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Yoga for Athletes

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 www.yogajournal.com, www.anusarayoga.com and www.poweryoga.com.

Curbing the Chatter

One of the most important skills that athletes can master is to remain focused on their sports. By tuning out distractions such as mental “chatter,” they can withstand hours of training. Yoga can enhance your inner focus in this regard.

To quiet your busy mind, lie down or sit comfortably with your spine lengthened and eyes closed. Focus on your breath, following its flow. Practice visualizing your inhalation as air moves from the outskirts of your body and expands through your lungs, ribs, diaphragm and belly and into the core of your pelvis. Then visualize your exhalation as the air moves from the inside of your body back outside. As you focus, thoughts will come and go. Witnessing those thoughts instead of being sucked into them can help make you more observant; recognizing that you are not your thoughts and emotions can help quiet your mind.

Gradually increase the duration of each inhalation and exhalation. After 5 minutes, slowly return to gentle, natural breathing and open your eyes. You should notice a difference between how you felt before this exercise and how you feel after it.

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