Athlete Yoga Considerations: Athlete and Yoga are becoming synonyms. As many athletes of all skill levels and sports seek treatment and active rehabilitation at BodyMED, we thought it would be important to share some perspective on athletes seeking to develop a yoga practice.
With Yoga becoming increasingly popular in the elite and professional sports world. Athletes playing at this level or looking to achieve that level of competition, are slowly starting to drift towards integrating yoga into their conditioning plans.
No doubt yoga can offer some amazing benefits to athletes, however those benefits can only be realized if your taught correctly and are shown proper adaptations to address your sport specific needs and goals.
Here are a few thoughts to consider as an athlete when beginning a yoga practice.
Yoga is not always a harmless stretching class
The most prevalent misconception about yoga is that it’s best used for “stretching.” Even though you are correct to assume that many of the movements and postures are designed to “stretch” you, there are many movements and postures and transitions that will test your strength, balance and proprioception. All characteristics of an athlete, that if developed will improve performance regardless of sport. Many postures if done correctly begin to challenge our stability and core in ways traditional core exercises cannot. This being only one aspect of the potential physical benefits you may experience depending on the yoga practice you choose.
Not Understanding the Differences of Yoga Styles
Saying “I do yoga” is like saying “I drive a car.” Really, what kind? There’s a big difference between a Hyundai and a Ferrari. When it comes to yoga, the variety of styles goes on and on…Hatha vs. Ashtanga vs. Bikram vs. Yin vs. Power vs. Blah Blah (everyone is making up their own version); I even have my own style! Athletes, coaches and trainers have to take the time to educate themselves about the techniques and rationales of the different styles before jumping into a class.
Personally, I believe some styles should be entirely contraindicated for athletes. I realize I’m going to piss off all the hot-yoga disciples by saying this, but one such style is Bikram, where the heat is turned up to an obnoxious 105 degrees. Yes, I know this is popular with athletes because they love to sweat. Great–push yourself properly in 75 degrees to sweat (or go to the sauna), but steer clear of a yoga style that teaches its instructors to shout commands like “lock your knees” while you slip and slide in sweat over the course of 90 minutes. Of the 26 poses used in Bikram, there are two I don’t think most athletes should attempt because of stress on the knees (Reclined Hero) and cervical spine (Rabbit). Another style that I’m not crazy about – Yin yoga – is widely marketed to athletes. The deep, static stretches of Yin are intended to stretch out the connective tissue–including ligaments. I don’t agree with encouraging athletes to stretch out areas that provide joint stability.
Although some athletes may have incredibly tight areas in their body and could benefit from longer holds for deeper stretching, it is almost counter productive to stretch in a static position. Athletes are constantly moving and adjusting while playing sports. Depending on your goals as a player perhaps trying to find classes where more fluid constant motion is used to alleviate tense muscle. Or perhaps a restorative class where all stretches and postures are held with the support of bolsters, blocks, blankets and straps.
Most importantly – create an intention or goal for your yoga practice and seek a teacher and practice that will reflect this goal. Whether looking for a way to strengthen the body, release tension, relax or find mental focus there will be a practice for you. Be open to find it!
When finding a teacher, try to make sure they have some sort of back ground in your sport or athletics so they have an understanding of the demands in your sport. Or at the very least an understanding of the mechanics involved in your sport’s movement. Many postures and transitions can be adapted to suit the needs of your sport and goals. Certain sports require constant (chronic) movement to be sustained or repeated in order to participate. Through many years of playing and training, this could have lasting effects on the body. By understanding the movements in sport adjustments and variations should be made to reflect your sport.
Be humble…it is not essential to have to learn and do all the most advanced postures, inversions or arm balances. Find what serves your purpose and grow your practice in an organic way. If the progress is supposed to happen, it will happen.
Sometimes your first time practicing should not be a group class. Often these are environments that do not allow for the teacher to address the needs of an individual student. A group class can be an amazing experience once your ready to take that step. Or search out classes catered to beginners so that the transition is much smoother.
BE OPEN, BE PATIENT, BE WILLING TO LEARN