.
On the mat, you are constantly working detailed alignment and functional movement. Through increased self-awareness you’re able to shift subtle stuck energy into fluid patterns, and continuously refine your body’s movement within each session. How could this not translate over to other types of body movement and physical activities? With a consistent yoga practice, you will discover increased strength, mobility, balance and focus, whether you’re an athlete or not. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits you can reap from this ancient practice:
Strength: By practicing consistently, a steady series of varied yoga postures will improve muscle tone and strength. Many of the asanas (or postures) in yoga can awaken muscles that have been dormant for some time. It’s not uncommon to wake up the next day after a yoga class and feel muscle soreness. Activating these muscles on a regular basis will build lean and strong muscles as well as endurance. You are challenged to hold postures that involve supporting your own body weight, often for an extended period of time several times during a yoga routine. This has a similar muscle-building effect to lifting weights at the gym, but unlike weight lifting, yoga tones muscles all over your body in balance, whereas weight lifting involves isolating individual muscles.
Mobility: It almost goes without saying, but committing to growing and deepening your yoga practice will invariably increase your joint and muscle flexibility by leaps and bounds.This increased range of motion is desired for every endeavor, from something as simple as getting up from your chair to swinging a golf club. With yoga, you maintain fluidity of the spinal column. A strong and flexible spine allows you to enjoy the vitality of youthful upright posture and freedom of movement. It provides a perfect counterbalance and complement to many of the repetitive movements you experience in activities such as running, swimming and other sports. Put simple, fluid muscles and joints move more efficiently and recover more quickly.
Balance: How important is balance? Let’s just say you’d have a pretty tough time going about your day without it, let alone try to play a sport or compete. No matter how unsteady you think you may be, you can improve your balance with a variety of yoga postures that will transform how you carry yourself throughout your day, including challenging physical activities.
Mental focus: Yoga is a path toward stilling the mind, and while the physical benefits of yoga cannot be ignored, quite possibly the greatest benefit is the mind-body connection that it facilitates. Yoga is deceptively challenging and simultaneously rewarding. Whether you’re trying to clear your mind through meditation or hold a difficult pose, you’re challenged to bring stillness to the mind and to focus, to breathe through the discomfort. To do what you never dreamed you were capable of doing. It brings focus so you can crowd out the noise and look only at what’s right in front of you, much as a basketball player does when he’s standing at the line for a foul shot, hundreds of opponents’ fans screaming to throw him off.
As you can see, yoga is so much more than “stretching and breathing,” as is a common misconception. Beginning a yoga practice may seem daunting when you’re already dedicated to your existing workout routine. Our bodies are amazing and allow us to create the life we want, so it’s important to care for them with great intent. By learning proper alignment and mechanics through a committed yoga practice, you can carry these principles from the mat to the courts, the track, the gym and beyond. The key is a sustained and consistent practice.
1. Source: https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/can-yoga-replace-strength-training/
2. Source: http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/5-ways-yoga-can-boost-performance-athletes