Finding athletic focus through yoga
Baseball players are told to "Keep your eye on the ball." Martial artists keep looking into their opponent's eyes during a match. Golfers listen for the sound of the club hitting the ball.
What do all of these abilities have in common? Focus. Many of us take an athlete's need for focus as a given, but it may surprise you how many elite athletes have difficulty in this area. In this age of unlimited distractions, it shouldn't come as a shock that even athletes struggle with maintaining their mental focus. You may be surprised to know that many of these athletes turn to yoga -- for flexibility and concentration.
The February 2010 issue of Yoga Journal featured an article on Yoga of Champions that speaks to the psychological benefits to be gained from yoga in the arena of elite competition. Three Olympic athletes cite yoga as an effective means of improving focus, increasing awareness of breath and feeling more grounded. Here are some of the benefits that yoga can provide:
Keep your cool
Yoga's approach to concentration and breath awareness improves your mental focus and mental endurance -- the intangibles that become so important at the end of a long training session or race. Further, a regular yoga practice teaches you how to integrate the body, the mind and the breath to stay focused even in the face of difficulty -- a skill that can serve you in every stressful aspect of your life, from meeting that deadline at your job to battling rush-hour traffic.
Find your balance
Regular yoga practice teaches an individual to join movements, thoughts and breath together into one action to find balance. Athletes and weekend warriors alike can benefit from this type of balance, especially true when pushing their bodies to the max. Yoga can also help restore a weakened body and build it back up. Yoga postures, breath work and inner focus can help rebalance, strengthen and restore overtaxed muscles, joints and ligaments. Through this restoration process, athletes can increase their career longevity and develop an inner balance that will last a lifetime. Balancing the mind, body and spirit is a primary philosophical principle of yoga. It is considered the true way to honor the body.
Yoga can assist in developing greater comfort during training and performance. In addition to increasing range of motion and endurance, participants benefit from improved alignment, which enhances core stability and balance. More importantly, yoga provides tools to help us stay calm through poses that challenge our balance -- a skill we can apply to difficult situations off the mat. Equanimity, or psychological stability in the face of stressful situations, is one of the main philosophies of yoga. If an athlete can be calm in the face of a difficult yoga pose, he or she is less likely to be frustrated by setbacks in their training.
Be as disciplined with incorporating yoga into your athletic training schedule as you are with your other strength, core, flexibility and balance training. Consider it part of your training!