Athletes Doing Yoga, Here’s How

Athletes, of all kinds, are very much interested in yoga.  They hear that a regular practice can increase flexibility, stability, strength, endurance, concentration and possibly improve overall performance.  There are great teachers out there who really know how to help athletes reduce the risk of injury both in a yoga class and while playing a sport.  But there are also teachers who really don’t know how to help someone and rely on general advice like, “Well, Downward Dog would be great for lengthening all the muscles in your back, while making you stronger.”  Um, maybe…In reality, there’s a million different ways to teach an asana practice and it should be tailored to the individual’s needs.  If you are playing a sport and are looking for a yoga teacher then talk to a few until you get answers that resonate with your body’s needs.   Because that other one talking about how great Downward Dog is may not know that it could possibly aggravate an already messed up shoulder or neck (Please note, any asana in the right hands can also be an opportunity to rehab, but if a teacher thinks the poses themselves are the “prescriptions” for any problem than we suggest moving on to another.)

A good friend of Melissa’s recently asked her about yoga on Facebook (see this is why you should “like” us).  Here’s the questions:

 I will very likely be taking up ice hockey again as a goalie, and I haven’t worked on my flexibility in years (I’ve been doing cardio and strength training like mad since October). At Smith, I did Ashtanga yoga three times a week during class at the gym, and 7 days a week on my own, and saw amazing benefits. For someone who’s 34 (I don’t know if age matters), losing weight but still overweight, large-chested (I noticed this DOES get in my way during some poses), and looking to get back into a daily yoga practice, what kind of yoga/how often/when would you suggest?

Now if Melissa’s friend lived in NYC problem would be solved, but seeing as this lovely soon to be goalie is out of state here’s the advice on how to start finding the right class/teacher:

  • It doesn’t so much matter what kind of yoga your doing (based one what you told me so far. Although, that being said, Ashtanga does not have a lot of variance in the sequencing and I’m all about variety!), but the fact that you’ll be skating means you’ll have to be working abduction and adduction.  Whichever you aren’t better at start working on. This means, in yoga, if you find yourself repeating patterns that keep working just your abductors (which you see a lot of in “Now that you’re in Downward dog, swing the left leg up and lift the knee to the ceiling for a hip stretch,” then you know you need to pay attention to your adductors. Keep an eye out for sticking to one pattern; switch it up. (There’s a lot more to talk about like: needing strong glutes, needing a strong connection to your core, your eyes being able to stay focused on the fast moving puck and follow it, the ability to stay focused amidst much distraction by exploring the mind-body connection…but I’m glossing over all that right now.)
  • Balance, you need to do that on skates right?  That’s obvious, so whatever you do in yoga concentrate on weight shifting and take your time in transitions. Pay attention to your breath while you move from one pose to another. How steady does it stay?  Don’t rush through poses and don’t use pure momentum to settle into the next one.  Exploring the “spaces in between” are great for improving balance.
  • I don’t know what position goalies take very often.  Do you squat?  On your knees?  Once I know this I can then give better advice.  But you’ll have to be ready to move fast, so I definitely suggest agility training with whatever else you are doing.  Also, breath work is really important here (isn’t it important EVERYWHERE?), so make sure that’s working optimally.  If not, just call me and we’ll talk about how to improve.
  • As for having a bountiful chest…Yes that will interfere in some things, BUT one can always modify.  Tell me which poses seem to bother you the most.  Some that may are Garudasana (Eagle Pose) those twisty arms suck if you have big boobs and as long as your knees don’t object try Child’s pose with your knees open.  Also, try to notice how your posture is affected by the weight of your chest (if it is, like rounding forward to minimize their appearance) and whether you tend to pitch your weight forward or backward, or if there’s ever any shoulder, neck or back pain.  This could all affect your practice and your time out on the ice.
  • Let’s get specific!  Tell me what you need to perform your best and I can try to advise you about how to design your yoga practice.  Since you haven’t been in the game for a while take it easy, go for 2 – 3 times a week and then tell me how it’s feelings.  If anything comes up that doesn’t feel right we can fix that!  Make sure you talk to whatever yoga teacher you work with about this conversation.  If they can’t get specific with you about how your practice will affect your performance then either move on or know that you’ll have to be taking care of stuff on your own.

Both Kim and Melissa have worked with many athletes in a variety of sports.  It’s extremely important to know when and what kind of yoga practice is and IS NOT appropriate.  For example, when working with a boxer who hasn’t tried yoga before it’s not necessarily the best idea to push for flexibility 2 weeks before a fight.  The increased range of motion she may experience can very easily change the reach of her punches and throw her off.  Changing someone’s body, even in positive ways like increasing flexibility (Note: IT IS NOT ALWAYS POSITIVE TO INCREASE FLEXIBIILITY IN EVERY BODY) affects the way athletes perform, sometimes unexpectedly.  So close to a match, this boxer would have benefited from a movement practice that helps her move fluidly through different planes of space, increasing balance, stability and breath control.  “Float like a butterfly…”

So if you are looking to increase athletic performance through yoga see us.  If you can’t see us you can ask us questions by leaving comments on the blog page or tweeting us.  Play well!