10 benefits of yoga for athletes (according to science)
The benefits of yoga are also applicable to elite athletes.
Yoga is an ancient physical and mental practice that has spread around the world thanks to its benefits and the fact that it guarantees a balance between body and mind. For several decades it has gained popularity in the West, and "yogamania" has experienced a boom in recent years because it provides an answer to various problems of our time, including sedentary lifestyles and stress.
For many, it is not just a form of physical exercise, but a way of life that allows them to find inner peace and commits them to healthy habits and proper nutrition. Yoga attracts, and that is why more and more people are practicing it.. This is because it manages to integrate breathing with movement so that the mind and body cease to be two autonomous entities and become one. Yoga allows to reconnect with oneself, something that is difficult nowadays.
Anyone can learn and practice this discipline that is also suitable for many athletes, since it provides an improvement in physical condition, greater control of breathing and relaxation, increased flexibility, as well as an ideal mental attitude that favors the state of flow and increases athletic performance. Athletes who practice yoga gain insight into the connection between their mind and body, improve mental clarity and concentration, and are more prepared for the challenges they face.
Yoga in the West: On the Road to Modern Yoga
Etymologically "yoga" means union, and the aim of this discipline is the fusion of the individual soul with the universal spirit. It originated in India thousands of years ago (approximately 3,000 years B.C.), but contemporary yoga did not begin until just over a century ago, when it was introduced in the West by English soldiers and officials who were in the Asian country and by numerous teachers who came to the West, thus establishing the beginning of the different schools that are known today.
Yoga is composed of 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, since its practice has been adapted to different cultures. We can find Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Tibetan, etc. yoga; and through 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 even though it is usually taught as a physical practice for its asanas (postures), its practice involves a holistic experience that also takes into account aspects such as breathing or meditation. Nowadays, Western culture has influenced new forms of modern yoga such as Power Yogaoriginated in the United States in the 1990s. In this way, the religious component has been left behind to give more weight to the physical aspect.
The practice of yoga for athletes
Since a few years ago, yoga has begun to be part of the gyms and sports centers of many localities.. Its benefits applied to both health and athletic performance are increasingly engaging athletes, both elite and those who train to improve their overall wellness or physical condition.
Mastering the physical and mental challenges that yoga demands can be a discovery for many athletes accustomed for years to a different concept of training, 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 integrates the physical and mental element that is so important during competition or training in sport.
More and more athletes are discovering the many ways in which yoga can be used to improve psychological and physical performance and, consequently, athletic performance. From increasing mental focus, improving flexibility and balance, preventing injuries or perfecting technical skills, many athletes have already benefited from this ancient discipline, including basketball player LeBron Jamesbasketball player LeBron James, tennis player Maria Sharapova or the soccer player Ryan Giggs. The latter retired as a professional sportsman at the age of 40, played 23 seasons in the Premier League and played 963 games for Manchester United. Manchester United. Yoga may have been his great secret.
Reasons why an athlete should practice yoga
But what reasons might lead an athlete to want to add yoga to his or her training plan? What are the benefits of yoga that contribute to improved athletic performance? Considering the information provided by the various researches on the subject, yoga improves sports performance for the following reasons.
1. Increased flexibility
When talking about yoga, the first thing that comes to mind are its asanas (postures). Therefore, it is not difficult to associate the practice of yoga with improved flexibility, it is not difficult to associate its practice with improved flexibility.. Asanas help us to increase the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion.
Many studies have demonstrated their usefulness in increasing flexibility. For example, a study from the University Centre Doncaster (UK) showed that a weekly yoga session for 6 weeks was enough to notice improvements in this basic quality of physical condition. Sarah Ramsden, yoga instructor at Manchester United and Manchester City explains: "Being flexible and having good movement patterns helps with speed, power, sharpness of movement and better recovery. All aspects that 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 problems such as depression, anxiety, mental exhaustion or hostility, which seriously impairs the level of activation of athletes, the relevant cognitive processes and sports performance.
In addition, the threatening characteristics of the competition or the environment of the athletes themselves also make stress a fairly frequent response in the life of an athlete, as stated by José María Buceta, professor and director of the Master's Degree in Sport Psychology at the National University of Distance Education (UNED).
A study carried out jointly by scientists from the Thomas Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society demonstrated that daily yoga practice lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress.. A session of twenty minutes a day is enough to notice a significant reduction in stress levels, according to research from Ohio State University in the United States.
3. Increases strength
Following a routine with different asanas on a regular basis increases muscle tone and strength. Yoga postures are held for long periods of time, which causes isometric contractions of the muscles, generating a gain in strength.
A study published in the International Journal of Physical EducationSports 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 disciplines such as swimming, cycling or running. These gains improve body stability and prevent injuries, because yoga works to strengthen the muscle fibers that support and surround the muscles most used in these sports. This means that a more balanced and optimally functional overall strength is produced.
4. Helps in recovery
For optimal sports performance, training is just as important as recovery. To avoid overtraining and to continue to perform at an adequate level, it is necessary for athletes to understand that recovery periods after physical activity are essential, Yoga is a form of active restThis means that, through its practice, the body employs Biological mechanisms and metabolic and cellular processes of tissue repair and the generation of molecules, such as enzymes, that allow it to continue to perform at a good level.
According to research published in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Developmentyogic breathing helps to circulate and detoxify lymph, a fluid that travels through the lymphatic system. This accelerates recovery after physical exercise by 15% and eliminates fatigue.
5. Better balance and coordination
Yoga is different from other exercises because it generates movement without causing tension or imbalance in the body. Therefore, its practice is an ideal complement to different forms of physical exercise and an advantage in any sport. A study conducted by Dawn Boehde and John Porcaridel for the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (U.S.A.) showed that coordination and balance are improved with yoga because the various postures are combined with breathing and movement.
But how does this affect athletic performance? Better balance and coordination means better control in body movement, which manifests itself in more efficient technique.
6. Improves sleep
"Yoga practice increases serotonin levels so it helps you sleep better," explains Dr. Murali Doraiswam, author of a Duke University study that included a review of more than 100 research papers on yoga. Serotonin (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that, in addition to regulating mood or appetite, increases the production of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep cycles. For a peaceful rest, too, serotonin is involved in the control of stress and body temperature..
For this reason, a study by the University of Barcelona and the University of the Balearic Islands published in the Journal of Sport Psychology advises athletes to monitor the quality of their sleep, due to the importance of its restorative characteristics and its positive relationship with sports performance, training and competition. Dr. Cheri Mah, from Stanford University, showed in an experiment that basketball players who improve their sleep habits increase their shooting effectiveness by 9%.
7. Improves mood
There are moods that facilitate performance, and generating positive attitudes and emotions is a key element in the good sports performance of each person. Serotonin (5-HT) not only has a positive effect on sleep, but is also involved in mood regulation. 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 Disordersconcluded that regular yoga practice produces significant improvements in patients with depression and anxiety similar to physical exercise. In addition, other research, this time published in The Journal of Complementary Medicinefound that there is an increase in another neurotransmitter in yoga practitioners: GABA. The benefits of GABA are numerous, as it is involved in improving mood, the ability to concentrate, promotes relaxation and helps to manage stress.
Since negative moods can be detrimental to sports performance (e.g., by making it difficult to concentrate) it is necessary to control these psychological variables in order to maintain an optimal level of performance..
8. Helps prevent injuries
Many sports such as 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 lead to injury.
As a study conducted by Teodora Dominteanu, a professor at the Department of Physical Education and Sport at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, shows, just like cyclists and runners, tennis players, with whom she conducted her research, experience a tremendous amount of pounding, shortening and stiffening their muscles.. When these muscles are not restored, lengthened and stretched, imbalances and injuries occur more frequently.
Many yoga postures, such as the "Downward Facing Dog" (Adho Mukha Svanasana), mobilize and stretch the back, shoulders, triceps, glutes, hamstrings, anterior rectus, and calves, strengthening the muscles and providing flexibility to the body. This posture is highly recommended to prevent ankle injuries, so it is especially recommended for runners or triathletes. In addition, it helps prevent elbow and wrist injuries in sports such as tennis.
To protect athletes from possible muscle injuries, research published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research states that it is necessary to achieve a good level of flexibility. In this way, a reserve articular and muscular range is achieved, in case some unexpected or unusual gesture is superior to the working mobility gestures.
9. Improves concentration
Concentration is the ability to maintain focused attention on an object or on the task being performed without distractions, and is key in achieving sporting success. In yoga, concentration is worked on mainly through the Tratak (fixing the gaze), Nasagra-drishti (nasal contemplation), Brahmadya-drishti (frontal contemplation). (frontal contemplation).
According to the results of a University of Illinois study**, research subjects who practiced yoga had a greater ability to concentrate and processed information faster** and more accurately. They also learned, maintained and updated information in less time.
10. Improves endurance
Although sports performance is multifactorial, it is clear that endurance plays an important role in sports. According to science, yoga improves both aerobic and anaerobic endurance.. A study by Aslan and Livanelioglu concluded that a group of subjects who trained four times a day for six weeks improved by 9.8% on the cooper's test, a test that measures aerobic capacity.
It appears that, although yoga is not an aerobic exercise, yogic breathing (pranayama) increases lung capacity by improving rib cage flexibility and allowing the lungs to fully expand, as explained in a study published in the Yoga Journal. On the other hand, research by Cowen and Adams, which evaluated the relationship between yoga and anaerobic endurance, showed that both yoga and ashtanga yoga and hatha yoga both lead to an improvement in anaerobic endurance.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)