YOGA FOR ATHLETES
The main goal in using yoga for athletes is to maximize seasonal performance and career longevity. This yoga and meditation program has been designed to complement current strength and conditioning programs. It is NOT meant to replace any stretching programs.
This year-round yoga and meditation will benefit the organization through better on field performance (injury prevention), increased flexibility and muscle stamina, and reduced player fatigue.
This yoga program is sport and position-specific, addressing both the performance needs and most common injuries associated with each position.
By separating the team into two position-specific groups, it is possible that the overall results for both performance enhancement and injury prevention will be improved.
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WHAT ARE OTHER LEAGUES/ATHLETES SAYING ABOUT YOGA
That’s the thing about baseball. You hit, you run, you do a lot of sitting. You get tight. Your body is working it’s way through it’s normal changing patterns, & if you have a bad pattern, you can change it. You know, you breathe and get yourself back on track.
Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind, & it’s a technique that has really helped me.
Yoga helps me calm down and helps me center my energy so I’m balanced. I’m zeroed in on the game & have my mind set on what I have to do.
Meditation is as important as lifting weights & being out on the field for practice. It’s about quieting the mind & getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment.
Pete Carroll requires all of his players to take yoga classes during the season & even credits the zen practice for relaxing his players & keeping them focused on game day.
5 REASONS WHY ATHLETES SHOULD DO YOGA
Why athletes should be incorporating yoga/meditation/mindfulness into their Strength & Conditioning routines:
A well-designed yoga program provides a great dynamic stretch and muscular activation series to use with other forms of training. Yoga is used as an additional training modality, it is NOT meant to replace any existing programs. Numerous games are played in high frequency so reducing overall injuries and recovery time may enhance performance and collective team outcomes.
Five Benefits of Yoga/Meditation for Athletes:
1) Increased Range of Motion. Progressive muscle relaxation techniques can increase efficient movement as well as increased range of motion around joints. Optimizing flexibility in relation to the specific activity rather than simply maximizing flexibility is the main aim of training.
2) Increased Core Strength. Increasing an athlete’s core stability will result in a better foundation for force production in the upper & lower extremities.
3) Increased Focus. Relaxation techniques are designed to reduce physiological arousal and increase task-relevant focus.
4) Increased Balance. Yoga isolates movement separately where momentum and prior movement patterns can perpetuate imbalances/weaker sides. Yoga is an effective way to correct muscle imbalance or body mechanic problems.
5) Increased Mind-Body Connection. Through nervous system balancing, athletes can improve sleep patterns (speeding up healing process), reduction in anxiety, increased calmness & more.
A combination of yoga and meditation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. As such, the regular nervous system will be at rest, and the muscles will become more relaxed. Constant practice of yoga and meditation will make the body less vulnerable to stress-related illnesses. Yoga and meditation help to reinforce muscle memory, deepen mental calm, facilitate relaxation, and promote restful sleep. It is also a highly effective means of immune system enhancement, and promotes injury rehabilitation.
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5 POSES I DO NOT TEACH ATHLETES
Yoga is great for athletes. As I’ve said many times, not every yoga pose is for every body. As I’ve worked with professional athletes over the years, I’ve learned specific movement patterns and areas where compensation/weakness is common.
One quick note on breathing. When we are doing something hard/scary/new, we hold our breath. When we hold our breath, our nervous system thinks we are in danger and clenches up our entire body. This can cause injury in yoga (and in any physical activity). There must be a conscious awareness to take slow deep breaths to keep our bodies safe.
1) chaturanga dandasana
why not: unnecessary shoulder fatigue
Chaturanga is a staple in vinyasa classes. Ninety percent of the chatarangas I see in a typical yoga class are not done with ideal alignment. This pose is hard. From plank pose, you lower your body halfway down (keeping elbows in close to body – think triceps push up rather than regular push up). While lowering down, body must be shifted forward (rolling to balls of feet) so that as you lower to a ninety degree angle, your elbows are directly over wrists. Core MUST be engaged, or back arches and shoulder heads roll forward – which can lead to major problems. My clients are strong through the upper body, and this is not a pose that in my opinion is worth the risk. Yoga complements other training routines, so there is not a lack of upper body strength. Instead, from plank pose, we lower all the way down the ground and work on variations of cobra pose (creating strength and stability in the back).
why not: neck strain
Shoulderstand typically takes place near the end of class. It’s an inversion where your hips are piked up with legs stacked over hips and hips stacked over shoulders. There needs to be flexibility in shoulders, upper arms, and spine to allow this movement. Any movement of the head can cause neck injuries.
why not: neck issues
Headstand is where you are balancing your entire body weight on your head and forearms. Needless to say, headstand can cause compression of neck and lead to back problems.
4) wheel pose
why not: lack of flexibility in wrists; tight psoas
Athletes are strong enough to lift themselves up in this position. However, most athletes do not have the flexibility in their wrists to plant their hands down flat behind them. This causes a jerky motion to lift up into the posture where knees and feet are out of alignment. This can also be too big of an opening in the spine for many.
5) cow face/double pigeon (deep external hip rotation)
why not: knee problems.
External hip rotation gets the glory in yoga classes. But internal hip rotation is necessary so other areas do not compensate for this weakness. In addition to hip strengthers, groin stretches are far more beneficial than multiple external hip rotation. Also, these particular stretches can cause pressure on the knees (sit on the ground cross legged, if your knees are more than an inch above your hips, these poses are not for you).
This is not to say yoga is dangerous. If you are under the guidance of an experienced yoga instructor, careful thought and consideration has gone into planning an appropriate class for athletes. There can be a systematic safe opening of areas of the body that will help to prevent injury and rebalance the nervous system. As we learn more about movement science, we are learning that some poses are not necessary/up-to-date with the knowledge we have on biomechanics. If the pose doesn’t work for you – don’t do it. It’s important to ALWAYS do what is right for your body, and remember to breathe.
WHO IS DOING YOGA?
read about athletes doing yoga
YOGA BENEFITS FOR BASEBALL PLAYERS
Overall Health Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
• Blood pressure. A consistent yoga practice decreases blood pressure through better circulation and oxygenation of the body.
• Pulse rate. A slower pulse rate indicates that your heart is strong enough to pump more blood with fewer beats. Regularly practicing yoga provides a lower pulse rate.
• Circulation. Yoga improves blood circulation. By transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout your body, yoga practice provides healthier organs, skin, and brain.
• Respiratory. Like the circulatory system, a lower respiratory rate indicates that the lungs are working more efficiently. Yoga decreases the respiratory rate through a combination of controlled breathing exercises and better fitness.
• Cardiovascular endurance. A combination of lower heart rate and improved oxygenation to the body (both benefits of yoga) results in higher cardiovascular endurance.
• Immunity. Yoga practice has frequently been correlated with a stronger immune system.
• Pain. Pain tolerance is much higher among those who practice yoga regularly. In addition to pain tolerance, some instances of chronic pain, such as back pain, are lessened or eliminated through yoga
• Energy. Regular yoga practice provides consistent energy. In fact, most yogis state that when you perform your yoga correctly, you will feel energized after your yoga session rather than tired.
• Sleep. Because of the many benefits to both body and mind that a yoga routine can provide, many find that their sleep is much better.
• Balance. An integral part of the yoga practice is balance and control over your body. With a consistent practice, you will find that your overall balance will improve outside the yoga class.
• Core strength. With a strong body core, you receive better posture and overall body strength. A strong core helps heal and reduce injuries.
• Mood. Overall well-being improves with yoga practice. The combination of creating a strong mind-body connection, creating a healthy body, and focusing inward can all lead to improvement in your mood.
• Anxiety. One benefit to the controlled breathing used in yoga is a reduction in anxiety.
• Mind-body connection. Few other exercises offer the same mind-body connection that yoga does. As you match your controlled breathing with the movements of your body, you retrain your mind to find that place of calm and peace.
• Concentration. Researchers have shown that as little as eight weeks of yoga practice can result in better concentration and more motivation.
• Memory. Improved blood circulation to the brain as well as the reduction in stress and improved focus results in a better memory.
• Attention. The attention required in yoga to maintain the structured breathing in conjunction with yoga poses sharpens the ability to keep a sharp focus on tasks.
• Calmness. Concentrating so intently on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing calmness. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as watching how you breathe and disengagement from your thoughts, which help calm the mind.
• Lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system boosts your immunity and reduces toxins in your body. The only way to get your lymphatic system flowing well is by movement. The specific movements involved in yoga are particularly well-suited for promoting a strong lymphatic system.
• Endocrine functions. Practicing yoga helps to regulate and control hormone secretion. An improved endocrine system keeps hormones in balance and promotes better overall physical and emotional health.
• Triglycerides. Triglycerides are the chemical form of fat in the blood, and elevated levels can indicate a risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. A recent study shows that yoga can lead to “significantly lower” levels of triglycerides.
• Red blood cells. Yoga has been shown to increase the level of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood, and too few can result in anemia and low energy.
• Low risk of injury. Due to the low impact of yoga and the controlled aspect of the motions, there is a very low risk of injury during yoga practice compared to other forms of exercise.
• Parasympathetic Nervous System. In many forms of exercise, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, providing you with that fight-or-flight sensation. Yoga does the opposite and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system lowers blood pressure and slows the pace of your breathing, which allows relaxation and healing.
• Reduced oxygen consumption. Yoga consumes less oxygen than traditional exercise routines, thereby allowing the body to work more efficiently.
• Breathing. With yoga, breathing is more natural and controlled during exercise. This type of breathing provides more oxygen-rich air for your body and also provides more energy with less fatigue.
• Balanced workout of opposing muscle groups. As with all of yoga, balance is key. If a muscle group is worked in one direction, it will also be worked in the opposite direction to maintain balance. This balance results in a better overall workout for the body.
• Joint range of motion. A study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicated that joint range of motion was improved by participants who practiced yoga.
• Eye-hand coordination. Yoga maintains and improves eye-hand coordination.
• Reaction time. Research done in India shows that reaction time can be improved with specific yoga breathing exercises in conjunction with an already established yoga practice. The improvement was attributed to the faster rate of processing and improved concentration gained from yoga.
• Endurance. Working the entire body, yoga improves endurance and is frequently used by endurance athletes as a supplement to their sport-specific training.
• Depth perception. Becoming aware of your body and how it moves, as one does in yoga practice, leads to increased depth perception.
• Back pain. Yoga reduces spinal compression and helps overall body alignment to reduce back pain.