Of yoga’s many known benefits, one is particularly interesting to people who play sports or train in athletics. Physiological studies show that yoga can directly improve athletic performance; and it does this in a few different ways.
Professional sports teams now often hire a yoga teacher to support their training; footballers, basketball players, climbers, and even wrestlers practice yoga to improve performance.
Yoga improves flexibility and prevents injury
Yoga, as you might guess, is highly effective at increasing flexibility. Although it’s not the primary purpose of the practice (which is more focused on the mind and breath control), longer hamstrings and more open hips are a happy side effect of regular yoga.
In terms of athletic performance, increased flexibility carries a number of benefits:
- It expands range of motion and enhances body control
- It improves muscle tone and resilience, so you’re less likely to pick up injuries
- It speeds up recovery time if you do become injured
Injury prevention and management is one of the key reasons that more and more professional athletes do yoga. For some, including climbers and gymnasts, increased flexibility and muscle control through yoga directly influences their ability to excel at their sport.
Yoga improves focus and reduces performance anxiety
Injury prevention is not the only reason why professional sports figures take to the yoga mat. Athletes and team players find that yoga improves their focus and memory recall, and helps to manage performance anxiety in high-pressured situations.
Studies show that yoga can help to manage nerves and counter the effects of pressure. The breathing and grounding techniques used during yoga practice come into play in any stressful situation; essentially, you learn how to come back to the present moment and surrender to it. You learn how to settle yourself within your body and access your own power in a calm, steady manner.
In addition, yoga has been proven to improve concentration and memory, changing brain structures to enhance your ability to focus and recall information. This can help athletes tune into the task at hand, and bring to mind the details of their visualizations or plans.
Yoga gives you better proprioception skills
An important element of physical yoga practice is its emphasis on body awareness. Yoga makes you more skillful at understanding the way your body moves, and the effect that each body part has on the next. You learn to recognize patterns in your movement during yoga that translate to other kinds of movement — so, overall, you become more skilled at being in your body.
Evidence suggests that regular yoga practice significantly improves proprioception; our understanding and control of where our body is in space.
This means that yoga can support the development of other motor skills, including:
- Balancing, and transferring weight
- Throwing, catching, and jumping
- Finding and holding a particular position or posture without having to look in a mirror
- Changing direction
- Lifting, holding, passing
- Interacting with other bodies in a controlled, intentional way
All of these skills are good for a range of different sports. Yoga can help you get better at passing the ball to a teammate; jumping over a hurdle; balancing on the gymnastics floor; and holding your body in a healthy, efficient position while running. To name just a few possibilities!
Do yoga, perform better
The way that yoga practice affects the nervous system and hormones helps to improve your body’s physiological reaction to the stress of intense training. The body becomes a more stable unit; a more balanced entity overall.
And this is only good when it comes to athletic performance.
That’s not to say that yoga is all you need. But adding yoga into your training plan will only do good for your performance. And more than that, it will make your training more enjoyable. You’ll feel calmer, more comfortable in your body, and better able to recognize when your body is sending important signals that tell you to back off or change the way you’re moving.
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