The Importance of Yoga For Athletes

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I began teaching yoga for athletes while working at a local bar three years ago. At the time, I was waitressing to raise the funds needed to complete my 200hr yoga teacher training. It was there that a local college soccer coach and I began talking about the physical benefits yoga could potentially bring to his team. We both jumped at the opportunity to collaborate and this year marks my second practicing with the St. Rose Men’s Soccer team.

Most athletes initially come to yoga for the physical benefits, but it doesn’t take long for them to discover what yoga can provide mentally. No one is “just” an athlete. We are all way more than that. We are moms, dads, friends, aunts, uncles, administrators; we may be coaches or doctors, or work on a farm. Regardless of what we do or who we are, the point is, as athletes we need to be able to find our balance, just as we are. We need to be able to control our thoughts, our minds, and our breath. This can help athletes work through injuries, stress, tension on or off the field or even hard to handle coaches and teammates. Or, at the very core, ourselves! Often athletes are working with yoga to coexist with an injury. Injuries are not only a physical issue but a mental one as well. Through yoga, we learn ways to fine tune mind control – to learn the benefits of being able to relax fully in our present state. We learn that if we are constantly contracting or constantly tense, we will never fully surrender and be able to feel the support that we have beneath – or even within.

On a physical level, yoga for athletes provides a safe foundation to prevent injuries. When I work with athletes I tend to focus on major muscle groups and areas – hips, hamstrings and the shoulder girdle. It is not unusual to walk into my class and halfway through hear grunting and f-bombs being shouted left and right. These athletes are doing the work! They are going deep into each move, stepping way out of their comfort zones to be able to open up the tightest parts of their body. Often as an athlete, whether in the gym or running on dirt paths, we tend to cultivate a lot of energy in very specific body parts which translates into incredible tightness in other areas of the body. Yoga integrates the entire body, and although it may feel as if we have spent the entire class moving through tight hamstrings, there are other major muscle groups opening up at the same time.

One major aspect I have learned from teaching athletes is not only the decreased rate of injury but also incredibly faster recovery time. I teach a lot about the idea behind being in a deep sensation – and being in pain. Understanding the biology behind sore muscles has also allowed my students to work with yoga to allow their bodies to train on a more consistent basis. Often athletes are worried about how they are going to feel after they train… but you will quickly realize that it is the complete opposite with yoga. One cannot simply wait for the feelings you achieve after class. Yoga is truly seen as one of the greatest gifts for an athlete. The ability to enhance concentration through relaxation, the ability to train on a more consistent basis and the encouragement of knowing you are preventing the chances of injury are all positive impacts of yoga on athletes that ultimately allow for more time doing what you love. It can be intimidating! And I completely understand, but it is so incredibly rewarding and an incredible way to aspire to be a more dynamic, well rounded athlete.

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