Imagine being in yoga class, glancing over to the person next to you, and seeing former NFL superstar Ray Lewis in child’s pose. While we would find that to be pretty hilarious, it’s a scene that could happen more often than you think. Athletes like Lewis, Lebron James, Victor Cruz, and Hope Solo are all said to be getting their ommm on with this mind-body wellness practice, and it filters down from the pros to high school athletes (Kimberly Fowler, founder of YAS Fitness Centers, the yoga/spinning hybrid, even offers Yoga for Athletes® classes and workout programs).
“Everyone can benefit from incorporating yoga into their training schedule. The benefits and gains of spending 10 to 15 minutes at the end of a session are huge,” says Katie Brauer (yoga instructor and current director of teacher trainings at Yoga Six, who, incidentally, got her start in yoga as a way to rehabilitate from injuries sustained during her professional snowboarding career).
We know yoga improves stamina and flexibility (not to mention provides a form of stress relief), but how else does it benefit, say, a 250-pound linebacker? Brauer divulged additional details on the benefits of yoga for athletes, plus shared four moves pros and amateurs like myself should try.
Yoga benefits for athletes, according to Brauer:
- Regulating tone and improving tissue length can enhance lymphatic activity, improve immune function, digestion, and sleep (muscle tension is one of the primary causes of poor sleep)
- Stretching can help to limit injuries, improve normal function, and support recovery
- Breathing techniques incorporated during a yoga session support the central nervous system in a parasympathetic (relaxation) response; rest and recovery is one of the biggest factors in peak performance
Yoga poses to try:
“Pairing these stretches with deep breathing is essential,” Brauer says. “Long, deep, three-dimensional inhalations and exhalations will also support a parasympathetic response in the nervous system, which is essential to recovery.”
1. Hamstrings: Parsvottanasana (back heel lifted)
Targets: Central, Lateral Hamstrings
- Begin with feet together. Fold forward into standing forward fold, hands to the blocks, and step one foot back about 2-3 feet.
- Square hips.
- Inhale, elongate the spine to the horizon.
- Exhale, lead with chest, hinge at the hips, bow over your front leg.
- Breathe fully and deeply into the sensation in the backs of your legs. Lengthen the spine on your inhalations, deepening the pose on your exhalation.
2. Quads: Quad Opener (against the wall)
Targets: Quads, Psoas, Vastus Medialis, TFL
- Begin on all fours close to the wall.
- Place right knee at the base of the wall where it meets the floor, with shin against the wall.
- Step left foot forward creating a 90-degree angle at the knee.
- Bring hands to blocks, elongate spine, reach through crown of the head.
- If it is available, rise up to bring spine against wall.
- Draw tailbone down and pull pubic bone up the front side of body toward belly button, keeping length through spine.
- Option: raise right arm over head.
- Breathe, repeat on other side.
3. Hips: Pigeon
Targets: Piriformis, Deep Six Rotators, Glutes, IT Band
- Begin in downward facing dog.
- Inhale right leg to the sky.
- Exhale, float right knee forward between you hands.
- Depending on knee health, choose to take knee a little wider behind the wrist, squaring shin to the front of your mat or place knee a little more centered on your mat with right heel toward left hip.
- Hands by your hips, inhale, create length through your spine.
- Wrap left hip forward to square hips.
- Exhale, fold forward leading with heart, hinge at hips.
- Inhale, create space and length in spine.
- Exhale, deepen and fold.
- Repeat other side.
4. Chest: Bridge
Targets: Chest, Shoulders, Hip Flexors
- Lay on back, knees bent, feet on floor-hip width apart, arms long by your sides.
- Ground into feet, hug inner thighs toward midline, press into palms, and float hips high.
- Snuggle the heads of your arm bones underneath you and interlace fingers.
- Lengthen out through the crown of your head as you draw tailbone long and pull pubic bone up the front side of body toward belly button, keeping length through spine.
- Breathe into chest, back, ribcage.
- To release, lower one vertebrae at a time.
Plus, read Part II of Yoga for Athletes, where Kimberly Fowler shares additional yoga poses to try!
Images courtesy of Katie Brauer