Should athletes do yoga?

You would think athletes practicing yoga would be so obvi. I mean athletics and yoga go together like organic almond butter and gluten free jam don't they? Not exactly, most athletes don't practice yoga. I'm not sure why. Maybe they think it's soft or something? Whatever the reason, they better stop making excuses because all the champions I know are getting on the movement. By the movement I mean they're on their mats doing yoga and it's elevating their performance. 

For the past three years I've had the privilege and opportunity to introduce nearly 100 athletes to yoga, the synchronization of breath, body and moment. I've noticed that no matter what level, from high school basketball player, division one football star or professional MMA fighter, yoga is enabling them to become more athletic. Not only have students physically improved flexibility, balance and durability but psychologically have consistently increased concentration and focus. 

Don't just take my word for it. Some elite athletes are on the same page, NBA basketball stars Lebron James and Kevin Love have been on it. Future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and Superbowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson practice regularly. Even professional fighters like WSOF champion Jessica 'Jag' Aguilar and UFC fighters like Thiago 'Pitbull' Alves have incorporated yoga into their preparation. Why yoga? Probably because it's a safe, low impact, reliable and efficient way to restore function to the body and balance to the mind and breath. 

You would be surprised by how many athletes aren't really that athletic. Sure they excel at what they do but that repetition usually leads deficient and dysfunctional movements.  Consider your average basketball player. They're often tall, long, awkwardly proportioned and without much balance. Ballers don't normally move gracefully, even though the best players seem to maneuver effortlessly. What better way to be get more fluid than to flow? (slang for yoga flow) 

It isn't just basketball players, all athletes are specialized. Take your average MMA fighter for example. They're usually built to be incredibly strong and powerful but their muscles are generally tight, compact and they are almost always training through injuries. From a physical perspective the fighters I've practiced with say yoga has helped them to restore and even prevent additional wear and tear on the body, all while increasing range of motion. Even more significantly students are cultivating greater focus, awareness of breath and of the moment. 

"I love it," says World Series of Fighting Champion Jessica 'JAG' Aguilar, "Practicing has helped a lot. I feel better and I'm more focused in the moment."

                                                                         Wongi working with WSOF MMA Champion JAG

                                                                        Wongi working with WSOF MMA Champion JAG

Through repetition and practice of sequential postures and patterns the yoga practitioner gradually gains greater awareness of  their respiration, themselves and their environment. With increased alertness, many find that their powers of focus and concentration expand and that they are better able to manage emotions, stressors and moments. 

This matters because mental clarity and endurance is the element that will allow the athlete to make better decisions on and away from the field. A lot of athletes are talented. At a certain point everyone is big, fast and strong. Good players can jump, shoot and catch, but only exceptional athletes can slow the game down. Only elite players can perform best when it matters most. The difference obviously isn't in their physical talent, otherwise the most physically gifted would be the most accomplished. 

The secret is in their menTALENTy, their attitude, mind state and ability to stay task oriented despite conditions. Exceptional performers keep their consciousness clear of emotion and distraction. That's it. When everyone else is in chaos, they are as connected as the cosmos. Yoga is proven and effective way to practice being cool and clear in the heat of the moment. Well most of the time at least...

If not regularly, athletes should at least try yoga just to get an honest perspective of themselves in movement and moment. Most athletes are in for a healthy dose of reality when they first try Yoga. Maybe they underestimate the difficulty because it isn't a sport? Well it may not be a sport, but that doesn't mean it doesn't require athleticism. There's still plenty of competition. It's just not against anyone but yourself. 

How to get started in yoga: Go to class with someone that is already doing it. We all have 'those' friends on Facebook, most likely they have some tried and true teachers and classes they already go to which can save you the frustration of poor instruction. Not all yoga is created equal. Just because it's yoga, doesn't mean it's good or good for you. A. It could get boring. B. It's easier to get injured than one would think. If none of your friends flow, get on yelp or google maps and search local yoga studios. Read the reviews. Look at their schedule and try to stick to the introductory classes until you're experienced. Make a decision. Show up. Remember to bring a yoga mat (or you can usually rent one), water (more than you think you need), a towel, change of clothes and an open mind.

Connect with me online and let me know how it goes! Namaste bitches. 



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