Sports are an amazing outlet for young children, teenagers, and adults. Increasingly with how busy and programmed our students are becoming, there is little time for students to reflect and recover, both psychologically and physically. Often the competitive nature of many sports impedes genuine enjoyment and stress relief benefits that are normally gained from physical activity, companionship, and games. In my personal experience even with two toddlers, 4 and 3, I see the frustration, anger, and competitive nature that comes out when they have difficulty making contact with a baseball or they run to a base and are declared out. At 4 and 3, the seeds of meltdowns and poor sportsmanship are already established; I know, scary, right? When I teach yoga to older children, elementary and above, I encourage the space to be a safe space. A safe space for children (and adults) is a space without judgment, without competition, and where each individual respects, supports, and cares for one another. My studio has no mirrors. Whenever I have taught in spaces where there are mirrors (and most do, because I often teach in a dance studio), I walk around and see individuals looking at themselves and others in the mirror. Not only is this distracting to the practice, but I can see the judgment in yogi's faces as they look at their "imperfect" warrior I and then stare in the mirror next to them at their neighbor. I like to emphasize that there is no right or wrong yoga. I only believe that yoga is not done properly when we try to maneuver ourselves into positions, overstretch, and overextend to a point that we are uncomfortable and can get hurt. This is wrong yoga; not honoring the strengths and limitations of the self on any given day. When individuals use their ego, their competitive nature, and self-judgment, they tend to push too far and are not honoring their body.
Yoga for athletes of all ages is a necessary practice in mentally training our minds and our bodies to relax, destress, and enjoy an exercise that incorporates body and mind with movement without paying attention to performance. Performance in yoga is a measurement on how individuals feel physically and mentally before and after a practice, not in how they look, compare to others, or compare to their practice on any other given day, past or future. Yoga is about being, not becoming. It is about recognizing what your mind and body needs in any given moment without any attention to beliefs of what one should practice or look like. This mindfulness and attention to body and mind in the present moment is a crucial skill athletes need both on and off the playing field. Yoga is an excellent tool for practicing focus and attention.
Aside from benefits of improvements in attention, focus, and instilling a more non-judgmental and healthier attitude towards oneself, yoga has great physical benefits in terms of flexibility, posture, and injury prevention for all athletes. Many students and young adults play sports for hours, don't stretch, sit and do homework and repeat the next day. This may work if you're under 20, although young people get injured too! However, yoga is a lifelong skill. Reinforcing and teaching a yoga self-practice (even for 10 minutes a day) at a young age has great physical benefits later in life. Students who learn how to take care of their bodies and take even a few moments to help recover their muscles and tendons along with relax their minds after intense athletic activity continue such practices later in life when sitting down for several hours without stretching, decompressing, or recuperating mind and body simply does not work!
In the attached PDFs are several yoga asanas that I recommend to various athletes after physical activity. Many of these poses in addition to being useful for flexibility, stretching, and relieving tense muscles and tight tendons, are extremely helpful restorative poses and reenergize, relax, and calm the mind. The PDF on the left provides pictures of the poses, while the PDF on the right provides sports specific sequences describing stretches based on improving flexibility and strength of different muscle groups and respective joints. Realistically, I know that young athletes and students are busy and that it is difficult for them to see the benefits of a daily yoga/stretching routine at the end of a game or practice, when their bodies are limber and they feel great. However, these exercises impact attitudes towards oneself, confidence levels, autonomy, and general feeling of wellbeing on measures that are not as readily recognizable as physical benefits. Students can practice a couple of these poses or more for at least 5 minutes a day to start and will still benefit, As much as I encourage children, young athletes, and adults to attend a yoga class, to give themselves the gift of honoring their mind and body for one hour, I know that with busy schedules this is difficult. The asanas in this attachment can be practiced at any time and for any duration. I encourage parents, families, and coaches to get involved in implementing a safe, even brief practice.