Ever wondered why some of the top athletes like Virat Kohli, LeBron James, Djokovic, and Sachin Tendulkar have taken to yoga and mindfulness practices? Research has stated that “One of the best lessons athletes can learn from practicing yoga is how to respect their body’s strengths and limitations. This knowledge is essential to preventing injuries in sports. Yoga is a powerful biofeedback tool that can help athletes develop better body awareness. Listening to the body and responding to its messages is a way to honor the body and not push it over the edge.
Let’s have a look at the benefits of adopting yoga by sportsperson of any level:
1. Improved Breathing – Increased lung capacity is extremely important for athletes. Breathing exercises/pranayama helps to improve lung capacity and this, in turn, ensures that there is more oxygen circulating in the body – reducing fatigue and keeping the body completely energized. Generally, most sports involve fast and shallow breathing, the practice of Yogic breathing helps ensure slow, deep, and long breathing that greatly helps to increase endurance and overall athletic performance.
2. Body Awareness/Proprioception – The practice of yoga asanas and pranayama (breathing
exercises) always demands awareness of the whole body and the breath, including the most subtle movements. Hence, athletes will be able to better control any small movements, and this will also translate to more energy and injury prevention, resulting in better coordination.
3. Flexibility – One of the most common reasons for starting a yoga practice is to improve flexibility. This is a good reason for one to start, before they discover the other benefits of practicing yoga – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Asana practice helps to target all the muscles of the body and stretches the muscles that are tight, which increases the range of motion of the joints and decreases stiffness, resulting in greater ease of movement and reducing any soreness experienced due to long hours of training.
4. Strength – Most sports require the use of a few major muscles, while some muscles remain underutilized. Through the practice of properly aligned yoga asanas (keeping in mind the sutra - sthira sukham asananam) all the muscles, especially the ones that are not commonly used in the sport are engaged and strengthened to avoid any imbalances in the body. Overusing certain muscles while underusing some could lead to muscular imbalances which tend to affect the whole musculoskeletal system and impair biomechanical efficiency. Yoga helps to safely stretch and strengthen these underused muscles.
5. Stress Reduction – Synchronizing movement with breath and the practice of regular breathing exercises helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response of the nervous system). This melts away any stress or tension in the body and heals the body completely.
6. Faster Recovery – Yoga leads to improvement in the symmetry and alignment of the body which helps to prevent new injuries from occurring while healing any stubborn, chronic, or recurrent injuries that prevent an athlete from performing to their best ability. Generally, due to long hours of practice, athletes tend to live with soreness and many nagging pains that could translate to bigger injuries if not taken care of at the right movement. Consistent yoga practice helps to nip these nagging pains at the very root.
7. Mental Focus – Regular practice of yoga helps to greatly enhance clarity and focus. Most athletes train hard and they’re extremely talented, but what differentiates them from Olympic-level athletes is the mind. Including mindfulness practice could really help make an athlete’s performance to the next level.
8. Let Go – Most athletes are encouraged to train hard, push beyond their limits, yoga creates a space that allows them to let go and just relax completely, refraining from thinking of mastering any posture, by just being in the moment and finding joy.
9. Better Endurance – Asanas that are chest openers coupled with breathing exercises (pranayama) helps to increase respiratory capacity, this helps to greatly reduce fatigue while training. Regular practice of yoga is also said to help increase the efficiency of the systems of digestion, circulation, and efficiency of motion joints resulting in better endurance.
10. Positivity – Mindfulness practices, especially a regular practice of gratitude helps to keep one more positive. As athletes, wins and losses are a part of one’s life and the practice of awareness or mindfulness helps one rise above these achievements and failures to grow and develop resilience.
More and more athletes are discovering the many benefits of the practice of yoga and it is also seen that many pro athletes have embraced the practice to take their sport to the next level.
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