5 Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
1. Increases flexibility
Runners tend to be “stiff.” Yoga postures stretch out tight muscles increasing the range of motion in the connected joints. This increased flexibility decreases stiffness, reducing the common running-related aches and pains and creating more range of motion (http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-benefits-and-effects-of-yoga-for-runners).
2. Evens out muscle imbalances/rigidity
Running is a muscle-pounding, repetitive motion, and as a result, our muscles get tight and rigid. Over time, these tight, brittle muscles no longer work as our body’s natural shock absorbers and they are more prone to tears. Think of muscles as rubber bands. When they aren’t used they get hard, and snap easily. Same thing with joints, tendons, and ligaments; as Ian says, “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” the more we utilize our bodies’ full range of motion, the less prone to injury we will be. Without practicing counter/opposing movements to running, our bodies compensate by adapting to the instability to avoid injury. This compensation puts strain on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system, and eventually, the body can’t handle this stress, and we end up with overuse injuries (http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2015/09/training-tips/this-is-your-body-when-you-dont-stretch_46793)
3. Improves mental strength and concentration
Most people associate yoga with physical poses, but a big reason for athletes to take yoga is the mental wellbeing it can bring to you. This is so underestimated. A little saying I learned in yoga teacher training is (in Sanskrit), “yoga chitta vritti nirodha" meaning, ”yoga removes the fluctuations of the mind." I.e., yoga helps us achieve mental clarity, stillness, and freedom from all the thoughts, impulses and jargon that goes on in our heads every day. When something feels difficult, our thoughts tend to get negative; we may say to ourselves, “you’re weak, you can’t do this, you should stop”, this happens all the time to runners in races and why they say it’s __% physical and __% mental. Runners sometimes underestimate what a factor mental preparation is to a race, it’s just as important as putting in the miles! In a yoga class, you’re training your mind to be a better athlete. You learn to replace the negative inner dialogue with positive “vrittis” and learn mindfulness tricks to help you overcome those boundaries you may have put up for yourself.
4. Teaches breath control, Increase lung function
Breath control (known as Pranayama) is a vital part of yoga practice and running. When you’re calm, deep breathing becomes easier. You focus on deep inhales and exhales, releasing toxins and carbon dioxide and increasing your lung function. With practice, you can increase the amount of oxygen flowing through your lungs and into your body. We all know that this could improve our running, just look at all the professional runners who train at high altitude to achieve this same benefit.
5. Improves balance
Most runners have a tough time with balance. It’s no surprise because with running, balance doesn’t seem completely necessary to a strong stride in the same way it would for say, a gymnast. But, try standing on one leg, maybe even in tree pose, and you notice all those little muscles in your foot and ankle quivering trying to maintain this balance. The more quivering, the weaker they are. That means that your body is compensating in other ways since you aren’t utilizing these important muscles. When you balance, you’re starting to activate and strengthen all the muscles that that are underused with running.