Yoga has been practiced in some cultures for hundreds of years, but more recently it’s become increasingly popular all over the world, with all kinds of people. Yes, whilst many like to dismiss yoga lovers as ‘those bloody hippies’, it’s no longer just the preachers of peace and love who swear by it, now so indeed do a lot of others. It’s hit the mainstream, and for good reason. What we’re here to explain is why so many athletes have begun to practice yoga and how it in turn can help you with your chosen sport. Here’s why yoga is great for athletes.
Balance, coordination & concentrationTo start off, try standing on one foot and closing your eyes, now go up and down on your tip toes. It may well be harder than you think and it sure does put your balance to the test. That’s one integral part of yoga: balance. ‘Why do you need balance for sports’? we hear you cry… Well, improving your balance and coordination can enhance your control over how you move your body, which in turn can help to improve your technique and form. From swimmers to golfers to rugby players, all athletes strive towards the perfect technique, and through flows of yoga poses you can help to improve your balance, coordination and concentration during exercise.
Building strength through yogaNext up; strength. You won’t be building up bulging biceps or tree-trunk legs from yoga anytime soon, but what you will be doing is strengthening muscles that are often under-utilised in other sports, most notably your core. Your core plays a huge role in supporting your more widely utilised muscles, but it’s an area often left neglected and a weak core can lead to injuries through a lack of support and muscle imbalance. Balanced strength is important for overall functional strength, so there’s another tick in the box for yoga.
The beauty of stretchingTalking of neglect…stretching. That may seem a tenuous link, but many people love to exercise and look after themselves, but rather ironically often fail to make time for a crucial part of looking after the body; stretching. We’re not saying everyone should strive for gymnast-style flexibility. However, increasing muscle flexibility and range of motion not only goes a long way in injury prevention, but can once again, enable athletes to improve technique in their chosen sports. Think of a swimmer with a supple shoulder and a swimmer with a tight shoulder: the former will be able to pull a lot more water each stroke than the latter. It’s not just stretching for the sake of stretching, it’s…science!
Mental focusA fourth, but most likely not final, benefit of yoga is the increased mental control it can provide to athletes. Even if meditation is not quite your cup of tea, there’s no denying that mental strength and focus are an integral part of competitive sport. Think of the best of the best, Federer, Phelps, Freeman, Farah. Their mental resilience, laser focus and ability to quell the endless doubts and voices that pass through their minds in those crucial moments, are what helped them to get to the top and stay at the top. Yoga incorporates a variety of techniques to help with mental focus, and these techniques are directly transferable for athletes as well. Yes, yoga has its stereotypes, but perhaps now it’s clear why it’s become so widespread. You don’t have to be an athlete to practice yoga, and you don’t have to practice yoga to be an athlete. But Its benefits are only positive. If you are indeed into running, cycling, swimming etc., then do consider including yoga as part of your training, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the mental and physical effects it can have! — Yoga Sitting Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash Yoga Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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