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How Yoga Benefits Athletes

While the discipline is several thousand years old, yoga has only been known in the western world since about 1890, when it was first introduced by Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda.

Yoga gained popularity in the 1960s, primarily as a spiritual practice, and then again in the 1980s as a more physical discipline. Though it struggled to gain broad support at first, nowadays, there’s a whole new group discovering yoga’s many benefits.

World-Class Athletes Awaken to Age-Old Training Routines

An interesting conversation took place at dinner awhile back between two friends, both world-class athletes: Mark Henderson, gold-medal Olympian and three-time World Champion swimmer and Rich Roll, two-time Ultraman World Champion and one of the world's twenty-five fittest men. Their chatter turned to yoga, where both shared their history; Roll had been practicing yoga for more than 14 years while Henderson was a fairly recent convert. Almost simultaneously, both lamented the fact that they had not tried yoga when they were at the height of their competition years.

In their conversation, they agreed the benefits and results of yoga for athletes included:

  • Immediate increase in strength
  • Improved mental clarity
  • Better sleep

Both agreed that yoga can greatly benefit any person's life, both physically and mentally, even asserting that athletes not engaging in yoga may be at a disadvantage.

A Regimen to Benefit Anyone

Just as there are different styles of yoga, there are also different levels within each, such as Hatha Yoga. Some classes are gentle and soothing while others are geared more toward power and endurance. Depending on your particular needs, you should choose a yoga exercise program that best suits you personally.

Some of the benefits you can expect to obtain through regular practice include those praised by Henderson and Roll like:

Increased Strength

Something from which athletes and non-athletes will benefit, this includes building lean muscle mass, developing underused core muscles and improving overall strength.

Improved Flexibility

Important to any serious athlete but also to the less avid golfer or tennis player. As flexibility typically wanes with age, yoga will help the practitioner retain flexibility that, in turn, will decrease the chance of sustaining future injuries.

Stress Relief

While some may want to punch a bag to relieve stress, typically this produces aggression and fatigue. Yoga, on the other hand, relieves stress through its calming, relaxing effects. Yoga practice works your body and mind simultaneously. Single-focused concentration is important to any dedicated athlete but no less important than in one's work or home environment.

Mental Acuity

While some yoga adherents may look at the activity primarily for its physical benefits, there is a time at the end of most every yoga class workout where one lies still and quietly, slipping into a period of meditation. For many, this is the most important part of the session as it allows one to block out the endless noise and chatter usually going through the mind and to control random mental impulses. Looking at the results between top-class winning athletes and those who can be termed "also-rans," you'll see most of the difference lies not in the physical training but in the mental preparation.

Yoga can give you the winning edge, both on and off the playing field.