Yoga is an ancient asset to the entire mankind, which has been practiced for around 5000 years. Yoga has both preventive and therapeutic benefits and offers both physical and mental benefits to body and mind. It has been experienced globally that the benefits of Yoga can be enjoyed without any side effects, strain or any other body imbalances. (Read in Hindi: योग से खिलेगा खेल...)
In this article, we shall discuss various benefits of Yoga in the field of Sports and how it is beneficial in enhancing the performance levels of the sportspersons.
All sports require tremendous energy, spirit, focus and commitment to deliver. Often it is believed that aggression in sports plays a pivotal role in winning. A famous tag line of old commercial goes as “Eat sleep and drink cricket” (means that keep thinking about your mission). But the question that arises is that can such strenuous physical pressure be sustained and can it ensure professional longevity to the winning percentage? And what about body injuries? Yoga has provided answers to all such queries.
A fit body and a calm mind is the road to success at any point in life. That is why many international clubs of different sports like football, rugby, golf and cricket have started taking benefits from the ancient Indian technique of Yoga. Yoga is very distinctive from other techniques as it provides strength without causing stress. Various Asanas (postures) if held for some time, give better flexibility and provide energy to different parts of the body. In fact most poses send oxygen to the cells in the body by way of deep breathing and stretching and contraction of different muscle groups. When a player of any sport is playing in front of thousands of spectators or playing for the pride of the country and millions of expectations are pinned on him, his mind is completely stressed. No amount of counselling can help the player get rid of worry or anxiety. But with the help of certain Yoga Asanas and Pranayam, we can release chronic stress patterns in the body, relaxation of mind, increase focus and concentration.
Many sports require huge strength, that is why the players adopt different methods to increase strength and muscle mass, but it decreases flexibility. If Yoga Asanas and other stretching exercises are performed regularly along with a combination of weight training exercises, injuries can be reduced. With yoga, the player will not only increase flexibility but also increase balance. A player can start using his body in many more different ways while remaining injury free.
There are certain Asanas if performed correctly and consistently, helps in building strength and improve lean muscle mass. Certain Yoga postures also help in maintaining underutilized muscle groups which are not used for the individual sport. As a cricketer I can tell from my personal experience that not all body muscles are used in cricket. Back muscle is very vital and with the help of Yoga, the spine becomes more flexible and also develops resistance against injuries.
I once came across a problem of a swimmer who had problem in balancing even though his body was flexible. Regular practice of yoga helped him have better coordination which miraculously helped him in balancing. If you have a better balance and coordination, it helps you have a better control of the body. Balance is essential in every sport – be it swimming stroke, golf swing, cricket shot or manoeuvring a football. Then there are sportsmen who are having flexibility problems. Yoga improves joint and muscular flexibility which enhances performance. Again giving example of the swimmer, with a flexible body, a swimmer will be able to pull more water and as a result move forward with less exertion.
For anything in life to be successful, first and foremost you need to have a calm state of mind. I started playing serious cricket from the age of 12. Soon, I started playing professional cricket which naturally brought in the pressure to perform as there was lot of competition and there were many in the wings, waiting to be included in your place. Another thing which had started to haunt me was fear of failure. Moreover, whenever I got injured it became extremely difficult to recover because of stress. As a result, it started affecting my performance on the field. Pressure started to build up to such an extent that it started showing on or off the field. I was not getting sound sleep especially on the eve of big games. My coach counselled me since he knew me as a player but that did not change much. By the time I was 18, the coming 5 years were very crucial for me. Finally my coach decided that it was time to train me in Yoga and he asked a trained Yoga Acharya to start taking Yoga classes at least thrice a week post practice sessions in the evening.
He used to make us perform certain relaxing Asanas and used to make us meditate also. Gradually, the Yoga Acharya started introducing few more Asanas. He also taught us to do Pranayama in the morning. As I started to get in the groove, I started feeling better. I felt that my nerves were calmer, and I was able to rationalise the things which used to bother me earlier. I unknowingly got rid of the pre-match pressure which was affecting my sleep. I started getting sound sleep, because of which I woke up well rested and felt prepared to take up any challenge.
I was impatient to ask my Yoga Acharya how the miracle happened. He explained that meditation and pranayama help us to reduce anxiety and blood pressure on one hand and on the other it increases immunity.
After a month of consistent yoga practice, my body became more flexible, supple and fitter. I started performing better in the field and subsequently became more confident. Till date, I practise yoga and strongly recommend it to all sport-persons irrespective of the sports they play.
To sum up, I would say that to perform better in any sport, you need to have a flexible body, concentration and a free mind. Yoga helps us to achieve these all. Consistent Yoga practise not only enhances performance of any sportsman but also makes a person a better and strong human being – both mentally and physically.
(Author is a former Ranji player and a longstanding cricket commentator and analyst for electronic media.)