Baseball players can benefit from yoga. Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations with MLB team officials, strength and conditioning coaches, players, and more, around the game of baseball. Most young players at this point have had some introduction to yoga - either as part of training in high school/college or sought out on their own. Those that have been in the game for decades tend to need more convincing. I’ve had many older coaches tell me that they don’t think yoga is necessary. Yet, they fully support the same on-field routine that you can see all over MLB. Lizard pose, pigeon pose, lunge twists … those are all YOGA poses. But it got me thinking, what does yoga have to offer more than just the stretch?
Increased proprioception. It’s not a given that athletes know how to move efficiently with their bodies. A yoga session gives athletes the opportunity to move different planes of the body as well as isolate movement patterns on each side. This can help show where momentum is used to move as well as weakness on a particular side. Over time, these types of movements can become more balanced and there can be a greater sense of overall movement and awareness of the body. This can help decrease the likelihood of injury.
Down regulation of the nervous system. We all hold our breath from time to time. Sometimes we do it when we are in danger, sometimes when we are concentrating on something, sometimes we don’t even realize it. When we hold our breath, our brain goes into ‘fight or flight’ response. The nervous system sends a signal to the adrenal glands which releases stress hormones. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and more. What does this have to do with stretching? If you are holding your breath while stretching, your brain thinks you are in danger and it will not let you stretch into your max ROM. This will prevent you from making any functional increase in range. The goal while stretching is to keep a slow, controlled breath pattern to regulate the nervous system.
An opportunity to focus on self-care. Before you roll your eyes, stay with me for a moment. Baseball, the game we love to watch, is not a stress free environment. Fighting for a roster spot, playing through injury and fatigue, personal life issues, frequent travel and more are part of the every day lives of baseball players. Sure, there is down time at the field. But rarely is this time focused on tuning the distractions out. Yoga is an opportunity to be guided through a set of poses, moving with breath.
All players can benefit from a few stretches on the field. But yoga, as a holistic recovery approach, holds much more value for the players and the team. Athletes functioning at their highest ability is just one of the immeasurable benefits of a yoga practice for an organization. It’s more than just stretching.