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by Kim Shand, founder of Rethink Yoga
I don’t know any athlete in any sport that isn’t interested in improving their performance. It’s an athlete’s nature to want to progress and there are numerous options available from training techniques to workouts to nutrition.
However, the single most effective tool that any athlete can add to their toolbox is a consistent yoga practice. Some of the physical benefits of yoga are well known, but the biggest impact a consistent practice offers an athlete is the training of your mind muscle.
Yoga provides a range of physical benefits whether you’re a weekend warrior or an Olympic champion. The increased flexibility gained through yoga helps prevent injuries and improves range of motion leading to superior power. Yoga also builds a surprising amount of strength, using every muscle in your body rather than focusing only on those that are already developed through your sport. The balance poses improve coordination and control. The combination of flexibility, balance, and increased strength rehabilitates the structural imbalances caused by the repetitive motion that’s inherent in most sports.
Many yoga styles also provide a rigorous aerobic workout that improves endurance. Power yoga and faster-paced vinyasa styles will raise your heart rate as much as a Zumba class without the impact on your joints. Hot yoga studios offer a variety of styles in temperatures ranging from 89 to 106 degrees. These environments are like weightlifting for your diaphragm and lungs because your respiratory system has to work against the added resistance of the humidity.
While yoga offers a tremendous opportunity for athletes to cross train and develop their bodies’ capabilities, its yoga’s mental conditioning that gives athletes their greatest competitive edge. Throughout a yoga practice, the movement, postures, transitions, and breathing techniques demand that you focus and apply your whole self to the effort, not just your body. It’s through this integrated effort that yoga provides the greatest athletic edge.
A fundamental purpose of yoga is to calm the mind. To accomplish this monumental task, yogis learn to focus on each moment, each breath, and each movement. Applying this skill to your sport allows you to concentrate on what you are doing without thinking ahead, regretting a play that’s already over, or allowing your emotions to dictate your reactions. Reducing the tendency for your mind to wander, criticize, develop fears, or establish limitations offers an athlete the opportunity to bring a mental control to their sport that not many competitors possess. To be able to bring the full power of your mind to your game or race can be more effective in improving your performance than employing the power of your biceps.
Kim Shand is a nationally-renowned yoga expert, on-air personality, and founder of Rethink Yoga. She travels nationally on a mission to inspire people to take control of their health, how they think, and how they age, through yoga. She motivates her students to find their power, their joy, and to be “All In. All the Time.” Follow Kim on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.
Always consult with a physician before beginning a new exercise regimen.