How yoga can help athletes “elevate their edge”
As athletes we’re constantly looking for ways to take our performance to the next level. Many of us spend hours scouring the internet looking at different training protocols, diets, and other tools that will help us break through our plateau and “elevate our edge.” It’s a constant battle that can leave us feeling overwhelmed like there is always more to be done. But what if the key isn’t to keep pushing? What if reaching that next level isn’t a matter of being stronger, faster, or having more endurance? What if the key is to slow down, connect with your breath, and to allow your body to recharge? What if the key is yoga–yoga specifically geared towards athletes?
Yoga for athletes isn’t a new idea. For years, many high-profile athletes like LeBron James, Aaron Rogers, and Alex Morgan, have touted the physical and mental benefits of dedicating time to a yoga practice as part of their training regimen. It has become so popular that entire teams have even implemented it into their training sessions. When you add up all of the benefits of yoga for athletes–things like, increased mobility, more efficient movement, enhanced proprioception and a higher level of body and breath awareness–it’s easy to see why so many athletes are jumping on the yoga bandwagon. But the benefits aren’t only being seen by professional athletes and teams, many college and high school sports programs are also getting hip to the idea of yoga for athletes.
Yoga, when built for the demands of a specific sport facilitates more efficient movement and improved biomechanics. Performance improves and athletes’ bodies age more gracefully. Even in young athletes, repetitive movements that accompany certain sports can cause wear and tear on the body–patterns get ingrained and the body finds ways to compensate, often causing more harm than good. Helping young athletes recognize these patterns will raise body awareness, leading to injury prevention, and enhanced performance at any level. But in order to reap these benefits, athletes need to learn to slow down. Most who are actively striving to improve their performance are constantly pushing themselves to reach the next level. While pushing on the field is great, that same mentality does not belong on the yoga mat. It may feel counterintuitive, but the benefits of slowing down and tuning into the body, allowing it to restore and recover, can seriously boost performance. And it’s not just athletes who are noticing this. Their coaches are as well.
Since introducing yoga into their training sessions, coaches have not only seen an improvement on the field, but off the field as well. They believe yoga is making their student athletes better people overall. It is helping them change habits! But how can “stretching” change habits? The answer is surprisingly simple: the breath. Focusing on the breath can help us find strength in vulnerable places– within our body and our mind. The breath opens us up, allows us to find ease within the poses, renews our focus, brings balance, and helps us tune out the stresses of the world. It’s the cornerstone of a mindful practice. By learning to use the breath on the mat, athletes are able to harness its power when performing. It gives them a mental edge over their competition and the ability to slow down, relax, and look inward. It teaches them to be more mindful in their actions; more patient; kinder; better people and better teammates. It is the key to breaking through plateaus and performing at a higher level.
This series will take a look at how different athletes from a wide range of disciplines have incorporated yoga into their training and how they believe it has affected their performance and their life.