Top Ten Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
contributed to by acac yoga instructor and personal trainer Adriana Correa.
In my years of instructing, I have had many athletes try yoga after they became injured. It’s important to know that adding yoga to your athletic training can help to prevent injury. Yoga will also help you balance the strength and flexibility in your physical, mental and emotional bodies.
At acac, we offer many types of yoga. I recommend that athletes start with a yoga essentials or stationary yoga class to gain familiarity with the poses and the yoga breath. The benefits of a yoga practice come from practicing three to five times a week. You can do this by adding a few poses at the end of your training session as well as taking a yoga class once or twice a week. Don’t put it off any longer. Take a deep breath and commit to taking your first class this week!
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1. Increase Strength and Flexibility: Yoga is all about perfecting one’s flow through the combination of various asanas, or poses. Each pose contorts the body in a new way and increases one’s strength and flexibility as poses are deepened. As Shape Magazine says, “no amount of weight-lifting will give you the strength that consistently holding up your own body weight will.” The variety of asanas necessitates a total body workout that will accentuate under-utilized muscle groups and give them the attention they deserve. Increased flexibility is also beneficial for athletes as it will work to heal injuries caused by overuse.
2. Improve Respiration: Unless you suffer from asthma or shortness of breath, you might not realize the breadth of benefits provided by a healthy breathing pattern. A strong and focused breath — like that required in yoga — increases oxygen intake, combats rugged inhalation, and allows for better control over one’s respiratory system. Additionally, studies show that regular Hatha yoga practice can significantly increase one’s vital lung capacity.
3. Regain Lost Range of Motion and Increase Muscle Control: A result of increased flexibility, increasing one’s range of motion allows for more efficient movements and increased power within the body. Try practicing the same yoga flow for a month straight. You’ll soon notice that your range of motion has drastically improved and you are better able to control your muscles, leading to greater agility overall. You may even have to add variations to deepen your stretch and further your practice.
4. Improve Focus: Breath work, or pranayama, aids one’s focus and concentration because it requires such a high level of body awareness and attention. Intense focus on one’s breath directly translates to a runner’s focus during a race or a golfer’s focus during a swing.
5. Reduce Injury: Many sports like cycling and running involve repetitive motions that cause our muscles to sustain overuse injuries. The variation of movements in a single yoga flow allows for a holistic bodily workout that will reduce these injuries and involve different muscle groups rather than the same.
6. Align the Spine: If nothing else, yoga certainly forces us to notice improper posture! Nearly all of the central asanas require a strong back and properly aligned spine. After just a few sessions, you’re sure to see a difference in both the strength and straightness of your back muscles and motion.
7. Strengthen Your Core: Core strength is a strong pillar in the physical benefits of yoga. Using our bodies to hold our own weight and focusing on proper breath movements makes for long, lean core muscles the natural way. The need to focus on body awareness during yoga also lends to better balance and coordination and, ultimately, better technique and form for athletes of all varieties.
8. Maintain Weight: Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can translate to a steady, or even decreased, weight. This is credited to a yogi’s sense of body awareness and ability to persevere through mild discomfort.
9. Quiet the Mind and Reduce Anxiety: Every yoga class ends with savasana, or an extended period of meditation. This portion of the class is not to be taken lightly! After we’ve contorted our bodies and focused attention on the physical benefits of yoga, we then center that focus on our minds and are able to enjoy tranquility amidst the chaos of everyday life. The brain chemicals released during a period of intense focus and concentration (a.k.a. yoga) have shown decreased levels of anxiety and increased ability to combat depression.
10. Enhance Sleep: The calming effects of yoga on one’s reduced stress, lessened fear and anxiety, and mental energy creates a soothing sensation that will aid one’s sleep habits. Many people cite a better night’s sleep after participating in an evening yoga session.