By Faye Martins
Yoga can be of great benefit to young athletes, particularly for its ability to connect mind and body. Athletes, especially those in high school and college, tend to use and often to abuse their bodies. They do not realize that their bodies are absorbing the entire trauma of sports and lifting and conditioning, yet yoga helps connect athletes to their bodies in a way, which enhances appreciation and relaxation. Yoga also increases flexibility, which aids in injury prevention, and improves static strength, which complements an athlete’s training routine. The deep stretching of muscles and joints an athlete will practice in a yoga session can also ease pain associated with physically challenging practices.
Five Tips for Teaching Yoga to Young Athletes
1. The first thing instructors must emphasize is that yoga is not a competition, but rather it is an opportunity to heal and strengthen the mind-body relationship. Athletes’ competitive nature might push them to try poses before they are ready to, so yoga teachers should encourage athletes to focus on pose and technique mastery before advancing.
2. Yoga instructors should also expect athletes to achieve correct form, where flexibility allows, faster than an average student. Athletes, especially those who are young, have a strong kinesthetic intelligence and so are naturally better balanced with better hand-eye control than non-athletes. Their relationship to sports has also prepared them for the need to practice good technique in order to receive maximum benefits of practice.
3. Flexibility, especially in knees and lower back, will be an issue in athletes. Teachers must be willing to adapt yoga poses and encourage students to continue pushing to touch toes despite tight hamstrings and inflexible hips.
4. Yoga teachers should also be prepared to teach deep breathing techniques, working with athletes closely until their breathing synchronizes with their movements. This can be a difficult process for the students, especially given the fact that they have been taught to breathe differently while lifting weights or doing activities related to their respective sports.
5. Relaxation will be a new experience for athletes, and it may be one they resist. Athletes are required to push their bodies until the end of practice or conditioning or strength training. It is very common for them to ignore the needs of their body once out of the gym or off the field. Their cool-down stretches might be minimal, especially if their pain is limited that day. Teachers will want to emphasize the necessity of relaxation poses to encourage in young athletes the balance and mind-body awareness that yoga offers.
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