In most cases, athletes often feel that more is more, rather than less. The harder they train, and the more intense is better for their body. This is hardly the case with a yoga practice. While strength training is an important aspect of a yoga practice, it’s far from the most beneficial, especially for athletes. Why not use yoga poses to create the most receptive body for your sport? Regardless of whether your need is to jump higher, run faster, breathe deeper, or just prevent injury; yoga has you covered.
Personally, I came to the practice of yoga not only for the mental benefits but to help my career in swimming. I found that after adding yoga poses, I had more endurance, greater flexibility, and strength along with a larger lung capacity. How long did that take? In just a matter of weeks, I saw huge improvements; I was shocked and elated. What’s even better is that this practice can be added at any time to an already full training schedule with minimal disturbance.
Many athletes are already robust and agile, so my advice is to not overtrain in the areas that you already have but to hit up those weak points of flexibility and mobility in the joints. The ability to have full rotation in your joints will increase your power and allow you to excel seemingly overnight.
Here it is, my top yoga poses to benefit athletes no matter what your sport is.
Downward Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana)
Often new students to yoga practice think that this pose is for the hamstrings. While you absolutely feel it there that’s just an excellent byproduct of the pose. This pose is a powerhouse of benefits and the most important is to lengthen the spine. Almost all of our daily activities compress the spine-athletics, weight training and running at the forefront of those.
- To start, come down to your mat on hands and knees. Take your time and look at your hands, make sure they are shoulder distance apart and the fingers are spread evenly.
- Tuck your toes and reach the hips up and back pressing through the arms and letting the head soften down towards the floor and behind the arms.
- It’s ok and preferable to keep the knees a little bent so don’t worry about getting your heels to the floor.
- Instead, think about using the front body (quads and core) to push the hips back, taking the weight out of the hands and grounding into the feet.
- Stay there taking at least ten deep breaths in and out through the nose.
Double pigeon (agnistambhasana)
While this one may need to be modified for tight hips, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. We hold a lot of old emotional garbage in the hips and that coupled with athletics that favor a forward rotation of the legs compared to using the entire hip (ball and socket) joint ability we quickly become tight. This can affect not only speed and owner adversely but also your ability to keep injury at bay. Let’s take a look at how to get into this pose for physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Sit on the floor, or if your hips are really tight, sit on a firm folded blanket.
- Bend the right knee and place the shin in front of yourself so that the knee and heel create one straight line.
- The arch, ball of the foot and toes will be in front of the shin bone. Now take your left leg and stack it on top of the right in the same way.
- Don’t worry if your top leg doesn't exactly lay flat on top; Often the knee will stick up in the air. If it’s painful or won't get there at all just place the left shin in front of the right shin on the floor but on a diagonal as to not change the placement of the right shin.
- Before folding forward lengthen the spine upward and think more about taking the chest away from the hips and then down rather than rounding the back to get the head down. Stay there for a minute or so if possible, breathing and softening into the pose. Switch sides using the same technique and repeat daily.
Sphinx (salamba bhujangasana)
This pose, unlike the downward dog, will focus on the front body. Athletics and everyday life will often keep the arms in front of your body. Think about the shape made when using a computer, texting, catching a ball or lifting weights. It’s rare these days that we focus on expanding through the chest, clarifying the neck and collar bones and bringing awareness to our thyroid. But why not? Maybe because it’s not fancy and exciting, perhaps because we are rushing to move forward, either way, the benefits are incredible when we do allow this awareness of the front body. This pose will make room for better breathing, a more balanced endocrine system, and openness through the heart, chest, and lungs.
- To start, move onto the floor on your belly. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows directly and entirely under your shoulders.
- The hands are positioned downward with the fingers spaced evenly as if you were about to slip your hand into a glove. You can spread the legs a little bit, or keep them together for a slightly deeper backbend.
- If you feel any compression in your lumbar spine, be sure to let the legs separate at least a bit. As you take slow deep breaths through your nose, feel as if you are pulling yourself through your arms while letting your pelvis and legs be heavy.
- In this way, you are quite literally pulling yourself apart. When you’re ready for a break, release the arms down near your sides and place your chest on the floor, resting your head down on the floor with your face turned to the right.
- Repeat and convert the head to the left after the next round. Realistically you could do this four times and even repeat daily.
- I try to hold this about 15 breaths but remember there should be no pain, so even just five breaths is a good start.
With these three poses in your arsenal, you'll reap the benefits in no time. The great thing is they will show up not only physically but mentally as well. Keep in mind; yoga poses are multidimensional just like you. More yoga, more power, more peacefulness.
(This article was written by Dawn Yager for Baleaf Sports)