Does yoga prevent sporting injuries?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Yoga was once known solely as a meditative exercise regimen that combined flexibility movements with static poses. Today, many high-level athletes are turning to yoga to reduce injuries, improve their sports performance and create longevity in their careers.

Yoga for sports performance

The combination of dynamic, isometric and static movements practiced in yoga, aids tremendously in injury prevention and physical performance. In addition to its physical benefits, yoga also has positive effects on the respiratory system and the brain. Yoga aids in overall athletic performance in 3 main areas.

  • Physical recovery:
    Stretching reduces muscular inflammation and aids in recovery. The variety of movements practiced in yoga also strengthens muscles and prevents them from being injured via pull or strain.
  • Increased oxygen flow:
    Breathing is a powerful and often underutilized tool in sports. Learning to control your breathing while carrying out dynamic yogic exercises not only increases flexibility, but aids in cardiovascular activity and brain function as well.
  • Brain function:
    Athletes often struggle with performance anxiety and have trouble relaxing. Yoga is great for reducing stress, and increases oxygen flow throughout the body and mind. Visualization and meditative techniques are often used by athletes to perform at their best and yoga is amazing for this.

High-level athletes and yoga

Many high-level athletes, such as NBA players have found benefits in yoga for extending their careers. Young NBA prospects such as Myles Turner initially turned to yoga to lose weight, but now sees it as a viable tool to move closer to his goal of one day becoming an NBA All-Star. Many high-level athletes are choosing to partake in this unconventional method of training to recover from practice quicker, stay loose during games and gain a mental edge. The benefits of regular yoga practice are applicable throughout all sports and give athletes advantages physically, mentally and emotionally.

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Physical benefits of yoga

Yoga combines movements and poses with breathing techniques in an active series. This series of movements is referred to as a ‘routine' which can result in a calorie burning, aerobic workout, depending on the intensity level. Yoga routines can be used either as a meditative practice or great low-impact workout. Hot Yoga, for example, is practiced in extreme heat and is very intense. There are many different forms of yoga practice, but generally speaking they all aid in:

  • Core strength
  • Flexibility
  • Range of motion
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Physical coordination
  • Recovery

**Yoga also strengthens tiny stabilizing muscles that are missed by conventional, sports-specific workouts and static stretching alone. These stabilizer muscles in aid strength, flexibility and prevent injury through supporting larger muscle groups.

Mental and emotional benefits

With its emphasis on controlled, slow-breathing techniques, yoga is often used as a form of meditation. Breathing, has a profound impact on mental focus, emotional clarity and is a staple of any meditative practice. Meditation and visualisation techniques have been used in combination with yoga by many popular sports teams such as the Rugby League team, the NSW Blues, to improve their on-field psychology.

Yoga has also been known to reduce anxiety among athletes and improve their concentration on game-day. The AFL's Brisbane Lions, have teamed up with yoga experts to control game-day anxiety as well as boost their mobility and athleticism. As yoga, meditation and emotional wellness continue to grow among major sports competition, so does the recognition of their benefits. These practices are becoming a lot more common among players and sports leagues alike.

Injury prevention & longevity

Many athletes have started incorporating sports-specific yoga poses and stretches into their regular workout routines to counteract the muscular imbalances that occur during practice / play. Poses such as ‘downward dog' are great for decompressing the spine and are perfect for counteracting the effects of constant running and jumping in sports like basketball. Hockey players and golfers benefit from the increased core strength and flexibility that yoga gives them; cutting down on low-back and hip injuries caused by repetitive swinging movements.

Yoga is practiced barefoot and strengthens all the muscles that support walking / running as well as protects the ankle from injuries such as strains and sprains. There are around 20 different muscles within the foot that support movement, balance and the weight of your entire body. These muscles often become underdeveloped from being crammed into tight athletic footwear day after day. Any contact-sports athlete can attest to the benefit of balance and being able to stay upright within their respective sport. Increased foot / ankle strength not only reduces falls / hits, but reduces the amount of lower body injuries that occur as well.

Yoga for life

Yoga is not just for athletes, and the recovery benefits it provides are beneficial to everyday folk in everyday life. Weight loss, stress reduction and increased mobility all aid in one's quality of life and reduce aches and pains. Neck and back pain is very common among those who stand or sit for long periods of time for work. Almost all muscular strains and overuse injuries can be treated with a simple, daily yoga routine.

Athletes (especially high-level athletes) already possess a lot of the strength benefits that yoga provides. But, for non-athletes, increased mobility, core strength and healthy posture aid tremendously in injury prevention from everyday tasks. Think of those awkward, seemingly random injuries that occur from picking something up from the floor or turning in your seat too quickly. These injuries occur often as a result of muscular imbalance caused by underuse. Pilates, is an exercise routine similar to yoga that is great for beginners and focuses on relaxing tense muscles, slowly working up to flexibility exercises.

We can help!

A healthy life means a balanced one, and yoga may be able to help. There are many forms of yoga and meditative practices that aid in overall quality of life as well as heal any lingering injuries you may have. We have a team Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists across Australia that are ready to assess your body's needs and direct you as to exactly where to start. Whether you are an athlete looking for a competitive edge or someone suffering from acute neck or back pain, we can help and make recommendations on local Yoga studios to join . Contact us by phone at 1300 731 733 or find a location nearest to you to get started!

The original article was published by Jonathan Moody

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