Although the benefits of yoga have been and continue to be explored in terms of promoting all-around positive health, yoga therapy is emerging as a discipline in itself that could potentially have many benefits for athletes.
Yoga therapy blends gentle yoga, breath work, mental and physical relaxation exercises and guided meditation techniques. These are combined in such a way that it would benefit those athletes facing health challenges or injuries at any level, helping them manage their injuries, reduce symptoms and promote relaxation.
Yoga therapy for the athlete in the physical practice — and, more importantly, mental practice — can help in the prevention and recovery of an injury, and enhanced athletic performance. There is little doubt that the practice of yoga will help the athlete attain and sustain strength, endurance, balance and flexibility through poses that will lengthen, strengthen and release tension.
The physical poses are important, but yoga therapy also offers training of the mind and body, creating a powerful balance over time between both.
It is our breath that connects our mind to our body. When feelings of stress overcome the athlete — whether it be the stress of competition or the physical stresses that are placed on the body — learning to work and connect with the breath will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows for healing, relaxation and a more positive focus.
Learning to breathe properly has so many positive benefits, both for mental and physical wellness. Learning to connect the breath with movement, moving in and out of the yoga postures, will also promote healing, if athletic injuries are incurred.
Proper breathing practices will also allow increased oxygen delivery to the whole body, which will help with athletic performance. Learning how to focus on the breath, the inhalations and exhalations will also help athletes stay in the moment, again benefiting their performance and efficiency.
Meditation is also an integral component of yoga therapy. The benefits of a simple, regular meditation practice are well documented. For the athlete, learning how to meditate can help in many ways. Some benefits include stress reduction, calming of the mind, better quality of sleep, increase in focus, coping better with pain and strengthening the immune system.
As an added benefit, when athletes participate in yoga therapy consistently, they do not just experience positive changes in their athletic performance, but also in all aspects of their lives.