One of the latest performance-enhancing practices for top athletes worldwide, along as affirmations for self love, is yoga. Since yoga has slowly become more popular since its original Western association with a hippie lifestyle in the 1970s, trainers of all sorts have looked to the practice for its multifaceted benefits.
In terms of athletics, yoga has immediate benefits related to strength, endurance, balance, injury prevention, and recovery. From a physical standpoint, practicing yoga for a short period each day leads to concrete results on the field for football, baseball, hockey, and other sports of all stripes.
Aside from aiding the body, professional athletes also benefit from higher levels of concentration that last for long stretches of time. In fact, some professions that have no physical output still lean on yoga for its mental benefits.
For example, consider a professional poker player. Yoga helps top competitors train their bodies to handle sitting for long periods of time and their minds to focus on tasks like evaluating cards and bluffing. One slip can cost a lot, so it’s all about staying focused between turns during high-stakes (and high-stress) tournaments that often stretch on for days.
In fact, when looking at yoga in athletics today, there’s a huge emphasis on improving mental faculties. Ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll wrote, “When the mind is controlled and spirit aligned with purpose, the body is capable of so much more than we realize’.
With crazes like biohacking and data metrics becoming more and more a part of the pro sports experience for top athletes, there’s never been a better time to go back to the basics: mindfulness. But how, exactly, does yoga help athletes keep their focus with seconds on the clock?
From Good to Great
The mind is the true battleground for an athlete. Competitors from the Premier League to the Olympics must all contend with a great deal of stress and uncertainty before the start of a big game. Then they must keep their heads for the duration of play.
In other words, it’s easy to train and nurture the body for incredible feats, but it’s vital that an athlete keep their nerve. Yoga, at its most basic, is about directing mindfulness towards the body. Regular practice fosters mental clarity and calmness—even while attempting a Cobra Pose or a Cow Face Pose.
By centering the mind, yoga practitioners are also literally rewiring their brains. Increasing personal awareness through mindfulness supports neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s way of creating new neural patterns.
In other words, athletes can train their brains to stay calm in more than a theoretical way, literally sharpening their attention while also centering their minds. In this way, yoga for athletes isn’t necessarily about elevating their asanas, but about providing a space for the mind and body to align in peace.
All sorts of athletes have turned to yoga to help them elevate their game. At the moment, many LPGA competitors have taken to social media to highlight the poses that help them keep their golf game tight. Natalie Gulbis loves Dancer’s Pose, while Christina Stockton prefers Tree Pose. For Michelle Wie, it’s all about hitting a Warrior’s Pose out in nature.
Big-name athletes also incorporate yoga into their daily routines. The NBA’s LeBron James, largely considered the greatest basketball player still on the courts today, has relied on yoga for years to help alleviate lower back problems, improve balance, and calm his mind.
James has even helped kickstart an initiative to teach yoga to younger basketball players. He works with Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga to help introduce yoga basics to athletes who will benefit physically and mentally.
The NFL’s Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks playing American football today, also uses hot yoga to help remove toxins and aid flexibility. However, Rodgers mentioned that one unexpected side effect of his yoga practice was mental discipline.
In an interview with The Journal Sentinel back in 2014, Rodgers said, “But I think through yoga you learn some good mental discipline, being encouraged to try and clear your mind.”
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