Athletes and sportspeople have very specific needs. The repetitive movement of a regular sport can cause stiffness which takes its toll on the body. This can lead to injury.
Everyone has heard yoga can help with that. But many sportspeople try a couple of lessons then give up because the experience just feels too painful. For others, even the thought of attending a yoga class full of bendy people can be off-putting. The misconception that yoga for athletes is about getting a sweaty beasting on the mat doesn’t help matters.
The truth is, yoga for athletes should be different.
If you’re a sportsperson you’re likely to have short, tight, overtrained muscles that would benefit from a tailored and targeted yoga practice that is gentle in nature. The practice should be about aiding recovery and freeing the body to help you play the sport you love – better and for longer. Sequences should be designed to improve restrictions in the body, with simple, functional movements to help prevent injury, improve performance, recovery and focus.
Most professional sports teams have their own yoga teachers. I trained with one of the best – Sarah Ramsden, who taught yoga at Manchester United and Manchester City for over 10 years and helped Ryan Giggs play professional football until his 40s.
Private Lessons for athletes
Following the Sarah Ramsden method, the first step for sportspeople new to yoga should be range of movement and core stability tests to reveal where restrictions are in the body.
Based on the outcome of the tests, we can design a focused routine. Sequence sheets can be prepared so the routine can be practiced at home – with tweaks and adjustments made along the way. After 6 weeks, we can re-test to see if there are improvements. Commitment and consistency are key!
Classes for sports clubs or groups
Yoga classes can also be tailored for a particular sport, as well as for an individual. Focused routines can be planned by considering how your sport is likely to impact the body. An understanding of the common injuries and the stability and flexibility requirements of your sport is important.
A simple yoga practice can benefit sportspeople (and non-sportspeople!) in many ways:
Improved spinal mobility
Most sports place a huge demand on the ability to use thoracic mobility (the bit of the spine attached to the ribs). Sports like swimming, golf and tennis all require good thoracic extension and rotation; without good movement in the thoracic spine, playing these sports will result in a disappointing performance.
Longer held stretches will slowly restore flexibility in shortened, tight muscles, allowing the body to move better and more efficiently.
Improved Core Stability
Good functional stability of the core is important for preventing injuries and for enhancing performance in sports and other activities. That doesn’t mean loads of ab crunches. Stability comes from engaging all the muscles of the core, not just your abs. All these muscles help to control your body more effectively, by keeping the spine from bending or flexing unintentionally.
The multi-plane, multi-directional movement of yoga, plus the mobility and stretching, helps you to recover faster. You pump fresh blood through the body, untether tissues that have become stuck and tight and re-set the resting length of your muscles.
Yoga helps you breathe diaphragmatically (or belly breathing) instead of into the chest. Yoga helps with breath awareness and the ability to control and train your breathing.
Yoga includes mindfulness – which means being present and not being distracted by our thoughts. That head space gives clarity and the ability to focus on what is happening now without becoming reactive. This is a massive help when under pressure playing a sport – and in everyday life!
So, if your swing is a bit off, hips too tight to get that run in, you’re getting injured a lot, or you’re just losing focus on the penalty spot, you should consider a set of lessons. If you have a group of pals at the golf / running / rugby / football / swimming / cycling club, then a group lesson would work. I don’t think you’ll regret it.