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From Down Dogs to Slam Dunks: The Rise of Yoga in the NBA

The rise of yoga in the NBA and other professional sports has started gaining national attention as an ever-growing trend. While yoga was once thought of as “too out there” or “just for hippies,” an increasing number of professional athletes’ eyes are being opened to the benefits (both mental and physical) of a consistent yoga practice. Advancements in technology have allowed several sports research studies to prove the physical and mental benefits yogis have been feeling in their bodies and minds for years. This scientific evidence has helped to convince a lot of people, including professional athletes, that yoga can help everyone perform at their peak capacity. Many professional sports teams have even gone so far as to hire full-time yoga instructors to be on staff with their teams because they see the improvements in their players and teams.

Some of the benefits these teams are seeing include:

The attention to form an alignment that yoga focuses on can be a huge key to injury prevention for professional athletes. For those who spend their days and make their money by moving as hard and fast as physically possible, the slow breathing and mindful movements present in yoga can help them gain a new understanding of how they should be moving their bodies to protect their bones and joints. Taking time to relax and restore the body each week keeps great players playing greater longer.

Athletes spend a ton of time on their feet moving, running, jumping, lifting, cutting, sprinting and pivoting. These all are dependent on moving the feet quickly and lightly. Especially for those professional athletes that play in the NBA, the space and lightness created in the body through yoga can be vital. Whether they are making a play on defense, jumping and landing with a rebound, or changing directions quickly to get open, NBA players must be light and nimble. Without yoga, these athletes could run the risk of getting too tight, stiff, or overly muscular.

Yoga is not just a physical practice. Yoga is equal parts physical and mental and professional athletes benefit equally from both parts of the practice. Many NBA players have commented that incorporating yoga into their weekly routine has helped them to feel calmer, more centered, and more focused during practices and games. This ability to recognize and handle the vast array of emotions present during any athletic event benefits athletes by helping them avoid technical fouls, suspensions, and helps them to maintain their status as positive role models for their fans.

Another not-solely-physical benefit of yoga is the increased body awareness that it brings. Taking time on the mat each week to practice mindful breathing and mindful movements trains athletes to be more aware. It causes their senses to be heightened and their bodies and brains be more skilled at reading subtle shift and movements, within their own bodies and those of their opponents. This increased awareness has a multitude of benefits for NBA players ranging from increased physical balance to more synergistically working together with teammates.

Hopefully by now you have realized that yoga is far more than the “just stretching” reputation it sometimes holds. However, yoga still is a lot of stretching! As important as all of the other parts of yoga are, we cannot overlook the most basic and obvious, which is increased flexibility. Yes, while yoga is more than just stretching, the increased range of motion, lessening of muscle soreness and tightness, and the ability to move your body easier and more effectively are all of great benefit to professional athletes.

So, with all of these benefits for professional athletes, just imagine how vastly a consistent yoga practice could improve the daily lives of the other 99.9% of us walking the planet each day. Drop on by Joy Yoga Center, and we'll see you on the mat!

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