Yoga is an ancient physical and mental practice that has spread throughout the world thanks to its benefits because it ensures balance between body and mind. For several decades, it has gained popularity in the West, and “yogamanía” has experienced a boom in recent years because it responds to various problems of our time, including sedentary lifestyle or stress.
For many, it’s not just a way to exercise, but it’s a lifestyle that allows you to find inner peace and is committed to healthy habits and good nutrition. Yoga is attracting, and that’s why more and more people are practicing it. This is because he manages to integrate breathing with movement so that the mind and body cease to be two autonomous entities and become one. Yoga allows you to reconnect with yourself, which is difficult today.
Anyone can learn and practice this discipline which is also suitable for many athletes, as it allows an improvement in physical condition, better control of breathing and relaxation, an increase in flexibility, as well as a mental attitude. ideal that promotes flow and increases athleticism. performance. Athletes who practice it gain knowledge about the connection between their mind and body, improve mental clarity and focus, and are better prepared for the challenges they face.
Yoga in the West: on the path to modern yoga
Etymologically, “yoga” means union, and the goal of this discipline is the fusion of the individual soul with the universal spirit. It was born in India thousands of years ago (around 3000 BC), but contemporary yoga didn’t start until a little over a century ago, when it was introduced to the West. by English soldiers and officials who were in the Asian country and by many professors. came to the West thus establishing the beginning of the various schools that we know today.
Yoga includes asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), savasana (relaxation), dhyana (meditation), kriyas (cleansing), mudras (gestures to channel energy), kirtan (chanting) and mantras (phrases). Throughout history, different types of yoga have emerged, as their practice has been adapted to different cultures. You can find Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Tibetan, etc. yoga. and thanks to the discoveries made by yogis, different traditional yoga systems have emerged (Astanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mantra Yoga, etc.).
In the West, “Hatha yoga” is the most popular, and although it is generally taught as a physical practice for one’s asanas (postures), its practice wraps up in a holistic experience which also takes into account aspects such as breathing or meditation. Today, Western culture has influenced new forms of modern yoga such as the Power yoga, Originated in the United States in the 90s. In this way, the religious component was left behind to give more weight to the physical appearance.
Yoga practice for athletes
For 1 year, yoga began to be part of gymnasiums and sports centers in many localities. Its benefits applied to both health and athletic performance are increasingly appealing to athletes, both elite and those who train to improve their overall well-being or fitness.
Mastering the physical and mental challenges that yoga demands can be a discovery for many athletes who have been used to a different training concept for years, because this practice is based on the principle of integrating the body as a whole. This new holistic approach can reveal weaknesses and imbalances that have never been exposed before, and incorporates the physical and mental element so important when competing or training sports.
More and more athletes are discovering the different ways in which yoga can be used to improve psychological and physical performance and therefore athletic performance. From increasing mental focus, improving flexibility and balance, preventing injury or honing technical skills, many athletes have already benefited from this ancient discipline, including the basketball player. James lebron, The tennis player Maria xarapova or the football player Ryan giggs. The latter retired as a professional athlete at the age of 40, played 23 seasons in the Premier League and made 963 appearances with the Manchester United. Yoga was perhaps his big secret.
Reasons why an athlete should practice yoga
But what reasons can lead an athlete to want to add yoga to their training program? What are the benefits of yoga that help improve sports results? Considering the information provided by various researches in this regard, yoga improves athletic performance for the following reasons.
1. Greater flexibility
When we talk about yoga, the first thing that comes to mind is their asanas (postures). So, it is not difficult to associate their practice with improving flexibility. Asanas help us increase the ability to move muscles and joints throughout their range.
Numerous studies have shown its usefulness in increasing flexibility. For example, a study from Doncaster University Center (UK) showed that a weekly yoga session for 6 weeks was enough to see improvements in this basic quality of fitness. Sarah Ramsden, yoga instructor at Manchester United and Manchester City, explains: “Being flexible and having good movement patterns helps you have more speed, power, sharpness of movement and better recovery.” All of these aspects improve the performance of athletes.
2. Reduces stress
It is not surprising that with the pace of life in today’s society, many people suffer from stress, which in turn can cause psychological health issues such as depression, anxiety, mental exhaustion or hostility, which seriously affects the level of activation of athletes., Affects cognitive processes and sports performance.
In addition, the very threatening characteristics of the competition or the environment of the athletes also lead to stress being a fairly common response in the life of an athlete, as stated by José María Buceta, professor and director of the Master in Sports Psychology from the National Distance Learning University (UNED).
A joint study by scientists at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society found that daily yoga practice reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. A twenty-minute session a day is enough to see a significant reduction in stress levels, according to a study from Ohio State University in the United States.
3. Increase strength
Following a routine with different asanas on a regular basis increases muscle tone and strength. Yoga postures are maintained for long periods of time, causing isometric contractions of the muscles, generating a gain in strength.
A study published in the International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health showed that asanas strengthen the arms, shoulders, legs, back, buttocks and abdomen.
The same study concludes that yoga increases the strength of underused muscles in different sports such as swimming, cycling or running. These gains improve body stability and prevent injury, as yoga works to strengthen the muscle fibers that support and surround the muscles most used in these sports. In this case, a more balanced and functionally optimal overall force is produced.
4. Recovery assistance
For optimal athletic performance, training and recovery are important. To avoid overtraining and continue to perform at an appropriate level, athletes should understand that recovery periods after physical activity are essential, Yoga is a form of active rest, Which means that, with its practice, the body uses biological mechanisms and metabolic and cellular processes of tissue repair and generation of molecules, such as now enzymes, which allows it to continue to function at a good level.
According to research published in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, yogic breathing helps circulate and detoxify lymph, a fluid that passes through the lymphatic system. This speeds up recovery by 15% after exercise and eliminates fatigue.
5. More balance and coordination
Yoga is different from other exercises in that it generates movement without causing tension or imbalance in the body. Therefore, their practice is an ideal complement to various forms of physical exercise and an advantage in any sport. A study by Dawn Boehde and John Porcaridel for the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (United States) has been shown to improve coordination and balance with yoga because the different postures combine with breathing and movement.
Now how does this affect athletic performance? Better balance and coordination means better control of body movements, which manifests itself in a more efficient technique.
6. Improves sleep
“The practice of yoga increases serotonin levels, which helps you sleep better,” says Dr. Murali Doraiswam, author of a Duke University study that included reviewing more than 100 research articles on yoga. Serotonin (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that, in addition to regulating mood or appetite, increases the production of melatonin, a hormone that participates in sleep cycles. To take a peaceful break too, serotonin is involved in controlling stress and body temperature.
Therefore, a study by the University of Barcelona and the University of the Balearic Islands published in the Journal of Sport Psychology advises athletes to perform quality control of sleep, due to the importance of their characteristics. repairers and their positive relationship with athletic performance, training and competition. Stanford University’s Dr Cheri Mah showed in an experiment that basketballers who improve their sleep patterns increase the efficiency of their throws by 9%.
7. Improves mood
Performance-promoting moods and the generation of positive attitudes and emotions are a key component of successful athletic performance in every person. Serotonin (5-HT) not only has a positive effect on sleep, but is also involved in regulating mood. In fact, low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with depressive behaviors.
Research by Cabral, Meyer and Ames, published in The Primary Care Companion CNS Disorders, concluded that regular yoga practice produces significant improvements in patients with depression and anxiety similar to exercise. Additionally, another research, this time published in The Journal of Complementary Medicine, Found that there is an increase in another neurotransmitter in yoga practitioners: GABA. The benefits of GABA are numerous because it helps improve mood, the ability to concentrate, promotes relaxation and helps control stress.
Because negative moods can interfere with athletic performance (for example, make it difficult to concentrate) these psychological variables must be monitored to maintain an optimal level of performance.
8. Helps prevent injuries
Many sports like cycling and running are characterized by very repetitive movements over a long period of time, which causes certain muscle groups to develop while ignoring others. Muscle and joint imbalances can cause injury.
As shown by a study conducted by Teodora Dominteanu, professor in the Department of Physical Education and Sports of the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, as well as cyclists and runners, tennis players, with the who conducted his research, they experience a lot of bumps, shorten and harden their muscles. When these muscles are not restored, they lengthen and stretch, imbalances and injuries occur more frequently.
Many yoga poses, such as the “Upside Down Dog” (Adho Mukha Svanasana), mobilize and extend the back, shoulders, triceps, buttocks, hamstrings, anterior rectum and twins, strengthening the muscles. muscles and providing flexibility to the body. This pose is highly recommended to avoid ankle injuries, so it is especially recommended for runners or triathletes. Plus, it helps prevent elbow and wrist injuries in sports like tennis.
To protect athletes from possible muscle injury, research published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research indicates that a good level of flexibility is needed. In this way, an articular and muscular reserve is obtained, in the event that an unexpected or unusual gesture is superior to the gestures of mobility at work.
9. Improves concentration
Concentration is the ability to keep attention focused on an object or task that is performed without distraction and which is the key to athletic success. In yoga, concentration is mainly worked through Treatak (staring), Nasagra-drishti (nasal contemplation), Brahmadya-drishti (frontal contemplation).
According to the results of a study by the University of Illinois, Subjects who participated in research and practiced yoga had more ability to focus and process information faster and more precisely. They also learned, maintained and updated information in less time.
10. Improves endurance
If sports performance is multifactorial, it is clear that endurance plays an important role in sport. According to science, yoga improves aerobic and anaerobic endurance. A study by Aslan and Livanelioglu found that a group of subjects who exercised four times a day for six weeks improved 9.8% on the Cooper test, a test that measures aerobic capacity.
It seems that while yoga is not an aerobic exercise, yogic breathing (pranayama) increases the capacity of the lungs by improving the flexibility of the rib cage and allows the lungs to expand fully, as he explains in a study. published in the Yoga Journal. On the other hand, a study by Cowen and Adams, which assessed the relationship between yoga and anaerobic endurance, showed that both yoga ashtanga as the hatha yoga they lead to an improvement in this type of resistance.