How Yoga Helps Elite Athletes
Why elite athletes and sports enthusiasts see yoga and in particular Hot Yoga as an essential part of their training. (All of the sports’ people interviewed practiced at Hot Yoga Eindhoven at the time of this publication.)
Footballer Albert Gudmundsson started yoga to improve his flexibility. However, he found that it had other positive effects. Gudmundsson: “I discovered that it also helped me get fitter and stronger and prevented injuries.”
Yoga is becoming increasingly important for people who train at a professional or amateur level. It complements their normal training, not only for the physical, but also for the mental benefits.
Recent scientific research by academic Mark Singleton shows that modern yoga styles are closer to modern fitness regimes than we might imagine.
Old and new
Singleton explains the complexity of the origins of modern physical exercises, in his book Yoga Body, the origins of modern posture practice, when he writes “The history of modern physical culture overlaps and intersects with the histories of para-religious ‘unchurched’ spirituality; Western esotericism; medicine, health, and hygiene; chiropractic, osteopathy, and bodywork; body-centred psychotherapy; the modern revival of Hinduism; and the socio-political demands of the emergent modern Indian nation (to name but a few). ”
However, he concludes that modern yoga styles are a mix of old traditions and new visions, without losing dignity or spiritual depth. Hot Yoga is a strong example of how yoga and physical sports are mixed. Regardless of which yoga style people like, it is clear that people who practice physical yoga all experience a number of benefits.
Yoga and swimming
“Yoga practice, and specifically the breathing training, helped me through the 50-meter freestyle,” says a former Dutch Olympic swimmer. “I discovered through yoga how I could regulate my breathing, allowing me to hold my breath for a while before having to breathe again. Giving 98% rather than 100% has helped me reach the maximum of my potential. I learned from my coach how to swim the 50-meter freestyle with fewer strokes to go as fast as I could. Doing the same with fewer strokes is more efficient.”
Yoga and football
Football player Gudmundsson also sees the benefits of yoga breathing. “When 20,000 people in the audience are shouting at you, you have to be able to shut down, focus on yourself and keep going.” he says, “Yoga creates a clear and uncluttered mind, which is really undervalued for a professional athlete.”
Yoga and running
Anne-Lize Hoftijzer, runner and member of a women’s rowing team, thought yoga was only for flexible people. Now she sees it differently. For people who do sports like running, rowing and cycling, I don’t think flexibility is an end in itself. Hot Yoga combines core stability, flexibility and breathing. I learn how the different parts of my body work together and how they complement each other. I now understand how to relax one part of my body while using another part, which is very important in rowing.”
Yoga and fitness
Miranda van Boven, CrossFit, Bootcamp and fitness enthusiast, was also looking for a balance between relaxation and exercise. “Hot Yoga gives me deep muscle relaxation, which helps my muscles to recover, and it stretches the muscles to make them more flexible. After many hours of training, yoga calms my mind and improves my concentration.”
Yoga and truck driving
Truck driver Marcel van de Laar spends long periods of time in the driving seat. The stress on his spine and created lower back pain. Massages and physiotherapy did not help, so he tried Hot Yoga. “After a few lessons I felt much better and my joint pains and complaints disappeared,” he smiles. Van de Laar is so convinced that he feels hot yoga should be included in the collective labour agreement of the transport sector. “I think that would both save people from a lot health complaints, and the government a lot of money!”
Yoga and own business
Joni Beysens, business owner and runner is very clear about the positive effects of yoga for her. “With Hot Yoga and running I can manage my life! In my busy life as an independent entrepreneur, diagnosed with ADHD, hyper-sensitivity and a mild form of autism, I wanted more peace in my head and in my body. My mind becomes less busy and I feel calm. While running, I notice the improvements,” she says. “I am run longer distances and have more control over my body, including my breathing. I can even use my feet better. Now, when I feel like giving up or feel uncomfortable, I take my focus on the inside, like I do in yoga class. Then I can go on.”
Spirituality regardless of culture, beliefs and religion
All of the people interviewed for this article agree that doing yoga has improved their concentration. Furthermore, yoga helps them prevent injuries during sports and combines relaxation and training, so that it can be combined in a sustainable way. It is clear that the focus on body posture and breathing in modern yoga practices works deeply on the body and mind, bringing the practitioner closer to their own nature, the environment and the natural order of things. We can call this spirituality.
By Natasha Gunn, Writer, Yoga Teacher / 2017 – updated 2020