Yoga for Athletes

Yoga is an excellent compliment for all athletes and fitness enthusiasts to develop strength, flexibility and mental attitude.

Yoga can be of great benefit and a fantastic supplement to a wide variety of sports activities from running to martial arts, tennis or cycling to football and rugby - and everything inbetween! It's becoming more and more popular for the best professional athletes to include yoga as part of their regular workout schedule (as you will see from the increasing number of sports celebrity yoga dvd's now available- Ryan Giggs yoga anyone?)

One of the best lessons athletes can learn from practising yoga is how to respect their body’s strengths and limitations as well as how to control their breathing. This knowledge is essential to preventing sports injuries. Yoga is a powerful tool that can help athletes develop better body awareness. Listening to the body and responding to its messages is a way to honour the body and not push it over the edge.

Through the practice of yoga, recreational athletes to pro's alike can benefit from this type of balance. This is especially true when athletes have pushed their bodies to the max, resulting in weakness or injury. Yoga can restore a weakened body and build it back up. Yoga postures, breath work and inner focus can help rebalance, strengthen and restore overtaxed muscles, joints and ligaments. Through this restoration process, athletes can increase their career longevity and develop an inner balance that will last a lifetime. Balancing the mind, body and spirit is a primary philosophical principle of yoga. 

The most common reason for sport related injuries for a recreational athlete to a Pro, from age 10-80, is over use and abuse.  In my experience most injuries arise because athletes disconnect from their body.  Their eye is on perfection, their job or winning their next game or fight, and not on their tool - the body.  We take better care of our cars than our own bodies!

The best prevention is to become acutely aware of your body its shape, how it feels, range in the joints and mostly its symmetry.  Sports create asymmetries because they are one side dominant, it’s your job to recognize imbalances before they become injury. 

These are the top 10 most common sport related injuries - all of which can be either prevented or improved by a regular yoga practise:

Hip Pain
Most hip pain is due to a lot of stop and go like in football, jarring moves like in tennis and pounding the ground like in running.

The simplest tool is to keep the hip open in all directions loose and free.
Before you do any recommended poses lay on your back and relax completely.  Making sure to release your legs and let them flop apart. Slowly lift your head without changing the positioning of your legs and take note as to the angle your toes are pointing.  Do they point in the same direction or is one hip totally lax, and the other foot point straight up to the sky… usually the hip of the foot pointed straight up is the tighter one and need attention.

Hamstring Pulls/ Strain
It’s pretty clear that most hamstring pulls are from tight hamstrings!  This muscle group and it is a group, not a single muscle, is the source of frustration for many athletes.  They are so strong and thick it takes diligence and time to open them up.  It will not happen over night but with a regular yoga practise to supplement your preferred sport it can and will improve.

Knee Injuries
Whether you are an athlete or have never done sports in your life you have had or know someone that has had knee surgery.  The best way to avoid trouble is to keep the hips flexible and strong.  Think about it, if your hips are stiff and can’t move or rotate to their full potential the energy will go to the spot of least resistance which is always the very vulnerable very complex knee joint.

Shoulder Pain
Another vulnerable joint, built very much like the hip joint however MUCH more shallow.  This characteristic makes it a prime spot for mis-alignments, dislocations, and impingement.  It is important for this and all body parts that you not only warm them properly but you strengthen them as well as stretch them for maximum power.

Low Back Strain
The most common reason for pain, and stiffness and limited range in the low back is tight hamstrings.  Since the hamstrings originate on the sits bones, if the muscle is tight it pulls down on the pelvis, tipping it incorrectly and causing you to constantly compensate in order to be upright.  Another reason for low back pain is weakness in the abdominals.

Wrist Problems
Whether it’s carpal tunnel or a sprain from a fall, athletes are always susceptible to wrist injuries.  Offensive linemen put all their weight behind them, football players land on them, and tennis player’s bank on their strength.  It’s important to maintain strong forearms as well.  Indication that you are having forearm flexor or extensor problems is to take a good look at your hands in down dog before you fix them.  Notice if two fingers are stuck together or if there is nice equal space between each finger.

Ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, Plantar fasciitis
These are the next three most common injuries.  I’m going to group them together because the poses to avoid these issues are the same.  You need to develop a strong ankle, flexible ankle, open  flexible toes, and work on your balance.


Neck strain
Probably the most at risk spot on the body.  The neck of an athlete needs great care.  Full rotation means being able to dodge the next hit in boxing, and turn your head towards a fast bowled cricket ball.  A flexible neck will help you roll out of a compromised wresting position, or absorb the shock of a full tackle.

*If you are injured you should always get permission from your doctor before beginning any yoga program.