Yoga and Sports

Yoga and sports is becoming an increasingly popular topic for many reasons.  Traditional training methods primarily focus on the contraction of muscles.  While this is essential for muscle growth and athletic development, it does not contribute to increasing range of motion, mobility, or flexibility.  With very structured strength and conditioning programs and the need for ample practice, it is difficult to dedicate enough time to stretching and developing core strength.  Keeping our bodies tuned for success keeps us motivated and wills us to stay consistent with our training.  However, injuries can occur from overuse, lack of stretching, insufficient warm up, and decreased range of motion.  Static stretching has been a staple during warm up for many years.  However, its effectiveness has come into question and many athletes have found much more success in the integration of regular stretching exercises, such as Yoga.  Even though this may seem like a new and unconventional form of training, Yoga has been practiced for more than 5000 years, but it is has only recently gained more popularity in the sports world.

Having an open mind and the willingness to try new things was what gave Ryan Giggs the edge to stay competitive.  Ryan Giggs of Manchester United has credited Yoga for keeping him in shape even at his age.  After playing for more than 20 years, there was a point in his career where he knew he had to adapt his training to maintain his fitness and compete against players young enough to be his children.  Many different professional athletes have taken up Yoga, and the common theme amongst them is the wish that they had begun this practice sooner.

“The yoga has definitely helped me, it helps me train everyday because it gives me the flexibility and the strength not only to play the game, but to train as well.” – Ryan Giggs

Giggs believes so strongly in the importance of yoga for soccer players and athletes in general that he has compiled his own specific workout program that has been developed with yoga at its foundation.  Another recently retired Canadian soccer star, Kara Lang, who played her first National game for Canada at the age of 15 contributes much of her success and recovery from injury to a consistent Yoga practice.

It can be completed at any level and adapted to suit your needs, but there is nothing easy or simple about it; every part of your body is activated and worked.  Moving your body into these new postures through focused transitions, strengthens muscles you would not have already activated or developed.  Giving you added strength and stability by developing the many minor muscles around our major muscle groups.  Transitioning from different postures in yoga, forces the individual to bring awareness to their body to ensure proper alignment.  Furthermore, when executing these complex movements repetitively, our minds become trained to repeat body movements with greater accuracy and focus.    This mental training is reflected in all sport, where intricate movements are used to pass, shoot, and defend.  In any sport where repetitive and consistent movement achieves higher success rates, yoga can be a powerful tool.

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GREAT TO START, BUT YOU HAVE TO START TO BE GREAT.”

Yoga-style stretching offers so many different benefits to an athlete, but it is most valuable for preventing injuries in sports that require explosive activity, such as hockey, racket sports, power lifting, sprinting, basketball, volleyball, baseball, soccer, or any activity where a great deal of force is suddenly exerted by the muscles.  For many of these sports even practicing yoga for 5 -10 minutes daily can bring wonderful results.  Try the simple series shown below 3 – 4 times a week to get started.   Hold each pose for 5 breaths or more for increased difficulty.

By: Sal Sayeed

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