Yoga for Athletes
Athletes in a wide variety of sports are turning to yoga for physical, mental, and emotional support.
What do LeBron James, Lauren Fleshman, the Seattle Seahawks, and the New Zealand All Blacks have in common? Besides being professional athletes with recent championship-winning seasons, all four use their yoga practices to give them a competitive edge.Athletes in a wide variety of sports are turning to yoga for physical, mental, and emotional support. This ancient practice has real, practical benefits for all modern athletes – from King James to P.E. students – and Yoga Ed. is here to help you experience them. Check out the benefits below, along with recommended poses to try during your own cross-training adventures.
Yoga has been shown to improve flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, circulation, and immunity.Most athletes know that yoga can help your flexibility. But can’t “regular stretching” do the same thing? Not in the same way. Stretching is linear, usually focusing on one body part at a time. Yoga poses typically stretch multiple regions of the body at once, in multiple planes. That can be especially helpful for joints that move in many directions, such as the shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles, and hips. By placing your body in its full range of motion, yoga is the perfect complement for dynamic activities like sports.A member of the New Zealand All Blacks, Beauden Barrett, says he’s “been working on my flexibility. That’s been vital for me. … I’m quite a stiff bloke, so extra [yoga] sessions here and there have certainly helped.”
Jason Battung is a Yoga Ed. trainer. At his high school in Los Angeles he teaches five classes of beginner’s yoga, each class packed with nearly 40 students. “At first,” Jason reflects, “I wanted to teach yoga for high school athletes to help them maximize their physical potential, understand their mental patterns, and minimize frequency of injury.” Yet as his own practice and interests evolved, he began to see his role in a new light. Realizing yoga could support healthy physical, mental, and emotional development of all students, not just athletes, Jason identified “naturally occurring cross curricular connections and social-emotional lessons” that yoga can offer. “That is at the heart of what I do, and something I believe is the future of high school physical education,” says Jason.
LeBron James, a 3-time NBA champion, has been serious about yoga for more than a decade.
Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind, and it’s a technique that has really helped me.Lebron James
By building awareness of your body, breath, and thoughts, yoga brings everything together in a way that engages and energizes. “You do have to focus because there’s some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren’t focused and breathing right,” James says. As James alludes to, yoga requires a focus on the breath which can help train your mind to focus on just one thing at a time. This is often a challenge for busy athletes of all ages. This type of concentration can be crucial for game-winning shots or the many micro-decisions athletes need to make during competition.
Coach Pete Carroll knows that happy players are better players, so yoga and meditation are consistently on his football team’s agenda. The Seahawks originally had yoga as an optional activity during the 2012 season, and the players enjoyed it so much that it became a mandatory part of workouts in 2013. His players found a sense of ease in the practice that they could carry onto the field. Lauren Fleshman, a two-time national outdoor 5000-meter champion, found yoga after she broke her foot in 2008. It helped her recover from injury, but the poses also gave her insight into how to stay persistent in the face of difficulty. “Enduring an intense pose is a lot like enduring a long run or tempo run,” she says. “Yoga helps me control my emotions while I’m in discomfort on the road.” Many endurance athletes say their sport is just as mental as it is physical, and this emotional awareness can help you stay in the game even when it’s hard.
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