Written by Sam Moylan
Yoga has many positive effects on people from all walks of life, with athletes being no exception. A large number of the world’s top sporting professionals from many different countries and sporting codes have developed a yoga practice in order to give them an edge on the competition. Some of these athletes include Lebron James, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Tom Brady, Shane Watson and Tom Mitchell. These athletes all express that yoga keeps them physically and mentally healthy, reducing their susceptibility to injury and improving performance.
The evidence is not just anecdotal however, as a study by Eggleston & Lockyer in 2016 proved. Twenty-six college athletes were split into two groups, over a 10-week period one group took part in bi-weekly yoga sessions in addition to their normal training, while the second group did not take part in any additional yoga training. Performance measures were obtained immediately before and after this period. Measurements of flexibility and balance included: sit-reach, shoulder flexibility, and stork stand; dynamic measurements consisted of joint angles measured during the performance of three distinct yoga positions (downward dog; right foot lunge; chair).
It was found that the athletes who practiced yoga for 10 weeks demonstrated improvement in both flexibility and balance measures. These findings suggest that the practice of yoga as part of traditional training methods enhances the components of fitness that are the essential to sports performance. Thus, the practice of yoga may provide an additional training option to enhance performance in athletes.
Yoga is very beneficial for reducing stress. Long term yoga practitioners have been found to have a reduced amount of stress related inflammatory markers in their bodies compared to people who haven’t regularly practiced yoga (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2010). Dealing with stress is a massive part of being an athlete and is often the difference in high pressure sporting situations. It is also a constant mental challenge and often leads to health issues in high level athletes. Yoga can help equip athletes to cope with stress, therefore improving performance, as well as overall health and longevity.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Christian, L., Preston, H., Houts, C. R., Malarkey, W. B., Emery, C. F., & Glaser, R. (2010). Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosomatic medicine, 72(2), 113. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2820143/
- Polsgrove, M. J., Eggleston, B. M., & Lockyer, R. J. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International journal of yoga, 9(1), 27. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728955/?tool=pmcentrez&report=abstract