Sports fans and non-sports fans alike can’t help but be impressed by the athletic performances on display in Sochi, Russia at the Olympic Winter Games. These athletes spend countless hours to training in their selected sport.
But training to be the best in your sport, whether you’re going for gold or going for your own personal best, requires more than just training at your sport. World-class athletes know the importance of cross-training – and one of the best ways is with yoga.
Physical Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
Improved flexibility: Whether it’s flying down a mountain, racing around a track or aiming for a goal, the more malleable your body, the lower your risk of pulling or straining something. Yoga helps keep the body stretched and loose.
If your muscles and tendons are looser, a hit, a push, a fall, or any other force that causes your body to go in an unexpected direction won’t be as dangerous.
Better alignment: Nearly every sport relies on having your body in the perfect form for the action being performed. If you’re not in the proper position, your performance will suffer. Yoga teaches increased awareness of your body as a whole which translates to improved performance on the field or course.
Stronger supporting muscles: Most sports focus on the big muscles – the quads, hamstrings, biceps – but injuries often result when the smaller muscles are weak. A complete yoga practice encompasses the major muscles as well as the supporting muscles.
When these supporting muscles are stronger, they’re better able to take on the impact of the physical activity and share the burden so the major muscles aren’t overworked – in other words, they keep the big muscles from being overworked. The result is reduced injury and better performance.
Stronger back and core: Many yoga postures focus on the back and core – both strengthening and opening. A strong and flexible back and core mean an athlete is better able to support their bodies throughout their activity – no matter what the body is being called upon to do.
Mental Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
On top of preventing injuries, yoga benefits the mind and spirit – both of which have proven invaluable in times of high stress sporting events.
1. Keep your head in the game: Yoga teaches you to be in the moment, and nothing requires being in the moment quite like a high-stakes sports performance.
2. Ignore distractions: Whether the crowd is cheering in support or boo-ing opponents, sporting events run rampant with distractions. By being able to focus and ignore what’s going on around you, you’ll be better able to do the job that you’re trained to do when it matters most.
3. Improved breathing: There’s a tendency among just about everyone – athlete or not – to hold our breath or take shallow breaths during times of high stress. Yoga trains you to keep your breath even and constant. Through regular practice, this is no longer a concern when the pressure is highest and even breathing can make or break a performance.
4. Better sleep: A regular yoga practice often has the added benefit – mostly due to the calming of the mind – to help you sleep better. Sleep equals rested body which in turn equates to being better able to perform at your peak.
If you’re an athlete and you haven’t added yoga to your training regiment, I recommend you don’t wait any longer. Find a style of practice that you enjoy and keep at it. An activity that may have always seemed to you to be slow and unimportant could end up being a game changer.