Yoga Option

Yoga Is a Great Cross-Training Option for Athletes

Katherine Hobson

Golf. Running. Swimming. Basketball. Football. Cycling. It’s hard to find a sport for which yoga hasn’t been suggested as a performance or injury-prevention aid. While there’s not yet a whole lot of scientific research to quantify or qualify the benefits of yoga for athletes, it’s easy to find sport-specific yoga DVDs, books, and testimonials from star athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sasha Cohen. (More common is research examining how yoga can help the elderly or people with diseases or disabilities.) So absent a pile of studies to thumb through, I thought it might be instructive to talk to a handful of experts about how yoga might spill over into the rest of your workout life. They said yoga:

1. Will most likely make you more flexible. That’s probably a good thing; there’s debate on whether and how competitive athletes should stretch, but most agree that if you don’t push it, the stretching in yoga isn’t likely to harmthe average exerciser. “In my heart, I believe in stretching,” says Nicholas DiNubile, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the author of FrameWork: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones and Joints.

That’s especially true for people who perform repetitive motions, whether hunched over a computer or on the pitching mound. “We get into these habitual patterns of doing the same things with our bodies every day,” says Lillie Rosenthal, a New York-based osteopath who is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Runners may have tight muscles in the back of their body, like their hamstrings. Tennis players and pitchers have overdeveloped dominant arms and shoulders. The stretching and strengthening in yoga may help manage those imbalances, as well as improve general flexibility, doctors say.

2. Improves your balance and body awareness. Many yoga poses can improve your stability and agility and your awareness of where your body is in space, says Sage Rountree, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based yoga teacher and cycling/triathlon coach and author of The Athlete ‘ s Guide to Yoga . Those skills are enormously helpful in sports—just think of a golfer, whose swing depends on being able to sense where various body parts are and how they move in relation to one another.