Yoga for sportspeople – general introduction

Why, as a sportsperson, and presumably already reasonably healthy and fit, would you want to include yoga in your programme?  Here are some reasons:


Effective injury prevention.  Comprehensive stretching and warming up prepares the body for more rigorous training, and ensures a good supply of blood to the muscles. Paying attention through breath awareness decreases the likelihood of sudden movements, which can lead to muscle contraction and/or overloading joints.


Developing increased mindfulness during practise, rehearsal and play brings significant improvements. It is well-documented that visualisation and focus on the moment to moment activity increases the ability of the body and mind to respond to and benefit from the practise. (It has proved to be hugely more effective than, for example, watching tv while mindlessly working on the treadmill).


Focus on stretching, particularly passive and isometric stretches, allows more time and mental space for the body to lengthen – many sportspeople focus so much on pushing that they will limit the muscular reach more than if they learn to relax into stretches.


Working movement with the breath will open up a whole, new range of possibilities where it is not usually connected. Working specific positions on the inhalation and exhalation will deepen the body’s response.


Introducing the bandhas will help with focusing the bodies’ energy, increase lift in the body and maintain internal support to assist external movement.


Understanding that overdoing training can be a waste of energy, create unnecessary pressure on the joints and create long term problems. 

Yoga can encourage a complementary approach to those with a competitive drive, helping people to work with their bodies and listen to them.  This increased feedback will allow better communication, so there is increased ‘early warning’ of injury or ill health. It will also encourage a more compassionate attitude to the body which will reap dividends, rather than treating the body like an old work horse with all the attendant dangers of exhaustion and burn out.



In general, a class will incorporate a mixture of the following: breath work, warm ups for muscles, and exploring their range of movement, dynamic, isometric and passive stretches, core strength, aerobic work, balance, concentration and visualisation, and relaxation – ‘letting go.’

The benefits:

·        Increase flexibility and strength in the spine and core – improve your service action, increase athleticism and endurance, shot power and reach around the court

·        Build strength and flexibility into shoulders and arms – help keep shoulders fluid and increase power and accuracy in serve and shot–making, minimise potential for damage or injury

·        Exercise and release hands and wrists – help your grip, strengthen wrists for power and spin

·        improve your balance – whether you’re working on your drop shot or rallying from the back of the court, better balance leads to a better executed shot


A typical class for tennis players might be as follows:

Savasana to relax the body, isolate any problem areas, slow the mind to pay attention to the body, increase body and breath awareness.

Move to seated posture such as easy (cross legged) pose to work with elongating the spine and seated twists. Focus on neck and shoulders to ascertain range of movement, and work to soften stiff or tight areas.  Focus on arms, hands and fingers with dynamic stretches and wrist rolls.

Moving into… cat – a basic and brilliant asana for moving the spine safely, working to create space between vertebrae and increase movement along the course of the whole spine.  Attention also to the stretch at the wrists, which can be modified if weak or stiff, also individually lifting fingers. Cat twist to open shoulders and extend spinal twist.  Push up to down dog, maintaining integrity of shoulders (back and down the back, keeping space between shoulders and ears), and working hamstrings, with for example flexing and stretching each leg individually, working from down dog into plank to strengthen core.  Do as a dynamic sequence with the breath – inhaling into plank, exhaling into down dog.

Walking with bent knees up to standing.  Establish standing pose of tadasana ensuring the arches of the feet are active, engagement of abdominals, position pelvis for stability and ease. Dynamic twisting movement, arms at shoulder level, arm exercises.  Shoulder movements – using the wall for extensions and turns, and postures such as eagle arms and gomukhasana arms to work deep into the muscle tissue and increase range of movement.

Balance poses such as heron/tree or standing leg lifts. Warrior poses: 1 and 11 (Virabhradrasana) to develop balance and work with hips and psoas, chest opening, work with feet placement to ensure entire leg is active, increase mobility of ankles.  Prasarita padottanasana, a wide-legged standing forward fold, alternate touching hands to opposite ankles for building flexibility at the core, stretching hamstrings. Horse pose for leg/core strengthening, move to down dog and lunges left and right to stretch groin area, moving to lie face down, preparation for backbends – elongating legs, top of feet flat against floor, focus on the core and back muscles, hands under shoulders and elbows into sides of body for cobra.  Alternatives: locust, raised leg behind for working knees.

Further backbends for developing core strength, working the back muscles e.g. bridge pose for isolating pelvis and working shoulders. Release into apanasa, and supta baddha konasana to open hips and shoulders using gravity.  Leg raises and boat pose (navasana) to work entire leg musculature and core.  Forward bends such as pigeon pose, starts as a slight back bend then folding over to work deeply into hip, thigh and leg and increase ‘internality’.  Seated for full gomukhasana for opening hips and shoulders.  Lying twist, exploring shoulder-hip connection, working twist into back using gravity.

Savasana.  Working with breath – nadi sodhana, alternate nostril breathing, working on diaphragmatic breathing, bhastrika.

Brief seated meditation. Use of chants to empower vocalisation and ability to sound with the exhale. 

Awareness of where the danger areas/overworked areas tend to be. Using breath to soften, release tension and ‘heal’ sore areas.  Mental focus: concentration, ability to put last shot behind you and focus on the one you’re playing.  Awareness of negative thoughts intruding and how to deal with them.  Think about when a shot  feels good as you’re making it, and how to increase feeling of ‘flow’, checking internally levels of energy, use of breathing exercises to animate body and help bring the mind into the ‘now.’


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