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Last month, the value of preparation was discussed here on Free Soul. Pro tennis player Emily Webley-Smith talked about Free Soul in her go bag so she always has nutrition covered when she travels to compete. For athletes, being prepared also means being physically and mentally ready for the challenges of their sport. And one thing that has helped many professional players across different sports is yoga. Take a look at how this ancient practice helps athletes stay sharp in their respective fields.

Reduce risk of injury

When you start practicing yoga, you’ll quickly realise the importance of alignment. Instructors often say that there is no perfect yoga pose, but there is an optimal alignment. Yoga helps create technique because you’re always thinking about how close to the ideal pose you are even if your version is modified. And when you have better technique, you’re less likely to get injured.

For instance, in a high lunge, you always have to check whether your bent knee is on top of your ankle. Letting it go beyond the distance can create complications with the knee. Imagine how the lunge is replicated in different sports movements. Watch any football game and you’ll see how this basic pose is repeated on the pitch.

Physical conditioning

Aside from a meditative practice, yoga is also highly physical. Retired track star Jessica Ennis-Hill stated to The Telegraph that yoga helped her get fit for the Olympics. Some types of yoga involve a quick succession of movements, which builds heat and warms up the muscles. Seasoned tennis player Maria Sharapova, who has five Grand Slam titles under her belt, is a fan of the core conditioning brought about by yoga. Core strength is not all about developing impressive abs, it also involves a lot of upper and lower body movements.

Another factor that improves athletic performance is flexibility. Former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendelton revealed to the Huffington Post that she actually has a very stiff body. The 37-year old, who is also a British jockey, uses yoga as a form of mobility training to improve her range of motion. Smoother movements help track and field athletes, tennis players, cyclists, or any other kind of athlete excel in their sport.

Develop breath control

Mastering breathing techniques are essential for any athlete to succeed. You can change your overall performance just by refining your breath control. Johanna Konta, another British tennis star, mentioned to Eurosport that the breathing exercises in yoga is one aspect she particularly enjoys. Breath control can clear your mind and sharpen focus. Athletes can help overcome their anxiety by practicing mindful breathing. Aside from its mental benefits, the proper technique can also help deliver more efficient movements as it improves the circulation of oxygen to the muscles. The practice boosted her performance and she peaked at no. 4 in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) world rankings last year. Coral reported that Konta holds three WTA titles and was the highest-ranked British female in 2017. She suffered a hip injury in January (2018), but yoga helped her recover, which is why she was able to compete in this year's Wimbledon.

Cultivate body awareness

Yoga for Athletes Health Benefits

Lastly, yoga emphasises mindful movements regardless of the difficulty of the practice. Poses like handstands not only require strength, but also a deep awareness of the body. It enables you to understand the different shapes your body makes even when you’re inverted. It also helps recognise the different signals that the body makes. If there are any signs of ache or imbalance, you can focus and attend to them right away.

Do you now see how amazing yoga can be? You don't even have to be an athlete to practice it. As they say in yoga: As long as you keep an open mind and heart, you can definitely reap the benefits.

Article specially written by: AvaAurora

**At Free Soul, your wellbeing is our priority, and although we pride ourselves on our expertise in women's health and wellbeing, it is important to acknowledge the individuality of each person. Features published by Free Soul are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease, or replace the advice of your GP. We always recommend consulting with a healthcare provider if you encounter any health concerns, and we’ll always be here to support you so you’re never alone on your journey.