Yoga For Athletes: Benefits and Best Poses

(Last Updated On: August 12, 2022)

I know what a lot of jocks think, “yoga is for wimps”.

I should know; I used to think that back when I was an idiot teenager.

Then I got older and learned about yoga’s benefits for athletes.

yoga for athletes

What is Yoga Anyway?

Believe it or not, there is more to yoga than just a bunch of women doing stretches in tight pants.

Yoga actually has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to unite.”

So yoga is all about uniting the body, mind, and spirit.

The practice of yoga can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization, which flourished in India over 3,000 years ago.

However, it was not until the 6th century BCE that yoga really began to take shape as a distinct philosophical and spiritual tradition.

Yoga reached its golden age between the 5th and 8th centuries CE under the patronage of various Hindu dynasties.

During this time, many of the classic texts on yoga were written, including the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which remain an indispensable guide for yogis to this day.

In the West, yoga was first introduced in the late 19th century by Indian teachers like Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sivananda.

However, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that yoga really began to gain popularity in the United States.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of different types of yoga being practiced all over the world.

So whether you’re into power yoga, Hatha yoga, Bikram yoga, or Vinyasa yoga, there’s definitely a yoga practice that’s right for you.




 

Related: Why Athletes Should Avoid Crossfit

Related: Muscle Cramps and Athletes: How to Avoid Them

Related: Do Ice Baths Really Work for Recovery?

 

Yoga for Athletes: The Benefits

So what does all this have to do with athletes? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot!

There can be numerous benefits to getting on the yoga mat and hitting some yoga workouts.

Here are just a few of the ways that yoga practice can benefit your athletic performance:

 Improve Flexibility

This one is pretty obvious. After all, yoga is all about stretching and lengthening the muscles.

And while it’s true that some sports like weightlifting or bodybuilding can reduce your flexibility, other sports like running or cycling heavily rely on having a good range of motion in your joints.

Practicing yoga can help correct imbalances in the muscles and improve your overall flexibility, leading to improved performance in your chosen sport.

athletes and yoga

Enhance Strength

While yoga may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “strength training,” there are actually quite a few yoga poses that can help build strength in the muscles.

For example, poses like the plank and the crow require you to support your entire body weight with just your arms or legs.

Other poses like chair pose and Warrior III also require a great deal of strength and stability.

So if you’re looking to build strength and power, yoga is definitely worth considering.

Improve Balance

In many sports, having good balance is essential.

Think of a gymnast on the balance beam or a surfer riding a wave.

Yoga can help improve your balance by strengthening the muscles around the joints and increasing your proprioception (your ability to sense the position of your body in space).

Increase Focus and Concentration

In any sport, being able to focus and concentrate on your task at hand is essential.

Yoga can help improve your focus and concentration by teaching you how to control your breath and still your mind.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

For many athletes, managing stress and anxiety is a big part of the game.

Yoga can help by teaching you how to control your breath and relax your mind while improving mental focus.

And when you’re able to control your stress and anxiety levels, you’ll be better able to perform at your best.

Improves Mobility

If you’re looking to improve your flexibility, strength, balance, and focus, then yoga is definitely worth considering.

And if you’re an athlete, there’s a good chance that yoga can help you improve your performance.




 

Yoga for Athletes: Best Yoga Poses

If you are an athlete and just want to get straight to the yoga poses that will give you the best bang for your buck, then these are for you.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

The downward-facing dog is good for athletes because it helps to improve flexibility in the hamstrings, and calves, and hits the upper body areas like the shoulders while also strengthening the arms and back.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands and knees shoulder-width apart.

As you inhale, lift your knees away from the ground and straighten your legs.

Your hips should be pointing up towards the sky, and your arms should be straight.

Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths.

 

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose

The Pigeon pose is excellent for runners with tight hips and lower back. If you are around a cross country or track team long enough, you will surely see someone hitting this pose to stretch those hips.

How to do it:

  • Start in a pushup position.
  • Bring your right knee forward and place it underneath your right wrist.
  • Your right ankle should be placed just behind your left hip.
  • Slowly lower your hips towards the ground and rest your forehead on the ground.
  • Hold this pose for 5-10

 

Crescent Lunge

Crescent Lunge

The Crescent Lunge is great for those with tight hip flexors, which is most people nowadays. It also stretched the glutes and quadriceps.

How to do it:

  • Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Take a big step forward with your right foot and sink into a lunge.
  • Your left knee should be pointing towards the ground, and your right thigh should be parallel to the ground.
  • Reach your arms up overhead, keeping your shoulders down and your core engaged.
  • Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths before switching sides.

 

Warrior III

warrior pose 3

Warrior III is an excellent balance pose that also strengthens the muscles in the legs, back and core.

How to do it:

  • Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Take a big step forward with your right foot and sink into a lunge.
  • Your left knee should be pointing towards the ground and your right thigh should be parallel to the ground.
  • Reach your arms up overhead, keeping your shoulders down and your core engaged.
  • As you exhale, lift your left leg off the ground and straighten it behind you.
  • Your body should be in a straight line from your fingertips to your left heel.
  • Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths before switching sides.

 

Tree Pose

tree pose yoga

The Tree Pose is another excellent balance pose that strengthens the legs and feet muscles.

How to do it:

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Place your right foot on your left thigh, keeping your heel close to your groin.
  • Use your left hand to help you steady yourself as you bring your right foot up into place.
  • Once your foot is in place, bring your palms together in front of your chest and take 5-10 deep breaths.
  • Make sure to keep your core engaged and your shoulders down.

There are countless other great poses out there and countless great yoga teachers out there that would be happy to teach them to you.

 

Professional Athletes Who Use Yoga

Lebron flex

Many professional athletes have used yoga to improve their performance.

I remember when Shaquille O’Neill played for the Cavs, there was a big news story about him doing hot yoga at a local studio.

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback, is well known for his love of yoga and credits it for helping him stay in shape and recover from injuries.

NBA players, including Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love, and Jason Kidd, have all used yoga to improve their flexibility, mobilty and strength. Kareem Abdul Jabar was also way into yoga which isn’t surprising considering he is a big hippie.

Regular yoga practice can be highly beneficial for athletes at any level.

 




Conclusion

Yoga is a great way for athletes to improve their flexibility, strength, and balance. It can also help with recovery from injuries. Many professional athletes use yoga as part of their training routine. So if you’re looking to take your performance to the next level, give yoga a try!

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