It's no secret that yoga is a healthy and beneficial endeavor. Yoga for athletes adds a new dimension of muscular movement and body awareness - and that's just the beginning. If you’re looking for a way to improve your athletic performance, this ancient practice provides a path toward excelling beyond your current level.
Perhaps you’re interested in practicing yoga but leery about what class would be most appropriate for a fit, athletic person with little to no experience with yoga. With at least 50 types of yoga available the good news is whatever your athletic focus is, there is a type of yoga for you. Yoga helps to build stability in the body, reduce risk of injury, build core strength and improve imbalances from overtraining/under-training certain muscle groups. The list of benefits is quite extensive – take a peek at some benefits related specifically to athletes.
In Sanskrit the word yoga means “to yoke” or "to join," which relates to the connection between the mind and the body. Yoga invites us to turn inward and find a place of stillness inside, whatever our external circumstances. Learning to breathe and find calm amidst chaos can directly translate to improved performance on the court, the field, or wherever your training takes you. As Yogi Berra said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical." Many yoga practitioners describe a feeling of well-being and overall peace of mind that carries over long after mats are rolled up and put away.
So how often, what style, and what level of intensity will best serve you right now? What about in 6 months? If you’re incorporating yoga into your overall wellness program, it can be helpful to understand how your training may be impacting your body. Variables to consider:
- Flexibility or lack thereof – Running, cycling, weight training, CrossFit and other intense activities decrease flexibility. Practicing yoga can bring flexibility back into your body, or help you experience it for the first time. Don't be afraid to use props (blocks, straps, bolsters) in class.
- Seasonal demands of your sport or activity - Increase the intensity of your yoga practice during the off-season and support recovery when training heavily or in-season.
- Injuries - Be patient with yourself if you’re recovering from an injury. There are many ways to accommodate and support your practice with props and other modifications. Practice yoga today so that you may practice yoga tomorrow.
Types of Yoga
If your sport is seasonal or event-based, look for classes that support your recovery and rest during the season. In times of intense training, you might add something gentle and relaxing to support to your overall wellness. Gentle Yoga is comprised of stretching, breath and movement to open up the body and can be a good option for someone with limited flexibility. Restorative Yoga encourages relaxation through supported poses with props for comfort. In Yin Yoga, the focus is on deep stretches targeting the fascia, tendons and other “plastic” tissues, and the poses are held for a longer period of time. Yoga Nidra is a yoga practice known as "Yogic Sleep" and there is no movement and students are guided into a deep level of relaxation allowing the mind to reach new heights.
For athletes seeking a more challenging physical experience, there are many options. A Flow or Vinyasa Yoga class will move through series of poses linked by breath and may be fast (Power) or slow (Gentle). Generally the class will be designated as "slow flow" or by levels to indicate the level of difficulty. Hot Yoga is another popular style of yoga that many athletes enjoy, since the intense heat allows the muscles to feel more limber and flexible. Ashtanga Yoga develops strength, flexibility and discipline by linking breath with movement through a set series of poses.
Whatever route you take, it’s always a smart idea to speak with the teacher before class begins. Offering insight into your training, background, and injuries will help you ensure the safest, most efficient route to a good experience.
A few tips:
- Don’t be afraid to try out some different classes, teachers, and if your schedule permits, try taking class at different times of day.
- Remember that yoga class is a place where competition is totally unnecessary and actually detracts from the experience. Leave your inner competitor outside the yoga room (along with your shoes!).
- Approach yoga with an open mind and allow yourself to reap the benefits that will extend far beyond your athletic gains. It might surprise you how much you enjoy the practice and how it supports not just your athletic goals, but also your overall wellness.
Read this for more information on yoga for athletes. You can try all of these yoga classes and more at the Village – learn about our yoga classes and view our schedule on our website. See you on the mat!