As Michael Jordan, the iconic NBA champion so poignantly stated, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” This mindset of being comfortable with the uncomfortable, pushing through adversity, recognizing weakness and learning not just to overcome it, but rather to use it as a driving force, characterizes the mental fortitude that sets apart the elite athlete from those who strive, but never quite fully reach that level of athletic prowess.
Skill is half the battle. It takes a heightened level of will and determination to successfully surmount the circumstances that will ultimately enable one to reach athletic excellence. In fact, professional athletes of all sports, including Shaquille O’Neal (retired NBA player), Torrey Smith (wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers), and Evan Longoria (3rd basemen for the Tampa Bay Rays), to name a few, integrate yoga into their weekly training protocol, and the extensive benefits have proven invaluable assets to the success of their careers.
Rooted in eastern philosophical traditions, yoga, is a type of “moving meditation,” uniting the mind and body through breath. With the understanding that through this interconnectedness, one engages a far superior sense of self-awareness – yogis are able to influence their mood and cognitive faculties through their physical state. The consistent practice of yoga cultivates a balanced, peaceful internal world, in turn, promoting far greater focus – creating a clear path to reaching new levels of athletic greatness.
So what exactly are some of these benefits?
- Better Endurance. Learning to focus on proper breathing improves respiration and efficiency of oxygen intake. By feeding more oxygenated blood to the muscles, yoga has been shown to reduce muscle fatigue and defeat symptoms of asthma along with other respiratory conditions. Yoga also aids digestion, circulation, and efficiency of motion and movement, further enhancing energy and overall endurance.
- More Power. Improving flexibility enhances overall range of motion, enabling more proficient muscle movement and resulting in greater power. Furthermore, through proper alignment, force can be exerted much more efficiently, conserving energy and consequently helping you kick, throw, punch, shoot, etc., with far greater efficiency.
- Improved Balance & Proprioception. By building body-awareness, through balance, stability, and proprioception, yoga can help athletes assess their form and body more accurately. The various cues yoga teachers emphasize, for example “Pull your belly button to your spine,” “rise up, one vertebrae at a time,” etc., redirects attention to the detailed sensations experienced in yoga – while simultaneously constructing neurological networks between our brains and our muscles.
- Injury Prevention & Enhanced Recovery. By improving body mechanics (posture, coordination, & stamina), yoga has the power to reduce the risk of injury, allowing for more consistent progress and competitive longevity in any athletic venture. Yoga is the perfect option for active recovery, repairing muscle fibers as it improves blood flow, in turn allowing you to return to your training program feeling more renewed and refreshed.
- Greater Focus. The practice of being in the “here-and-now” translates well into the game. The heightened level of awareness takes both training and performance to the next level – giving athletes the capacity to tune out distractions and zone in on that exact moment in the game – creating substantial improvements in precision. It also provides the mental stillness to pause and reflect and properly assess what is going on rather than react immediately, possibly preventing situations that could lead to a penalty or suspension, for instance.
So whether you’re a weekend warrior, professional athlete, a stay at home parent, entrepreneur, etc., implementing yoga into your routine will compliment all other areas of life by giving you control over both your mind and body. In addition to the above advantages, yoga has also been shown to improve our immune system, overall mood, reduce stress, and balance hormones. Complementing any training protocol with yoga may just be the key to unlocking the potential to break records and enhance the future accomplishments of your career.
Here are some key points to always remember:
- Keep it simple…recognize what works best for YOU! Depending on where you experience the most soreness or tightness, you may increase the poses you practice in a given area. Adapt it to your needs for that particular moment – be it an invigorating source of energy or more relaxing for tranquility.
- Consistency is more imperative than volume…Know that even just 15-20 minutes of practice can result in the above benefits. For example, it would be more advantageous to practice 30 minutes 3 times per week rather than practicing 90 minutes once per week.
- Focus on mindfulness and being in the present moment…put forth your best effort but appreciate that each day is different and that your experience today may be slightly different than yesterday or that of tomorrow. Part of the added benefit of yoga is learning how to let go of the ego, allowing us the capacity to take a look within and recognize weaknesses that may be holding us back – a critical component of growth and self improvement – as an athlete both on and off the court.
Do you practice yoga? What benefits have you experienced from it?