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How Athletes Can Step Up Their Game with Yoga

With the many sports that exist, it is likely that an injury will come up at some point in time by either repetitive movements, imbalances, or both. Along with other weight training, yoga can be a great supplement for building strength, flexibility, and stability, thereby prevent injuries in other sports. It also increases body awareness, allowing you to scan the body for any differences during each practice. With that comes the tendency to back off when something doesn’t feel right, rather than pushing through it. In addition, yoga offers both active and passive stretching, that when done pre- or post-workout, can help muscles and tendons stay healthy and injury-free. Whether you’re moving through Sun Salutations or settling into a posture for two minutes, stretching allows the muscles to lengthen and become pliable over time.

So, we've gathered some common injuries for athletes and the many ways to address them with yoga. When sports injuries are chronic, these poses can help in preventing further injury or aid a specific area that has already been injured. While these do not replace medical care, athletes may notice a difference in body awareness, strength, flexibility, breath, and recovery time with yoga.

Injury: Plantar Fasciitis (Feet)
These types of injuries are most common in running or jumping activities (like for runners, golfers, soccer, football, tennis or volleyball players). The plantar fascia of the foot is the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and runs along the sole of the foot. Any tightness in the Achilles tendon, ankle or calf muscles from repetitive foot strikes can create stress, inflammation, and/or micro-tears in the plantar fascia. Symptoms usually involve pain in the heel or sole of the foot that is typically worse when you first get out of bed in the morning. If untreated, this can sometimes lead to bone spurs in the heel and contribute to knee, hip, and back pain.
Prevent and Heal: Stretch the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and the tissues on the back of the hips, legs and the soles of the feet (daily or every other day if recovering from an injury, or once a week for prevention).
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Lying on your back, put a strap around the ball of the foot and extend the leg up. Relax the upper body and hold the strap with both hands. To lessen the stretch, bend the knee slightly or place the sole of the opposite foot on the ground. Keep the thigh of the extended leg close to the belly as you pull gently on the strap and hold for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

Injury: Iliotibial Band Syndrome (Knees)
The IT band is one of the most common causes of knee pain in athletes. It is a common misconception that the IT band, a thick band of fascia that runs from the top outer hip to just below the outer knee, can be fixed with more stretching. However, usually the surrounding muscles are the problem. When the muscles connecting to the IT band are tight, running or walking can create friction, causing the tissues to thicken and pull on the knee, creating pain and limited mobility. Symptoms can include knee swelling, cracking sounds with movement, and/or pain that extends behind the knee, down the outer calf, and around the outer hip or thigh.
Prevent and Heal: Stretch the hamstrings, hip and thigh muscles that pull on the IT band. This will keep the band and the surrounding tissues flexible and pliable to reduce friction.
Standing Forward Bend Variation (Uttanasana)
Begin standing and cross the right ankle over the left. With knees slightly bent, fold forward and rest the hands on the floor or a block. Reach hips toward the sky and lengthen the ribs away from the pelvis to prevent a rounding in the back. Breathe comfortably as you hold for 1 minute. Repeat, crossing the left ankle over right.

Injury: Rotator Cuff Inflammation/Tear (Shoulders)
This injury is most common in swimmers, yoga practitioners, rock climbers, golfers and tennis players. The rotator cuff muscle tendons can become irritated or torn from traumatic injury or repetitive motion, especially with weakness in the muscles that anchor the shoulder. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that stabilize the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket to allow the shoulder to rotate. When injured, pain is felt over the top of the shoulder and can extend to almost anywhere around the shoulder joint itself, including the shoulder blade or armpit.
Prevent and Heal: Strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint and restore range of motion to the rotator cuff to create a stronger, and more supportive structure to move from. You can do this will yoga and stretching.
Cow Face Pose Variation (Gomukhasana)
This pose is good for stretching the entire rotator cuff with a combination of internal and external rotation of the arms. Begin seated or standing and reach your arm straight out to the side, parallel to the floor. Rotate the arm inwardly, turning the thumb toward the floor. Then point toward the wall behind you, facing the palm to the ceiling. This movement will roll the shoulder slightly up and forward. Bring the arm behind the torso and place the forearm in the hollow of the low back, parallel to the waist, and with the elbow against the side of the torso. Roll the shoulder back and down. Then work the forearm up your back until it feels parallel to your spine. The back of your hand will be between your shoulder blades. Stretch the other arm straight forward, parallel to the floor, and with the palm facing up. Lift the arm toward the ceiling, palm turned back, and bend the elbow, reaching down for the other hand. Aim to clasp your hands, but use a towel or strap in the top hand if you can’t reach. Hold for 1 minute and repeat on the other side.
Side Plank Pose Variation (Vasisthasana)
Side plank is a good way to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff and teach them to work as an integrated unit. Come to a forearm plank, bringing forearms to the mat, keeping elbows under shoulders, and the feet together. Roll onto the edge of the right foot and turn the right forearm in 45 degrees. Hug the right arm bone into the socket and press the base of your right index finger into the floor. Lift the hips up and lengthen the sides of the rib cage as you extend the left arm up. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

While there are many poses that aid in recovery, these are just a few that can help you keep your head and body in the game. Remember to warm up and cool down before physical activity to get blood flowing to the muscles. As a general guideline, do these poses after your training or workout sessions. On off days, warm-up with a walk, run, or 5 to 10 minutes of sun salutations before doing the poses. After working out, soak in a warm Epsom salt bath to relax the muscles and absorb magnesium sulfate. Don’t forget to get efficient sleep, water, and minerals (especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium) to help heal the body and alleviate soreness. Soon you’ll be on the road to recovery and start to feel stronger, healthier, and more zen than ever.

So now that you know some of the many benefits of yoga for athletes, come on out to Joy Yoga Center and come take a class with us!

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