In the last couple years, an ancient spiritual tradition has been rapidly spreading over the athletic world. From the NBA, to the NFL, to the German Soccer National Team, or Pro-Athletes in Alpine Skiing or Archery, yoga seems to be catching up like fire. The question is not only why is this so, but also, what kind of yoga is being incorporated into Pro-sports?
As Patanjali stated in his world-famous Yoga Sutras, ‘‘yoga is the blocking (nirodha) of mental modifications (chitta vritti) so that the seer (drashta) re-identifies with the (higher) Self.’’ Now try to present this quote to the average athlete out there. You will at best be greeted with an innocent grin, and at worst with a sceptical face.
Generally speaking, Pro-athletes are highly specialized in their fields. They count with strong muscles where needed, coordination as far as 'their' movements require it, and as much flexibility as necessary. The focus and, therefore, the majority of their time and effort goes to improving their sport-specific motions; which essentially means that time for the basics or for the improvement of supporting or auxiliary abilities, though also important, is rarely available to them. Two sessions of Tantric Hatha Yoga a week can help with this, identifying imbalances or weaknesses that might otherwise remain undetected, and leading to improvement in just a few weeks. Indeed, as we have mentioned in previous entries, continuity is key.
Indeed, the concept of ‘auxiliary practice’ is not all that new to the field of personal training and sports, for athletes have been working on the improvement of their non-sport-specific fundamentals ever since the beginning of professional and amateur sports. What is new, though, is the way auxiliary or complementary activities are being labelled lately. Which explains why the label 'yoga' is so frequent in Pro-sports today. Use the word yoga, and the otherwise dull and unsexy echoes of your everyday ‘stabilization, balancing, and stretching exercises’ will be neutralized and revamped, making them more easily digestible by your average hashtag-friendly athlete. So how to know when ‘yoga for athletes’ is honest and high quality yoga, and not just some diluted practice devoid of true spiritual insight? The key lies with ‘the mind.’
When you reach a certain level at any sport, mental factors play as big a role as physical ones. Indeed, most top-notch athletes have two things in common: long hours of training and a superb physical shape. The difference, however, resides in their head. Because, it will be that one athlete who can better control the fluctuations of his/her mind and ‘keep a cool head’ during moments of great effort and stress that will be most likely to bring home any trophy, competition, or game. This is the reason why learning to focus the mind can make all the difference; for, once you learn how your mind works you’re in a better position to learn to control it as well. These are both things that Tantric Hatha Yoga can do for you.
Still, two prerogatives are necessary to ensure that a ‘yoga for athletes session’ goes beyond the realm of the physical and into that of the mind:
#1: The yoga session must not be just about physical effort, nor end exactly right after this part –something that is, nevertheless, very commonplace.
#2: Athletes need to learn that the yoga session is, indeed, ultimately all about them and begin to use the class for greater introspection, instead of focusing solely on seeing how far each of their teammates can bend.
Without clear understanding (or explanation) of these two key points, no athlete will truly make the most of all that yoga has to offer to them. Indeed, although the idea of humans as creatures amounting to something more than just physical or mental matter may seem irrelevant when trying to have athletes win competitions, greater introspection, any way you have it, will always help athletes handle pressure and obstacles more effectively, which can positively impact their performance.
So, going back to our initial question, what kind of yoga is being incorporated into the athletic elites of late? The answer is, unfortunately, not the kind that could substantiate a quantum physical AND spiritual leap. As long as athletes are coached into routinely performing showy Vinyasa flows full of physical prowess, but empty of actual meditation, ‘yoga for athletes’ will be nothing but an opportunistic catchphrase. To remedy that, feel free to check our own entry on finding the best style of yoga for you. Some of the nuggets of wisdom thrown in there may help you choose what studio and teacher to opt for.