Like most snowboarders, my body has taken a serious beating over the years. There have been times when I’ve fallen, convinced that something is broken, to just get up and keep on riding. I bend so I don’t break and I owe all of my bending to yoga. A regular yoga practice has enabled me to stay strong, supple and well conditioned. I see noticeable improvements in all my board sports each time I commit to regular practice.
Countless other action sports athletes also attribute much of their success and rehabilitation to yoga: 11 times World Champion surfer Kelly Slater; Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Jamie Anderson; professional surfer and fitness fanatic Sally Fitzgibbons, to name a few. Yoga not only keeps you strong but mentally on-point. All things you need in your repertoire as an athlete.
My yoga has saved me through a lot of bad crashes. Even flat landings that most people wouldn’t land, I somehow have been able to land from all the work in yoga.
– Pro snowboarder, Jamie Anderson in an interview with ESPN
So what is it about yoga that makes it so good for athletes? Still Stoked caught up with Echo Giesel Widmer, a yoga teacher of 10+ years and an avid skydiver, snowboarder and surfer to look more into the specific benefits of yoga for athletes.
When it comes to surf, snowboarding and skydiving, our bodies need elasticity to bounce back and respond quickly to fast paced sports that have no time for cessation. The bodies of so many athletes have gained muscle and strength at the expense of elasticity and shortened recovery time. If you don’t pay attention to your body and use facilitated and dynamic stretching daily in your practice, then you invite injury.
There is a certain amount of neglect in many athlete’s practices when it comes to stretching. It becomes secondary to the strength and sport specific training they do. But I believe we are at an age now where yoga is becoming just as strong as the primary tools we use in training. More and more athletes are finding yoga not only assists in the strength and recovery of their bodies, but also their minds. Many find peace and solitude with themselves when they invite yoga practice into their daily routines.
We looked at what specific elements make yoga a complimentary addition to your training as an athlete.
Here are 10 reasons why Yoga is great for action sports athletes:
Many sports have repetitive motions that result in imbalances and tightening of the body. Yoga increases the range of movement within your joints and muscles offering greater ease of motion. For a surfer this may mean a deeper paddle as the shoulder can reach further forward, for a snowboarder yoga can help you tweak your board in the air as you legs are more malleable (think Nico Muller’s style when doing a tuck-knee Japan air). Increasing the flexibility of your anatomy and supporting muscles will also help prevent injury.
I find balance the most important thing to prevent injuries. Rehabbing injuries has given me a new perspective on preventive training and overall balance in the body. I am very passionate about stretching, elongating, strengthening, breathing and all that yoga represents. Whether its 10 minutes or 90 minutes, I take the time to do yoga everyday.
– Chanelle Sladics, Professional snowboarder from an interview with Oakley
Yoga improves the overall balance of everything you do. Through many yoga asanas (postures) you will develop increased proprioception which is the awareness of your body’s position in space– all vital aspects for any action sport athlete. Stronger balance and co-ordination means enhanced control over your body, better technique and form. Balance is the fundamental basis of many action sports esp. board sports, skiing and biking. In many rehabilitation programs after injury, athletes will do specific training exercises to increase their proprioception. Yoga therefore is often used as part of an injury rehabilitation program for the excellent balance benefits it offers.
#3 Stability, especially from smaller muscle groups
The smaller stabilising muscles are often over looked in favour of adding mass to muscle. These muscles are the foundation muscles of your body, keeping you balanced, upright and steady through isometric muscle contractions. They keep your knees from dislocating, shoulders from popping out and hips firmly planted in your pelvis. They are strengthened in exercises using the full range of a joint’s movement, something that most styles of yoga deliver throughout a class.
Yoga is so much more than stretching! I was really surprised by how much strength is involved but my favorite part is the breathing. Being able to be calm mentally and continue to breathe while holding a difficult position is such a great skill to have in surfing and life in general.
– Holly Beck, Pro surfer in an interview with Mind Body Green
#4 Mental focus and calmness under pressure
In all extreme sports we forget to exercise our mental capacities alongside our physical. One of the great benefits yoga brings is awareness and focus. To be able to draw from your breath and ground yourself when dropping into a steep line or big wave is one preparatory step towards overcoming fear and ensuring progression. Through a regular yoga practice, you learn to block out external stimulus that may be pulling you away from you centre. Focusing on your breathe and synchronising it with movement can promote better timing for certain maneuvers, helping execute them with more control.
A photo posted by ॐ Jamie Anderson ॐ (@jamieanderson) on
#5 Greater awareness of how your body feels
To want to nourish your body and fuel it with good nutrition is a no brainer, athlete or not! Through yoga you develop an intimate relationship with you body: how it moves, where there are pains and where you hold emotions. You begin to understand what your body needs and when, what gives it energy and what takes that energy away. Through regular practice, one begins to become more mindful of nutrition and food choices and how they also impact your body, mind and emotions.
#6 Overall strength
Through daily practice, athletes begin to notice small differences in their bodies. Becoming more and more aware of the left and right sides, they begin to even out their practices to create equanimity in the body. Differences that they may have only subconsciously felt prior to their yoga practice, become very apparent. Because of this practice of equanimity, overall strength is found. As you train all parts of the body equally the mind, body, and breath move together as one creating strength, endurance and stability in the athlete unlike anything beforehand.
#7 It addresses imbalances in the body
As mentioned above, action sports especially board sports are likely to develop one side of the body more that the other. A snowboarder with their left foot forward will have a stronger left-hand-leading-side of their back but a stronger right leg as most of the weight sits on the back leg. This causes opposing forces on the skeletal system, as muscles from one side pull more than the other. Yoga not only helps you notice these little imbalances but helps even out the imbalance by working both sides and adapting your practice to find equanimity. Imbalances in the body can lead to injuries further down the road like back pain or knee pain stemming from one weaker ankle or weak glute.
#8 Core strength
Core strength is necessary of all true active sports, it is the key to a strong healthy spine, good posture, and overall strength as the core carries the upper body. It helps you to drive power from your center while giving you the support to land on your feet. With some athletes more focus rests on muscle gain and strength in the upper and lower body, but without core strength we are ignoring a vital part of our bodies.Not only will a strong core protect your spine and prevent injury, it will help support all of the other muscles to work at their optimum. Another benefit to core are the twists, and exercises that help the lymphatic system, and digestive system. Why rob ourselves of the extra benefits.
I have noticed as an athlete and yogi that some training and practices lose sight of how important core is. In my yoga practice I always include core as top priority in my daily training. This pushes athletes and yogis alike to create a healthy habit of creating a fire in the belly.
– Yoga teach and skydiver, Echo Giesel Widmer
Yoga aids endurance by training your body to do particular movements over many breaths (sequences). As your body gets stronger and you become more aware of your breathe with movement, your stamina will improve over time. You will notice muscle fatigue not as something to pull away from but something to work with and find a way to push through the other side, each time building more strength and awareness of you body and mind.
#10 Recovery time
Yoga is often prescribed as part of an athlete’s physical therapy or rehabilitation. The conditioning, lengthen and releasing of tissue can help aid in the recovery from injury and in some cases, shorten the rehabilitation time. The self-awareness and mental benefits that yoga brings can also relieve stress, calming the mind and helping you tune into your body and how it feels. More restorative types of yoga such as Yin yoga are especially beneficial during recovery.
Action sports athletes that regularly practice yoga include:
Kelly slater (surfer), Dave Rastovich (surfer), Christy Prior (snowboarder), Jamie Anderson (snowboarder), Hannah Teter (Snowboarder), Torah Bright (snowboarder), Rochelle Ballard (surfer), Chanelle Sladics (snowboarder), Holly Beck (surfer), Jordy Smith (surfer), Tom Carroll (surfer), Taylor Knox (surfer), Gerry Lopez (surfer), Kjesti Buass (snowboarder), Scott Palmer (base jumper).
Read more about Kelly Slater’s yoga practice, why Jaime Anderson it an incredible role model and Sally Fitzgibbon’s training and fitness.
Cover image courtesy of pro snowboarder Christy Prior who is also a qualified yoga teacher, follow her yoga Instagram account Kiwi Yogini.