When my training buddies learn that I teach yoga, they almost always ask me to give them a reason that they should practice. They have heard that yoga could help them improve their sport specific performance, yet no one has actually explained why that should happen. There are many reasons but I’ll cover the key elements I generally tell athletes.
1. Improved internal communication
Yoga provides a controlled environment, allowing for you to focus on yourself. There are no cars threatening to run you over, no roots or potholes to watch out for; feel free to close your eyes and just listen to your body. It will tell you when to stop, when you can go deeper, how to position yourself so you don’t fall over. The ability to listen to your own body is undervalued in many athletes I meet yet the ones who are quite successful and relatively injury free are the ones who cultivate this connection.
2. Improved balance
One of the key factors in maintaining long term sport performance is the ability to avoid injury. While many athletes suffer overuse injuries, everyone is susceptible to accidents. A momentary lapse in focus is all it takes to catch your foot on a root or miss that patch of gravel on the inside of a corner. In yoga class we work to keep the body balanced in a variety of postures. The improvement in your ability to balance won’t prevent all accidents but it will help you to stay upright and unharmed.
3. Development of supporting muscles
Yoga poses use your body weight for resistance and require to counter the effects of gravity (see any arm balance or inverted pose). By bringing the body through a large range of motion you improve the suppleness and strength of every muscle used in that movement. These smaller supporting muscles relieve the workload on the major muscle groups and help to hold joints in place.
Once you start practicing more you will start to see other benefits arise from your practice. Having worked with many athletes, I see them consistently improve their sport specific performance either through their race times, ability to stay injury free, or less burn out after a hard season.