Male or Female, regardless of the sport or discipline, all athletes can benefit from adding yoga into their training regimen. Aside from the obvious physical benefits such as increased strength, endurance, and flexibility, yoga has tremendous positive side effects on our mental health and overall well being. Many athletes credit their yoga practice for the mental confidence and peace of mind that helps them win games, races, competitions, etc.
In recent years, yoga has become a very popular off season practice for many well known American football players. Take Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, a five time Super Bowl champion, MVP, and one of the greatest football players of all time. Tom is a long time yoga lover and says that the practice has not only helped with his flexibility but also his attitude, both on and off the field. Russel Wilson and Victor Cruz are just a couple of the famous male athletes who share Tom’s affinity for the Eastern practice. In fact, top athletes in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis, and golf, have all attributed their mental clarity to the practice of yoga.
Physical Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
The physical benefits of a consistent yoga practice seem to be never ending: strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, weight loss, increased muscle tone, better digestion, chronic pain relief, injury prevention, the list goes on. For athletes, this can (and does) translate into better performance.
Men especially can benefit from a consistent yoga practice as they typically are not as flexible as women. The flexibility that results from yoga will directly result in an increased range of motion. For athletes, especially men, that added flexibility will translate into a stronger golf or tennis swing, ease of throwing and catching a football, more strength when swinging a baseball bat, greater swimming stroke, and more advanced wrestling moves. It also means the likelihood of pulling a muscle is much lower.
Balance is a key component to yoga. Better balance means less risk of falling and less injury. It can also help in contact sports like football, basketball, and hockey where an opponent is trying to knock you down. Better balance also means better control over the body and all movements. Having better control of your movements means that you can refine your technique even further, becoming a better athlete.
Yoga promotes endurance as well. Doing countless sun salutations, holding an inversion such as handstand, or balancing in warrior three, your muscles will learn to engage for long periods of time allowing you to hold poses extensively. Eventually, the effects of yoga will seep into your mind and holding these poses will become more of a meditation. This can especially be beneficial for long distance running, triathlons, and Iron Man competitions. After a while, you will begin to reach a meditative state and will find that you can continue running with ease. Runners call it “runner’s high” but it can be achieved in any sport. It is essentially reaching a point of complete synchronicity between mind and body and is much easier to achieve with some training in yoga and meditation.
Another huge physical benefit of practicing yoga is increased strength. Although weight training and other physical activities build strength, they typically focus on the larger and more widely utilized muscles. Using only body weight, yoga postures call on those larger muscle groups as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles that surround the large muscle groups. This in turn can prevent over use injuries as the body does not need to rely solely on the strength of the core muscle group. By strengthening the surrounding muscles, the distribution of strength becomes more equal and overall functional strength is increased.
Mental Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
Although yoga has numerous health benefits for the physical body, it is the mental benefits that keep dedicated yogis returning to their mats time and time again. The physical aspect of yoga is only one of eight limbs that make up the ancient practice and belief system. Originally, the yoga asanas (poses) were created as a way to warm up and prepare the body to sit for prolonged periods of time in meditation. Physical yoga practice can be thought of as a moving meditation. With time and consistent practice, this meditative state can be carried over into other practices ie. sports. Remember the runner’s high? The benefits of meditation are profound and seem to directly impact athletic performance.
If you think about it, its pretty simple. When your mind is cluttered, it translates into your outside world. If you are constantly over thinking and placing pressure on yourself to succeed, at some point or another, you will end up failing. Concentration is the key. If you are stressed out and can’t think clearly, your performance will be negatively impacted. But, if you have a clear and calm mind and are able to see the bigger picture, you will enjoy yourself regardless of the outcome. And when you start to relieve yourself of the pressure to succeed, success starts to flow effortlessly.
What is it that sets champions apart from other athletes? Physical talent and ability are only part of the equation. Often times, it is a winning attitude that sets apart the champion from the other contenders. The champion truly believes that he or she will win. Adopting a yoga practice and reaping the benefits of a clear mind allows an athlete to rid him or herself from limiting beliefs. With no fear of failure, no negative thoughts, and a focused mind, success is within reach. One of the effects of yoga and meditation is a sharper mind; a mind that is able to think more clearly. When the mind is free of outside distractions, it is able to focus intensely on a single process or idea. Athletes who practice yoga are able to clearly and realistically visualize success and have higher odds of achieving it. They are able to manifest the outcome.
Yoga also helps you tune into your spiritual body. You will develop a deeper connection with yourself and learn to tune into your body’s wants and needs. As an athlete, this can help to determine when it is time to push your body further and when it is time to back off. You’ll develop a respect for your practice and you will begin to feel that respect and compassion for others. This promotes community and in sports translates into being a team player. Whatever the reasoning for beginning a yoga practice, the benefits are endless and can help to bring your athletic potential to the next level.
Want to get started? See our recommendations for yoga mats for men.