Yoga by You: Yoga for athletes

The Chicago Red Stars, professional women's soccer team, are stretching out after a yoga class at Yoga By Degrees. | Submitted

In this edition of “Yoga by You” from Yoga by Degrees, Colleen Taylor examines how pro athletes use yoga to heal from injuries. Read more:

Lots of professional athletes are catching on to the fact that yoga can help repair their bodies. Through vigorous exercise and repetition in sports, athletes tend to have problems with tightness, tendonitis and even struggle to touch their toes. Through athletic training, these athletes tend to have a lot of strength in some areas but inflexibility in others. The other tricky part is, most athletic sports encourage healthy competition which can be challenging to leave at the door of the yoga studio.

For athletes that can come with an open-mind and let go of the win-lose attitude on the mat, the benefits are extensive. Increased strength, flexibility, mobility, focus and improved sleep-wake cycle are just some of the list. In turn, yoga has the potential to enhance athletic ability and peak performance. Yoga by Degrees has a partnership with the Chicago Red Stars, a professional women’s soccer team. They visit our facilities to help balance their intense soccer training and season schedule. “Doing yoga has been very beneficial for both my body and mind,” said Red Stars forward Alyssa Mautz. “It has helped me with mobility and recovery. And for me, it helps clear my head and allows me to focus on the present moment. It’s helped my game tremendously.”

Usually with the repetition in disciplines like running, biking, and playing soccer, there are several muscle groups that are under-utilized. For any type of student, yoga works to bring us into balance. Increasing core stability and optimizing a more balanced strength tends to rehab athletes from their injuries caused by overuse. When you find balance on your yoga mat, it tends to leak out into a more balanced life off the mat. Through consistent yoga practice, improved coordination and balance can lead to better technique and form in the athletic realm. When you improve your flexibility through yoga, practitioners are enhancing joint, muscular and deep tissue pliancy to increase range of motion. For example, a soccer player with increased core strength and more flexibility in their hip joints and legs will be able to have a longer stride and a greater ability to change direction on the field.

So that takes care of just the physical benefits of yoga for athletes. While the physical benefits are huge, they are still just the tip of the iceberg. What about the mental aspect of yoga? Most people who are first starting out with yoga come for a great workout, which is right in the typical athlete’s wheelhouse.  The meditative aspects of yoga, especially savasana (corpse pose), can be super challenging for some. After you have worked, stretched, toned and invigorated your body and mind, savasana is a time to lie on your mat completely still. People who resist savasana may just opt out and leave the class early or spend the time mentally and physically fidgeting. Many people think the hard work is over but savasana is the most essential pose of class. It is the time to meditate and let all the benefits of the practice settle into your body and especially mind. Savasana helps to improve your focus, and quiet the impulses of the mind. For an athlete, training the body is very important. But training the mind is what can remove blockages and free them from fear, doubt, or negativity to help them persevere and be the best version of themselves.

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