#77 – Benefits of Yoga for Athletes
Lewis speaks about the benefits of yoga as an athlete. How it can improve your flexibility, strength, recovery, mental performance as well as how to get started.
This episode at a glance
Those of you that have been listening to the podcast a lot, or if you’re brand new to let you know I am a yoga teacher myself. After I finished playing my professional career in sport, I trained as a yoga teacher. Now I’ll tell you why I trained as a yoga teacher, but what I do now is I work with athletes and use yoga mindfulness meditation as a way of not only improving performance but improving who you are as a person and your life away from your sport.
So I got into yoga through the necessity of trying to cure or not cure but improve my rate of injury. I was getting injured every three months I was picking up quad terrors, hamstring tears, natural you name it. I was tearing it. And I was getting so frustrated with my time out of the game and out of my sport that someone had mentioned that trying yoga was going to be the thing that could be a real help to improving my injuries and improving that mobility, improving my recovery rates.
And I was reluctant to do it. I didn’t want to add it in. I didn’t want to be seen as this super-spiritual or hippie type person because that’s what yoga was being sold to us. I just wanted to be more flexible and wanted to get into it. But at the time, there wasn’t anything really around sort of fast food where I am now, building the brand Sport Yogi.
That is something that has been born out of that frustration of mine and something I’m keen, on moving forward. But once I started adding yoga into my training once I started getting over the fact that I was doing it and was hiding in the corner doing it, I saw this impact. I saw myself go from getting an injury every three months to not getting a single one in 18 months.
And if anyone does know my story in a professional sport, I did retire when I was 26 in 2016 with a back injury and no amount of yoga would have saved me from that. That was more of a biomechanical thing in the actual force of the sport that I was playing. But the actual soft tissue injuries that I got, really had an impact.
Yoga had a real impact on that and really changed my quality of sport and not and also the quality of life because I went from being like sore aggravated throughout the day and in training or off to training and on days off to feeling a lot better, my body being able to move without agitation and at the same time improving my performance on the field, I was able to play more, I was able to train more.
I could get better at things. And I saw this upward curve starting to happen just before I did retire and I was really making a move and that was all down to adding something like yoga into my practice. But like I mentioned, I was reluctant to get into it, mainly because of how it was being sold to us, how it was being portrayed as this spiritual practice, which it is.
It is an incredibly spiritual practice. And the reason I do enjoy yoga and I love yoga is because as much as there are other practices out there that improve your mobility and your flexibility from a physiological point of view, yoga blends this brilliant element of mindfulness and connecting the body in the mind. And if you do know anything about yoga, you’ll know that the movements and the poses that you see on, billboards and advertisements, that’s just one element of it.
There are so many different elements throughout it, and I won’t go into all of the different parts of yoga not in this podcast because it would take a while, but just know that the movement is one element of it. It was built for you to that the movements were built for you to sit better in meditation.
Meditation is the goal, but ultimately it gives you it’s a way of living and it gives you this way of living and connects you better to not only yourself but others around you. And that may sound quite out there, but once you start to practice it, you realize that even though just the physical practice of being more aware in your own body, you can be more aware in your mind.
And then once you become more aware in your mind, you can be more aware of how you interact with people. So there is this knock-on effect, and it’s through reflection and through seeing it happen and, and experiencing it that you get to see that. And that’s why I like yoga, and I advocate for other methods of improving things like your flexibility in mobility.
But they don’t incorporate that element of the mind as well, which as an athlete is super, super important. And I mentioned that in the previous podcast talking about mental health mindfulness and how important that is. So as much as it will look off the body, looking off the mind is important. And I do understand the reluctance for a lot of athletes because of how it is portrayed in the media or portrayed in advertising.
And again, as I said, that’s where Sport Yogi is trying to change the view of it and change how it’s delivered for you as an athlete without recognizing that it is a practice that embodies everything about you as a person. So for some of the benefits of yoga that I’ve got five that I want to run through, there are many benefits but I want to go through five of what I think are the most obvious or important, whichever way we want to look at it.
And the first one is flexibility. Now, this is the one that everyone starts yoga for because that’s what you see on the posters. That’s what you see out there. And also you see people doing these super bendy positions and flexibility being the thing that’s sold. Right. And I reckon 95% of people, if not more, will be starting yoga to become more flexible.
That’s why I started. I see exactly why I needed it because I couldn’t move. I was out of ten, man, and I couldn’t move my joints well, I was tearing these muscles because they were super, super tight from all the training that I was doing. Now, the brilliant thing about yoga is that there are so many different styles of yoga that allow you to access many different types of flexibility.
And I don’t want to go into all the different types of flexibility in this one, but just know that there are many different types of flexibility. And I’m hoping to get someone on the podcast where we can have a discussion about who’s very well known in the world of flexibility and talk about types of flexibility. So Dan Van Zandt is the person I want to get on the podcast who is @flexibility.research on Instagram.
I believe, and he’s a master in flexibility, but there are many different ranges of facts, but types of flexibility that you can get was four. I think he categorizes for sure and yoga can access all of those. There are different styles of yoga that can access all of them. There are things, there are styles of yoga-like Hatha, like Vinyasa, but there’s also yin yoga got bit from yoga people that go to Ashtanga Yoga.
There are so many different styles and there are more cropping up and they all offer a different style or different output for the body and the mind as well. The styles that I practice and I teach are half of vinyasa and yin, and I rotate through those because yin is something that you can use in recovery style where you can hold poses for a little bit longer and you can build that.
Those long hold flexibility, but you can also kind of mix in with restorative yoga. You can relax the body. You can get into a real deep relaxation mode and something that can just really chill you out. Vinyasa is all a flowing movement and getting you going and feeling a lot of strength and you can really sweat it up into something like Vinyasa, and it’s Hatha is holding the poses a little bit longer, but then moving between those poses, so a little bit shorter holds and you can build strength and flexibility in those and my style is just combining a lot of those and trying to deliver something that is for when you need it at a certain time as an athlete, so it might be if you’re doing recovery, then you might do yin. But Yin will give you this range of motion that you can sort of passively have. Hatha might allow you to build more very active flexibility by holding a pose in trying to keep it. And depending on how you get into the pose and how you hold it and how you activate throughout it and how many times you do it, that would depend on the type of flexibility you get, but kind of without going off too much on a tangent.
Flexibility is the main starter for people getting into yoga and as an athlete of flexibility allows us to improve our strength, improve our speed or power because we’re able to access a greater range of motion, we can start to become more efficient in what we’re doing. I’ve seen a huge impact in my running, for example, by just lengthening out my hip flexors and my running technique has become a lot easier and a lot more efficient because I’m having less resistance in the body to do the movement that is running.
So by simply changing your flexibility, you can have a huge positive impact on your outputs and athlete.
And mixing in with that, we move on to benefit which is recovery. And I mentioned yin yoga as a style of yoga that he’s more relaxed, more relaxed and slower and holding poses for longer. And it’s a great version for using on a recovery day.
You can hold poses, you can sink into them a little bit more, you can hold them for a little bit longer and you tend to be in those poses for anywhere between one to five, maybe 10 minutes sometimes without it being too difficult and too painful. You’re there. And it’s really about that relaxation. And that’s why on a recovery day, you may want to add in some sort of active yoga.
It could be, again, a vinyasa flow, it could be a Hatha practise, it could be anything you want it to be, could be, could be Bikram Ashtanga something hot and that could allow you to have this feeling of doing something throughout the day. So you have this active recovery. You feel like you’re doing something, but you’re not putting masses of strain on the body.
Maybe you are if you’re doing Bikram or Ashtanga or depending on the type of practice you do if it’s a strong one if you want to do something more relaxing than sticking to like restorative and yin. So adding those into your recovery days is just allows you to not only recover the body and just enter into this parasympathetic tone in the body, but you can also allow your mind to relax.
So everything gets to slow down. You become a little bit more aware of how your body feels. And, and it’s it is a brilliant thing to add into your recovery days because you do feel like you’re working and doing something rather than just sitting on the sofa and not doing anything.
The next benefit is strength. Now, for anyone who’s perhaps done a Vinyasa as I mentioned, Bitcoin, Ashtanga, or even a half the practice, you’ll recognize that it does take a lot of strength to hold some of these poses.
And the brilliant thing that I love about it is the poses that you get into in the positions you can get the body into are so unique and holding strength throughout those positions that you start to build these massive ranges of strength in which you can hold your body for sport. Like I played cricket, we get into these weird and wonderful positions and using yoga to get into unique positions and then hold strength for them allows you to start taking off different areas in the body and understanding those different areas in the body where you can build more strength rather than perhaps doing your sort of generic programming and, and doing lifts like your squats, your lunges and your standard strength and conditioning stuff. A little bit of a side note with this one would be that you can I always recommend if you are an athlete and you are trying to improve your strength and your power, yoga isn’t just going to doing just yoga isn’t going to get you there. Adding in a weight training program, a powerlifting program is essential to improving in those areas.
Yoga is something that you can supplement with so have it run alongside. But, if you want to get those gains in sport and your training, then having a strength training program is essential as well. I just want to make that point because you’re not going to get to that real elite level just through yoga.
It is something that you supplement on the side and you have running alongside at the same time. So yeah, strength is a huge run, building that mobility, building your strength in those ranges and just kind of again a bit of a side note, you do perhaps want to work your flexibility, your passive flexibility before you get into anything active.
I know for sure there are positions that I can’t get into yet inside, like yoga or even my sport that I want to improve my range of motion in because my body just cannot get into it yet. So I have to hold stretches passively without any active contraction in my body just to start to allow the muscles to ease off the joints, to open up and get into that position and feel comfortable in that position before I start putting strength through it.
So it’s there’s no blend that you start to have along the way.
4. Body Awareness
The next benefit number four is body awareness. Once you start practising yoga, you start to understand even straight away after a session you will notice the difference between where you started to when you’re finished, whether you’ve done a strong practice or a more relaxing practice, or whether you just building flexibility you will notice the difference in your body.
And simply by noting that difference, having the awareness in the body and the awareness at the end and whether it’s a reflective thing or during the session, you’re doing it, you start to build the understanding of how your body feels. Even throughout a practice if a teacher is guiding you through in teaching you small micro-movements that you can do that will just tweak a movement or add a little bit more activity into the position that starts to engage your brain and bring that awareness into the body.
And that is so valuable for us as athletes because if you have a greater awareness of your body, not only from, say, a coordination point of view but also understanding how it feels perhaps in the morning does it feel lethargic, does it feel tight, does it feel ready to get started in the day? Does it feel like it’s dehydrated and you start to be able to ask these questions of your body and then put into action something that’s going to get you into a better place?
A great example that I had was I’ve probably on maybe two, maybe three occasions call myself before I tore a hamstring. I was running and playing in a game and I had to pull up and stop and had to tell my captain at the time and said, I’m going to have to go off because my hamstring is about to tear.
And it was through the awareness of and feeling my body and understanding my body and knowing how it felt that I was able to catch our when and go to scan the next day. And I’d torn it very, very slightly and it was just the beginning of a tear and I’d caught in it to stop me from having an injury that would perhaps have been weeks.
And I was out for literally days because I was able to recover better. And that kind of linking him with that. Is that the recovery part? So a trained athlete, someone who is in a strength and conditioning program or doing something like yoga where you’re training and you’re teaching your body to almost tear and then repair and you’re doing that.
Often when you do have an injury, you recover a lot quicker. I’ve seen an improvement in my recovery rates from injuries from doing something like yoga from before I did yoga, I didn’t recover. I’ve just recovered probably as normal. And what the stats might show, an average recovery looks like, whereas since doing a practice like yoga, I have seen an improvement and a shortening in those recovery times when I get injured.
So it’s a big difference because that is something that you want to have. If you do get injured, you want to get back going straight away. You want to get back in there when you can and that’s a huge benefit to have.
5. Mental Awareness
So that body awareness is a really interesting one and links in with the final one, which is mental awareness because that understanding of how your body feels and where your bodies are, you will then start to begin to ask questions around your mind and you’ll understand that I’ve never had anyone do a session in yoga where they finished and gone.
I regret that. I didn’t wish I hadn’t done that. They always feel better or feel more relaxed. I could sleep now or I could. I feel better and or maybe the next day I, I slept so well. Or I feel calmer. I feel more relaxed in what I’m doing. I feel more focused on what I’m doing.
And it tends to become because you’re heightening this awareness in not only your body, to begin with, but then you’re harnessing that awareness in your mind. And that’s a huge benefit. As an athlete, I mentioned why mindfulness brings benefits to athletes in the previous podcast and just having that awareness and understanding of where your mind is at any one time, you can do that in moments when you need it on the field and also understanding your mind off the field.
And that comes through this physical practice, to begin with. And why not be there to give it a go? Why not try it out and see if it works for you? If you can improve that awareness in your body and your mind, that is such a great benefit as an athlete. So I recommend giving it a go and seeing if it works for you I would want to add into this podcast just a few bits of advice and how to get started.
So if you don’t know how to get started, there are probably three things that I’ll just give just that will make it a little bit easier. So the first thing is just to start small sometimes. It may not be going to a yoga class for an hour. That might be too much for you. It could be just trying 10 minutes and there’s plenty of stuff out there on YouTube is online.
I’m going to plug the Sport Yogi app because I’m ploughing my heart and soul into it. But there are so many areas in which you can start small just by simply adding 10 minutes in your day is going to you’re going to start to see some sort of impact. 10 minutes that you weren’t doing before. So don’t think you have to go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and you have to go right to that not far.
And when you’re doing an hour or 2 hours a day, just do 10 minutes, just start there and then you’ll find the okay, maybe I’ve worked on my hamstrings that I’ll move on to my quads a lot. And that’s kind of linked in with the next wave of getting started is just adding into your routine. Don’t think of adding it to the end of it or making it this extra thing.
You do find a way to piece it into what you’re already doing. So if you go to the gym, it could be a part of your warmup, it could be that 10 minutes of getting, your body ready and that’s where you can start to align it with whatever you’re working on that day. Because the last piece of advice I would give is to be specific to what you need so if you as an athlete are needing more flexible hamstrings, then obviously if you go and do something like a leg day at the gym, make sure that you’re working on your hamstring flexibility or you’re working on just 10 minutes of yoga.
The targets, the hamstrings, whether that be before and or after your session. So you can use it as your warmup and your cooldown or you can even add it into the session itself. You can put it in between sets however you want to run it. So my advice, start small, be specific about how you want to own, what you want to work on and just throw it into your routine where you can rather than seem like it’s this big thing that you have to add on and another thing you have to pile on to the list.
So yeah, I hope this podcast has helped you out. This is something that I’m passionate about because I’ve seen the drastic impact that not only for myself but other people that I’m working with and whether it’s young or old athletes, whether you want to improve your performance to create, get a better career to start with, or perhaps you’re at the end of your career and you want to not drag it out as long as you can from amateur to professional, whichever end of that spectrum, you’re out by looking after your body, by improving your range of motion, by it, recovering better understanding how your body feels, having that more in tune, feeling with your body in your mind is only going to benefit you not only as an athlete but as a person. And that knock-on effect that you get away from the mat, away from your time practising it impacts how you look after yourself, how you can look after others around you, and especially your impact on the world around you and how you see the world.
So that may sound a bit out there. But I promise you, once you get started, you will see those changes happening and you’ll see the benefits straight away. So if you want to get into this and you want to try yoga out, Sport Yoga App is available on both iOS and Android. You can go over to the app stores and download it there or just head over to sportyogi.com to get involved.
You can find me at @lewishatchett on Instagram. You can also find Sport Yogi on app, @sportyogi on Instagram. But feel free to reach out to me Lewis Hatchet Icon, Forward Slash Podcast for the podcast. Also, another thing I’d love to add on there is if you are finding this podcast is having an impact on you as an athlete or a person in general, then please feel free to leave a review at Apple Podcasts.
You can just head to the podcast raising your game scroll to the bottom, just hit five stars, leave a review, let me know how it’s impacting you, and I’d love to reach out to you and chat and find out more about you and how this podcast helped you. So I love listening to the listeners and how these episodes are helping you out.
So thank you so much for listening to this episode and I’ll see you guys soon.
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