Yoga for Athletes

May 01, 2003

Client Handout

Looking to improve your sports performance? Yoga may be the answer. Athletes everywhere are discovering that this ancient discipline can help improve their concentration and increase their flexibility and balance not only to prevent common injuries but also to polish their skills for particular sports. Fitness professional and 17-year yoga practitioner Sue Hollingshead offers these tips on how to let yoga help you.

1. Understand How Yoga Benefits Athletes. The postures, breathing and inner focus of yoga can help balance, strengthen and restore overtaxed muscles, joints and ligaments. In addition to elongating tight, fatigued and shortened muscles, yoga helps calm and clear the mind.

2. Choose the Yoga Style Right for You. Whereas some athletes prefer a style that emphasizes holding postures for longer durations, others like a style that emphasizes maintaining optimal alignment. Similarly, whereas some gravitate toward a style that accentuates the spiritual aspects of yoga, others relate better to a more physically oriented style. Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for many different styles of yoga. Here are brief descriptions of its more popular forms:

  • Ashtanga Vinyasa. One of the most physically demanding forms of yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa emphasizes strength, flexibility and stamina by combining breath work and a series of poses often done in quick succession.
  • Iyengar.Considered one of the most therapeutic forms of yoga, Iyengar emphasizes alignment through the use of props such as chairs, blankets, blocks, straps and pillows. It is especially good for beginners.
  • Bikram. Also called “hot yoga,” this form of yoga focuses on the repetition of 26 poses, each performed twice. It is typically done in a very hot room to warm the joints for movement.
  • Kripalu. This gentle form of yoga focuses on the mind-body connection through the practice of meditation during poses.
  • Kundalini. Also appropriate for beginners, this form of yoga incorporates stretching, breathing and meditation.
  • Vinyoga.Usually taught one-on-one, this form of yoga encourages students to work at their own pace, coordinating their movements with their breathing and awareness.

3. Learn More About Yoga for Athletes. To start your yoga practice, take group classes or private yoga lessons at a fitness facility or yoga studio. In addition, visit, and

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