Yoga has long been sought after for physical benefits. It increases flexibility, strength and overall health. It also supports mental focus and fortitude. So, it’s no surprise that a number of athletes are using the practice to support and maintain their performance. But what is surprising is how many athletes are crediting yoga to their success and triumph in professional sports.
Tennis star Andy Murray credits Bikram Yoga for his victory over reigning world number one Roger Federer. He says it not only helped him with his physical prowess, but also did a lot to support him mentally. "It has helped me a lot with my fitness and my mental strength because it’s tough being in that kind of heat for that length of time,” said Murray.
Oakland A’s outfielder Travis Buck and first baseman Dan Johnson began practicing yoga in the off season to increase their flexibility and help prevent injuries during their season, and got hooked. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar swears that Yoga kept him in professional basketball for over 20 years. Even collegiate athletes are finding the benefits of yoga.
It seems that athletes are drawn to the intensity of the physical practice, and the mental support that sustaining the intensity requires, as well as the preventative aspect of reducing and healing injury, but what of the other limbs? Are these athletes gleaning the deeper meaning of Yoga through their exploration of this intense physical discipline? Brent Rich, M.D., a Fellow of Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, suggests [athletes] look past the odd language and spiritual overtones of yoga’s devotees and take what [they] need out of the discipline: "I’m not sure if spirituality is the important part of yoga for an athlete."
So it seems that the purpose of Yoga for athletes might only be for superior physical endurance and mental focus. The deeper meaning of Yoga comes to those who are ready to receive it, and just coming to the practice is a start. The profound healing aspects of the asana and pranayama practice can still be obtained without the component of svadhyaya (self study), can’t it?? So kudos to all who are discovering the benefits that Hatha yoga provides, and who knows, maybe it will open windows to discover even more than flexible hamstrings and better performance.
Did you come to yoga as training for a sport? Has yoga helped improve your game?