1) Yoga enhances recovery - most vigorous sport activities generate lactic acid in muscle tissue. If lactic acid is not removed properly, it can adversely affect performance in future training sessions or events. Yoga exercises can help in the removal of lactic acid by gently circulating lactic acid out of muscle tissue and into the blood stream where it will make its' way to the liver for processing. Yoga also has shown to improve sleep patterns. Proper rest and ample sleep are critical periods for an athlete's recovery process.
2) Yoga restores balance and can help reduce injury. Many sport activities are dominant on one side of the body due to specific movements and joint loading. This mechanical dominance can create musculoskeletal imbalances that can generate chronic injuries. Yoga can be beneficial in reducing these tissue and joint imbalances.
3) Yoga improves biomechanics and energy conservation. Moving a joint requires energy. The more tension one has around that joint, the more energy is required to facilitate that movement. The goal of athletes is to have maximum performance with the most energy conservation. Yoga exercises that improve flexibility and joint range of motion reduce muscle tension and enhance sport biomechanics. This enhancement reduces the amount of energy needed for those movements, thus allowing an athlete to perform at higher levels and/or longer intervals.
4) Yoga improves body awareness and focus. Yoga employs physical and mental exercises that deepen one's sense of body positioning and movement (proprioception). Enhanced proprioceptive skills are crucial in the development and progression of athletic training. Yoga's use of breathing and centering techniques can be valuable tools for event preparation, routine and skill visualization, as well as stress/anxiety reduction.
5) Yoga improves breathing function. Yoga exercises, particularly pranayam exercises, have been shown to improve breathing mechanics and lung capacity. Focused breathing exercises develop one's ability to maximize function of all breathing mechanisms (diaphragm and intercostal breathing). Maximal lung health is vital for athlete's, especially for those who partake in aerobic-based sports and require efficient lungs to deliver sufficient oxygen uptake.
Caution for athletes doing Yoga. Although Yoga offers great benefits, athletes should be mindful of the type of Yoga they do and how it is integrated into their training program. For example, some styles of Yoga can be very vigorous (vinyasa yoga) or have dehydrating effects (Hot Yoga). An athlete adding Yoga to their program needs to insure that the style of Yoga does not introduce over-training or other adverse effects. It is ideal to discuss with a qualified coach/trainer how best to integrate Yoga into a training routine keeping in mind the cycling of events and peak training periods.
Athletes can be too flexible! As much as one can see the benefit of being flexible, keep in mind that joints need stability. Over-training flexibility can reduce the ability of muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stabilize joint structures. Understand the nature of joint loading that is involved in particular sports and be mindful to not overuse Yoga flexibility exercises on those joints.
Finally, it may be easy for some athletes to try Yoga for the first time and feel they can jump into intermediate to advanced postures. Just like the sport they are coming from, they took years to build a foundation of where they are in that sport. This same approach should be applied with Yoga. Athletes, regardless of fitness level, should start with beginner classes so they build a foundation of all aspects of the practice: basic posture alignments, breathing techniques, and meditation applications. Many intermediate and advanced Yoga classes are taught in a manner that assume students have these foundations in place. Therefore, by skipping beginner programs, an athlete will miss out on crucial foundation elements
Kreg Weiss, B HKin