10 benefits of yoga for athletes (according to science)
Yoga is a millennial physical and mental practice that has spread throughout the world thanks to its benefits and guarantees the balance between body and mind. For several decades it has gained popularity in the West, and the "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 is not just a form of physical exercise, but a lifestyle that allows to find inner peace and that commits to the observation of healthy habits and proper nutrition. Yoga attracts, and that's why more and more people practice it . This is because it manages to integrate the breathing with the movement so that the mind and body cease to be two autonomous entities and become one. Yoga allows you to reconnect with yourself, something that is difficult today.
Anyone can learn and practice this discipline that is also suitable for many athletes, since it provides an improvement of physical condition, greater control of breathing and relaxation, an increase in flexibility, as well as a suitable mental attitude that favors The state of flow and sports performance increases. Athletes who practice it gain knowledge about 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 way to modern yoga
Etymologically "yoga" means union, and the objective 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 BC), but contemporary yoga does not begin until a little over a century ago, when it was introduced in the West by British 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 made up of Asanas (postures), Pranayama (breathing), Savasana (relaxation), Dhyana (meditation), Kriyas (cleanings), Mudras (gestures to channel energy), Kirtan (songs) and Mantras (phrases). Throughout history, different types of yoga have emerged, since their practice has adapted to different cultures. We can find Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Tibetan, etc; and through the discoveries made by yogis have emerged different traditional yoga systems (Astanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mantra Yoga, etc.).
In the West, "Hatha yoga" is the most popular, and although it is usually taught as a physical practice by its asanas (postures), your practice involves a holistic experience that also takes into account aspects such as breathing or meditation. Currently, Western culture has influenced new forms of modern yoga such as Power Yoga , originated in the United States in the 90s. In this way the religious component has been left behind to give more weight to the physical aspect.
The practice of yoga for athletes
For one years, yoga has started to be part of gyms and sports centers in many places . Its benefits applied to both health and athletic performance are increasingly engaging athletes, both elite and those who train to improve their overall state of wellbeing or their physical condition.
Mastering the physical and mental challenges that yoga demands can be a discovery for many athletes accustomed for years to a different training concept, because this practice is based on the principle of the integration of the body as a whole. This new holistic approach can reveal weaknesses and imbalances that had never been exposed before, and integrates the physical and mental element that is so important during competition or training in sports.
More and more athletes are discovering the different ways in which yoga can be used to improve psychological and physical performance and, consequently, sports performance. From increasing mental concentration, improving flexibility and balance, preventing injuries or improving technical skills, many athletes have already benefited from this millennial discipline, including the basketball player Lebron James , the tennis player Maria Sharapova or the soccer player Ryan Giggs . The latter retired as a professional athlete at age 40, came to play 23 seasons in the Premier League and played 963 games with the Manchester United . Maybe yoga has been his great secret.
Reasons why an athlete should practice yoga
But what reasons can lead an athlete to want to add yoga to their training plan? What are the benefits of yoga that contribute to the improvement of sports results? Considering the information that the different researches have contributed in this regard, yoga improves sports performance for the following reasons.
1. Greater flexibility
When talking about yoga, the first thing that comes to mind are your asanas (postures). So, it is not difficult to associate his practice with the improvement of flexibility . Asanas help us increase the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range.
There are many studies that have proven useful for increasing flexibility. For example, a study from the University Center Doncaster (United Kingdom) 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 of Manchester United and Manchester City explains: "Being flexible and having good movement patterns helps to have greater speed, power, sharpness of movement and greater recovery." All of them aspects that improve the performance of athletes.
2. Reduce stress
It is not strange that with the pace of life in today's society many people suffer stress, which in turn can cause psychological health problems such as depression, anxiety, mental exhaustion or hostility, which seriously harms the level of activation of athletes, relevant cognitive processes and sports performance.
In addition, the very threatening characteristics of the competition or the environment of the athletes, also cause stress to be 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 Sports Psychology from the National University of Distance Education (UNED).
A study jointly carried out by scientists from the Thomas Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society showed that the daily practice of yoga reduces the levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress . A twenty-minute session a day is enough to notice a significant reduction in stress levels, according to research from Ohio State University in the United States.
3. Increase strength
Following a routine with different asanas in a habitual way increases the tone and muscular strength. The postures of yoga are maintained 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 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 underutilized 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 global force is produced.
4. Help in recovery
For optimal sports performance, training is as important as recovery. To avoid overtraining and to continue performing at an appropriate level, it is necessary for athletes to understand that periods of recovery after physical activity are fundamental, Yoga is a form of active rest , which means that, with its practice, the organism uses biological mechanisms and metabolic and cellular processes to repair tissues and generate molecules, such as enzymes, which allow us to continue performing at a good level.
According to an investigation that appeared in International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, yogic breathing helps circulate and detoxify the lymph, a fluid that runs through the lymphatic system. This accelerates recovery by 15% after physical exercise and eliminates fatigue.
5. Greater balance and coordination
Yoga is different from other exercises, since it generates movement without causing tension or imbalances in the body. Therefore, its practice is an ideal complement for different forms of physical exercise and an advantage in any sport. A study carried out by Dawn Boehde and John Porcaridel for the Human Performance Laboratory of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (United States) showed that coordination and balance improve with yoga because the different postures are combined with breathing and movement ..
Now, how does this affect sports performance? Greater balance and coordination means better control of body movement, which is manifested by a more efficient technique.
6. Improves sleep
"The practice of yoga increases serotonin levels so it helps you sleep better," explains Dr. Murali Doraiswam, author of a study by Duke University that included the review of more than 100 research papers on the 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 get a peaceful rest, likewise, 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 Magazine of Sports Psychology It advises that athletes carry out a quality control of sleep, due to the importance of their repairing characteristics and their 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 throwing effectiveness by 9%.
7. Improve the mood
There are moods facilitating performance, and generate positive attitudes and emotions is a key element in the proper functioning of each person's sport. 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.
An investigation by Cabral, Meyer and Ames, published in The Primary Care Companion CNS Disorders, concluded that practicing yoga on a regular basis produces significant improvements in patients with depression and anxiety similar to physical exercise. In addition, another investigation, 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, as it participates in the improvement of mood, the ability to concentrate, promotes relaxation and helps to control stress.
Since negative states of mind can be detrimental to sports performance (for example, making concentration difficult) it is necessary to control these psychological variables to maintain an optimal level of performance .
8. Help 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. Imbalances in the muscles and joints can cause injuries.
As shown by a study carried out by Teodora Dominteanu, a professor in the Physical Education and Sports department of the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, as well as cyclists and runners, tennis players, with whom she carried out her research , they experience a tremendous amount of shock, shortening and hardening their muscles . When these muscles are not restored, lengthen and stretch, imbalances and injuries occur more frequently.
Many yoga postures, such as the "Downward Facing Dog" (Adho Mukha Svanasana), mobilize and extend the back, shoulders, triceps, buttocks, hamstrings, anterior rectus, and the twins, strengthening the muscles and providing flexibility to the body. This position 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 preserve athletes from possible muscle injuries, an investigation published in the Journal of Strenght & Conditioning Research affirms that it is necessary to achieve a good level of flexibility. In this way, a reserve joint and muscle range is achieved, in case some unexpected or unusual gesture is superior to the work mobility gestures.
9. Improves concentration
Concentration is the ability to maintain focused attention on an object or on the task that is being done without distractions, and is key in achieving sporting success. In yoga, concentration is mainly worked through the Tratak (Fix the look), Nasagra-drishti (nasal contemplation), Brahmadya-drishti (frontal contemplation).
According to the results of a study by the University of Illinois, subjects who participated in the research and who practiced yoga had more ability to concentrate and processed information faster and with greater precision. They also learned, maintained and updated the information in less time.
10. Improve the resistance
Although sports performance is multifactorial, it is evident that resistance plays an important role in sport. According to science, yoga improves endurance both aerobic and anaerobic . A study by Aslan and Livanelioglu concluded that a group of subjects who trained four times a day for six weeks improved 9.8% in the cooper test, a test that measures aerobic capacity.
It seems that, although 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 completely, as explained a study published in the Yoga Journal. On the other hand, an investigation by Cowen and Adams, which evaluated the relationship between yoga and anaerobic resistance, showed that both ashtanga yoga As the yoga hatha cause an improvement in this type of resistance.