How Does Yoga Help Athletes?

Benefits and suggestions for incorporating yoga in your active lifestyle

Yoga is an appropriate practice for many athletes, providing physical exercise, breath control and flexibility, as well as mental focus. Yoga helps athletes gain knowledge about the mind and body connection, improving body awareness and enhancing mental clarity. Studies conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine illustrate that the physical benefits of yoga for athletes are lowered heart rate, increased oxygen intake, functional strength and flexibility, but athletes also report enhanced focus and greater concentration.

Health benefits of yoga for athletes

Many athletes find yoga helps with rehabilitating the body after an injury. AltMD suggests integrating yoga into athletic training helps athletes lessen their risk of injury and recovery time by gaining strength and flexibility without straining muscles. Yoga relieves muscle tension and loosens joints, hips, hamstrings and shoulders. Athletes who practice yoga gain greater ability to manage their breath — maximizing oxygen intake and lessening loss of energy during endurance training. Yoga helps athletes lower blood pressure, mitigate aches and pains, manage intensity and increase focus, preparing the body's physical response to challenging situations, as in competitive sports.

Yoga styles for athletes

Athletes should pick a yoga practice that complements their training schedule. An intense daily workout schedule could be balanced by a restorative yoga practice, or Yin yoga class, helping athletes find a place to slow down, relax and dive deep into tense and tight areas of the body. If you want your yoga practice to help the body become more energized for your sport, begin the day with strengthening yoga such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Power yoga to prepare the body for activity. Many yoga teachers will offer athletes insight into alignment of the muscles and bones. Focus on alignment may be found with Iyengar yoga. At the very least, a sequence of stretches may be practiced before, during or after athletic training.

Yoga for runners

Yoga provides a whole body workout for athletes, enhancing any cross-training program as a complement to strong cardiovascular workouts. Practicing yoga is beneficial to runners because yoga helps maintain the balance between strengthening and stretching. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 70 percent of all runners will be injured. Yoga exercises help tone the core, improve your range of motion and balance the body, absorbing the impact frequent running has on other areas of the body. Yoga for runners should incorporate breath work and balances to increase awareness of the body and breath.

Yoga exercises for athletes

Lunges and hamstring stretches will facilitate looser hamstrings and greater flexibility. Seated spinal twists, standing twists and forward folds are excellent to open up the spine and release tension in the upper body and neck. Exercises which stretch the groin, shins and hips will help athletes prevent injury.

Equally beneficial to the physical benefits of yoga for athletes is the mental focus achieved from balancing poses, breath work and quieting the mind. Meditation is a powerful practice to integrate into competitive athletic practices.

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