How Yoga Helps Elite Athletes

October 20, 2020 | Natasha

Why elite athletes and sports enthusiasts increasingly view yoga as an essential part of their training regime. 

Footballer Albert Gudmundsson started yoga to improve his flexibility. However, he found that it had other positive effects.

“I discovered that it also helped me get fitter and stronger and prevented injuries,” says Gudmundsson.

Yoga is becoming increasingly important for people who train at a professional or amateur level. It complements their normal training, not only on a physical level, but also for the mental benefits. In fact, recent 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.”

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 good example of how yoga and physical sports are mixed. Regardless of which yoga style people like, it is clear that people who practice modern postural yoga all experience a number of benefits.

Yoga and swimming
“Yoga practice, and specifically breath 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 increasingly longer periods of time. 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 for maximum speed. Doing the same with fewer strokes is more efficient.”

Yoga and football
Gudmundsson also experiences the benefits of yoga breathing techniques. “When 20,000 people in the audience are shouting you down, you have to be able to shut down, focus on yourself and keep going.” he says, “Yoga clears the 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,” she says.

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 recover as well as improving mobility. 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 which led to 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 says. Van de Laar is so convinced by his hot yoga practice that he feels yoga should be included in the collective labour agreement of the transport sector. “that would save people from a lot health issues and the government a lot of money!”

Yoga and business
Joni Beysens, small business owner and runner is very clear about the positive effects of yoga for her. “I notice the improvements while running,” she says. “I am getting a lot further, have more control over my body, including my breathing. I can use my feet better and I do everything much more consciously. Now, when I can’t go on or feel uncomfortable, I focus on the inside of my body like I do in yoga lesson. Then I can go on.”

Spirituality regardless of culture, beliefs and religion
Clearly yoga practice; linking body and mind with the breath, brings the practitioner closer to their own nature, the environment and the natural order of things. We can call this spirituality.

Natasha Gunn, Writer, Yoga Teacher / 2017 – updated 2021

This article is also published in Dutch on Eindhoven Sport – view the Dutch version on Eindhoven Sport here.

(At the time the article was written, all the athletes interviewed were practicing at Hot Yoga Eindhoven.)