If you’re a leisure-time athlete looking to take your performance to the next level, just look downward — as in downward-facing dog. Whether you’re a runner or the member of a team, yoga can help you get your body and mind into the game.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
An ancient practice that combines physical poses and breathing techniques, yoga offers many benefits for athletes, says sports medicine specialist Lara Morgan Oberle, MD.
Here, according to Dr. Oberle, are four key ways you can improve your athletic performance with yoga.
- Develop better control by improving your balance
Yoga is key for improving balance, Dr. Oberle says. When you work on your stabilizing muscles, your balance improves. As your balance improves, you’ll find that your control of other muscle groups improves as well.
Try these poses to boost your balance:
Mountain pose – Stand tall and position your feet with your toes facing forward, about four inches to six inches apart. Engage your leg muscles and relax your shoulders back and down, while balancing your head over your shoulders.
Tree pose – Stand tall and shift your weight onto your right foot while focusing your eyes on a fixed position. Open your left knee to the left while placing your left foot on your right ankle, calf or thigh. Position your hands on a chair, or lift your arms up, down, or out to the sides. Repeat on the other side.
- Help avoid injuries with increased flexibility
Over time, practicing yoga can help you achieve a longer range of motion with your muscle groups. This increase in flexibility can, in turn, help prevent injuries, Dr. Oberle says.
- Sharpen your focus through mindfulness
One of the most important aspects of yoga is how it can help you cultivate mindfulness.
“Mindfulness, the process of clearing your mind and being aware of your thought patterns, can help you to focus better while practicing yoga and in other exercises you may do, whether competitively or just for fun,” Dr. Oberle says.
- Build strength to improve your overall performance
“One of the great things about yoga is that it can increase the strength of your core, hips and stabilizing muscles,” Dr. Oberle says. “This increase in strength can help improve your performance in almost any type of athletic pursuit — from running to cycling, even weightlifting.”
How to get started with yoga
When it comes to finding the right class, find something you enjoy. That way, you’re more likely to stick with it, Dr. Oberle says.
Instructor personalities can range from encouraging to intense. Classes can vary too.
Some focus more on stretching, slow movements and control. Others are more demanding and require a higher degree of active strength, she says.
Everybody has done something new for the first time and been unsure about what to bring and the overall experience.
“If you are feeling uneasy, talk with the instructor ahead of time about whether a class might be a good fit for your level of experience, and any limitations you might have,” she says. “Doing this can help you feel more confident going in, which can, in turn, offer you the most benefit.”