By Faye Martins
On any given day, Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat might be standing on his hands with his knees tucked behind his armpits and his big toes touching. He’s practicing Crow Pose, a yoga posture, as part of his rigorous training program that enables him to be a top player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Why do he and other athletes, such as Eli Manning of the New York Giants, practice yoga?
Athletes are increasingly adopting yoga in hopes that it will improve their competitive performance. Vinyasa yoga, in particular, can significantly benefit those wishing to improve their ability to concentrate. The practice centers on the synchronization of movements with the breath, which demands a tremendous amount of focus. Athletes learn to direct their attention and avoid getting distracted by activities of the mind. This ability to concentrate is especially useful for athletes such as long-distance runners and swimmers, who need to stay focused, sometimes while in physical and emotional distress, for extended periods of time.
Athletes often have chronically contracted muscles that must release in order to regain their ability to work effectively. The fluid movements of vinyasa yoga, combined with steady holding of poses, encourages muscular release by using the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) method, a favorite technique of many sports therapists. The vinyasa yoga student repeatedly contracts and releases a tight muscle before going into a prolonged hold of a stretch. For example, moving between Standing Forward Bend and Halfway Lift several times before staying in Standing Forward Bend will more efficiently release the muscles of the low back than if the student had instead statically held Standing Forward Bend. The use of PNF can help accelerate recovery from injuries.
Vinyasa yoga benefits athletes in other ways, too. It’s obvious that gymnasts and speed skaters excel when they have a strong sense of balance; however, soccer, football and basketball players also perform better when they can maintain their footing during games. Balancing poses, such as Tree, Warrior 3 and Dancer’s Pose, help build muscular strength and the mind-body connection that facilitates stability. Vinyasa yoga helps build strength and flexibility that is essential for speed, dexterity and injury prevention. In addition, athletes involved in activities that favor one side of the body, such as golf and tennis, can minimize any incurred physical imbalances by practicing yoga poses that emphasize the opposite side.
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