Why should athletes include yoga as part of their training?
Despite what I said about in PART 1 (of this article), probably being more effective means for athletes to address flexibility work, (bold) I strongly believe that it’s essential for athletes as well as the athletically-inclined to practice yoga at least four days a week, and here’s why: what we yoga practitioners do when we show up on the mat is to build both mental toughness and resilience.
You have athletes who end up chronically double faulting on their serves, missing free throws or having slight hitches in their swings! these are athletes who have devoted plenty of hours lifting weights, running laps and doing all sorts other things to help them perform at their peak, and yet something in their actual, lackluster performances seem to indicate that some other training component may be missing.
there may be very little that separates the greats from the rest of the benchwarmers in terms of absolute physicality, so what helps the greats turn in legendary performances?
You can call it confidence or match toughness, but what it really is, is yoga: It’s being able to enjoy smacking a forehand without worrying about whether it stays within the lines or without. It’s having all the time in the world to let a three-pointer loose despite the entire stadium doing their best to unnerve you. It’s knowing exactly when to twist and pike and straighten out so your dive barely causes a ripple on the surface.
What makes yoga practice so different from any other form of exercise or training modality?
Athlete: Mat Crespo | Sport/s: Track and Field, Swimming (former UAAP competitive swimmer), Weightlifting, Ultimate Frisbee
Yoga classes these days tend to look like a group exercise class, and most athletes easily think of yoga classes as a fun way to cross train, but the truth is in how different we feel physically, emotional and mentally after yoga practice.
You get various physical highs as well as pride in accomplishments when you get through a sweaty spin class or a particularly grueling set at the gym, but people tend to get a more nuanced sense of the same after a yoga class. there’s the physical satisfaction of being able to move the body around and open it up, but an even stronger sense of fulfillment, satisfaction and calm after practice that stems from the way yoga engages your mind and works to silence the incessant, distracting chatter in our minds.
Athlete: Cassie Umali | Sport/s: Rugby (part of the Lady Volcanos) Football, Ultimate Frisbee
By asking you to pay careful attention to what you are doing with your body in the moment at hand, yoga begins to strip away the doubts and insecurities that tend to plague performance, in general.
Most practitioners develop better proprioception, or instinctive understanding of where and what their bodies are doing in space, and this heightened physical awareness translates into better reflexes, coordination and skilful movements off the mat.Focus is cultivated as practitioners are taught and asked to execute various gross movements and subtle adjustments during the course of moving the body mindfully during asana practice.
Through the use of alignment, practitioners eventually recognize imbalances in their movement capacities and patterns, and begin the work of balancing out their strengths as well as equalizing their ranges of motion on both sides of their body, thus priming their bodies for optimal physical performance while minimizing injuries resulting from various compensation patterns.
The layering of different breathing techniques (or pranayama) on top of movement, lets practitioners understand that the way we breathe has a palpable effect on our minds as well as our ability to move effectively. Some breathing techniques wake us up and energize, others can soothe and slow you down, and the consequent ability to steady the pace and depth of breath can become a humongous advantage in both stressful situations, can spell the difference between making or fumbling that critical shot.
Athletes need to be mentally strong and mentally agile. Truly, I could go on and on about why we should take up practice or keep on practicing, but we can distill the multitude into this: yoga helps you become the best version of yourself. Yoga will help an athlete live a better life off the mat and on the field.
I’ll see you on the mat!
Marc Macadaeg is co-founder, Faculty Head and senior yoga teacher at Urban Ashram Yoga. His unique style of teaching vinyasa has attracted many practicioners who are looking to deepen their asana practice and their understanding of yoga. He has been a pioneer of the signature FNR (Flexibility Not Required) Program of Urban Ashram Yoga.