Yoga offers a bounty of benefits, from improving mind-body balance to boosting flexibility. Its benefits on athletes are becoming more understood — which is undoubtedly why a growing number of high schools and colleges around the country are beginning to incorporate it in their athletic programs and health and wellness initiatives.
Yoga improves athleticism in a number of ways, by targeting the following fitness criteria:
Balance: Standing poses strengthen your lower legs and hone your “proprioception” — which means they help you grow more aware of where your body is in space. The poses also emphasize a more subtle awareness of your body’s center of gravity in different positions, along with a finer sense of how the body works as a unit to balance.
Flexibility: Practicing yoga poses will stretch tight muscles, which are more injury prone, and encourage use of your full range of motion. A stretched muscle has more room to grow and strengthen. “A long muscle is a strong muscle.”
Strength: Yoga works holistically to strengthen the entire body. Some poses are held static, engaging the muscles isometrically, while other sequences involve flowing from pose to pose and engaging muscles through concentric and eccentric contractions. Yoga confers joint stability exercise in the same way that weight-room strength training does.
Concentration: Yoga includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation. The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component that improves the speed and accuracy of a person’s working memory and concentration. In yoga, you put yourself into challenging positions and learn ways to cope. These translate to experiences in athletic competition, and in life.
Injury Prevention: A regular and well-rounded yoga practice will help bring the body into symmetrical alignment, correcting flexibility and strength imbalances in the soft tissues. “Yoga can do wonders in addressing underlying imbalances and instabilities that lead to overuse injuries” (Roundtree, 2008).
Power: Power production is the result of all of the above coming together. In order to produce maximal power output an athlete needs the flexibility and range of motion to get into the correct positions, balance and joint stability to control the movements in the proper positions, strength throughout the body, and concentration of the movement and body alignment.