Yoga has been integrated into the training routines of many athletes and sports teams at all levels of competition, from children’s teams to professional organizations. The benefits of yoga for athletes often discussed include increased strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, and focus, and fewer injuries. Recent news stories point out even more ways in which cross training with yoga can boost performance in other activities.
An orthopedic surgeon at Delaware County Memorial Hospital believes yoga boosts athletes’ performance by strengthening the core. He describes the core as the “foundation of power for sports and performance.” He places enough significance on stabilizing the core muscles, that the interviewer postulates “one reason professional and Olympic athletes are faster and stronger these days is that so many are maximizing their abilities by conditioning and strengthening their cores.”
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Yoga may also benefit athletes by reducing stress and recovery time. One research study attempted to discover evidence to support this theory. Self-reports from participants showed those who integrated yoga into their training routine had a significant decrease in their global stress scores as compared to the control group. The authors concluded that incorporating a yoga practice into a training regimen could help “reduce the negative effects of over-training”.
Yoga teacher and endurance coach, Sage Rountree, has written an entire book on the importance of recovery for athletes. In a recent interview she shared her belief that having the self-awareness to know when to stop pushing “is critical for success in sports and life.” In her previous book, the Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, she offered guidance on how to use yoga to improve “form, efficiency, and power…mental focus and mental endurance.”
Younger athletes also benefit from yoga in many ways. Since Aly Faber, of Power Performance Yoga, began working with teams in the North Carolina public school system, coaches have seen a decline in injuries, while the parents claim their children seem nicer, and the players have noticed they feel stronger and more balanced. Farber, who has also worked with professional and college level players, believes in the importance of the “off-field gains”. She points out “there’s so much pressure on these kids…not only to do well in school, but do well in their sport, too. They can end up super stressed out. They don’t have time to sit and relax…But that’s what yoga does.”
It may be impossible to quantify all of the benefits of yoga, but as yoga continues to give athletes a competitive edge we will certainly see more integration of yoga into athletes’ training routines.