The best athletes know that mobility is a crucial component of the performance recipe, along with sleep, nutrition, and recovery. Yet the “how” is often a mystery–mobility means stretching, right? And foam rolling? And like, that lacrosse ball I’m supposed to lay on… oh, wait, my workout’s starting, gotta go… I got a few toe touches in, I’m probably good.
I’ve seen athletes spend crazy amounts of time half-heartedly shifting their body around on a foam roller, hoping they’re achieving this magic mobility concept, when a single yoga class would do more for them than a week of their version of “mobility”. Now, I’m not saying ditch the foam roller; foam roller = good. Your foam roller is your best friend. This is my foam roller. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Hug it and love it and allow it to cause you much knuckle-whitening pain in the name of happy muscles and fluid connective tissue.
But the most bang for your buck– and by buck, I’m talking about the precious commodity that is time–will come from yoga. Get on your mat!
What can yoga do for athletes?
Let’s start by talking about what yoga is, and what it isn’t.
What yoga is: a mind-body practice incorporating morality, self-discipline, physical postures (asana), breathing exercises, control of the senses, inner awareness and concentration, meditation, and openness to the infinite.
This was not made clear to me in my last yoga sesh, you’re thinking. Well, sure. Western culture often brushes aside the other 7 limbs of the 8-limbed path in order to concentrate on Asana, the moving, stretching, crazy-pretzel-balancing thing we all think of as “yoga”. And when we consider yoga in the context of mobility, this is mostly what we’re talking about–but giving the other 7 limbs a shot, particularly meditation and breathing exercises, will improve your game, too.
What yoga isn’t: gentle stretching, for girls.
Your typical yoga class will have you breathing deeply and mindfully while moving through a series of postures that range in difficulty from lying still on your back (Savasana, or “yogi naptime”) to balancing on your head, hands, one foot, or the tip of your nose (nope, I lied, it’s the tip of your tongue). Your yoga class may be in a hot room–meaning you’ll be sweating your ass off and wondering if even your eyeballs have sweat glands–or a room-temp room; you may move quickly, linking one posture to each breath (flowing), or you may hold each posture for what seems like a thigh- and arm-torching eternity. You may spend most of the time stretching while laying on your back; you may chant “om” really loudly alongside a roomful of strangers, and feel simultaneously self-conscious and weirdly into it. You may hear the teacher say words in a foreign language that everyone else somehow understands as “plant your hands on your mat and stick your booty in the air”; you may then wonder where the girl in front of you got her yoga pants, and make a plan to casually ask her after class.
Effects of your yoga class may include: better sleep, better skin, increased flexibility, increased strength, weight loss, a preponderance of increasingly impressive yoga selfies on your Instagram, a refreshing optimism and faith in humanity, and the sudden urge to spend $10 on juice. (Worth it.)
It’s the flexibility/strength/sleep part we, as athletes, are really interested in. (Well, and the Instagram thing, too.)
Whatever, I’m an athlete, I’m already strong.
Sure, but can you balance on one foot while making a T out of your body? Can you hold yourself in Chaturanga (sort of a hovering elbows-in pushup) without your hips sinking? Can you hear your teacher say, “Activate the muscles surrounding your lowest rib on your right side”, and truly send your mind there and feel that muscle light up?
Yoga postures are full-body, and since they’re usually isometric holds, they are excellent at strengthening all the teeny tiny stabilizing muscles that, in other sports, we’re usually moving too quickly to activate much. Muscle proprioception–the ability of the brain to connect to and activate muscles–also improves by leaps and bounds. Which means that the next time you go to pick up something heavy or move your body quickly through space, you’ll be faster, better, and yes, stronger.
I gave up on flexibility a while ago. I’m an athlete. I’m just not that flexible.
Bish please. You need to be able to touch your toes. You need to be able to reach your arms behind your back. Have you done that wall-overhead-squat test lately? Is it abysmal? Guess what, killer, your next snatch PR is happening NEVER if you’ve given up on flexibility. You know who can damn well touch his toes? Marshawn. Effing. Lynch.
I hear all the time, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” Hey, I have a really good idea for how to get more flexible: do yoga! Trust me, there will be lots of other people in class working on their own journey to toe-touching, and you will not be the only one who can’t reach behind them to grab their foot. I promise.
Modo Yoga for athletes
Modo is kind of a special beast all its own in the yoga world. The first time you do it, it sort of feels like that Bikram thing your girlfriend made you try that one time. You take a Modo Flow, and you’re like, hey, this is that Vinyasa thing, and also maybe Power Yoga? You take a Yin and–after you’ve recovered from the slight embarrassment of falling asleep on your mat because you’re so damn relaxed–you notice in your warmup the next morning that your hips feel more fluid and open than you can ever remember. As you practice Modo more and more, you feel other things you did not expect–more balanced energy and emotions, better all-over flexibility, and way better sleep, which translates to faster recovery. And your performance in the gym or your sport of choice? Holy crap, are you crushing it.
The Modo series is sequenced to carefully prepare the body for the next posture, and to gently open the body throughout the practice so that, by the end, you’re like a sweaty, calm, flexible noodle. Our focus on alignment and doing what’s right for your body–fitting the series to you, not making you fit yourself to the series–means it’s a very safe practice, as well. We practice in a hot room to give the muscles and connective tissue a little extra oomph of flexibility, and because sweating buckets a few times a week feels, weirdly, incredibly awesome. The heat gives us the added benefit of toughening up the body’s temperature control systems, so you can just breathe and be okay with the fact that marathon training in the Texas summer is basically marathon training inside an oven.
Most importantly, your regular yoga practice means that those little nagging injuries–the ones that always seem to pop up no matter what you do, the ones that mean you’re always having to modify a workout or sit out an event because “My X/Y/Z is busted right now”… those pretty much disappear. Your body works better, it’s as simple as that. It can handle what you throw at it and ask for more.
Long story short: hit your mat a couple times a week to level up your game in a big way. Your body–and your next PR–will thank you.