If you’re a die-hard athlete, whether a professional or weekend one, yoga may be your ticket to better performance. With a career limited by ever-aging physical capabilities, we know that professional athletes do lots of physical training to maintain their competitive edge and extend their careers as long as possible.  Many are now turning to yoga for the physical benefits of increased flexibility. It also helps shorten recovery time after injuries and may prevent some of them from turning into career-enders.

Joe Johnson, a six-time NBA All-Star, is now 31 and practices Bikram Yoga, sometimes called hot yoga because the studio temperature is held at over 100 degrees. In a recent Huffington Post interview with Jordan Schultz, he says that “It’s pretty strenuous as far as a workout. It loosens me up, actually. If we have to be at the gym at 5:30, I’ll go about 3 and I get out at 4:30.” He continues to say that he goes straight to the arena from yoga already loosened up and ready to play.

The big name in yoga for lots of pro athletes is Kent Katich, owner of the Yoga Court located in Los Angeles. His work with athletes is always focused on helping them get the most out of their abilities – to build their balance, strength and flexibility as part of their regular conditioning routines. Having coached some of the world’s best athletes over the past 15 years, he has also been instrumental in including yoga into athletic programs across the U.S. Although ESPN has called him the “yoga guru of the NBA,” Katich is involved with athletes from a multitude of sports.

He says that in the past lots of athletes had been turned off yoga by television images of women in tights posing in hyper-flexible positions and Indian gurus chanting and meditating. While many of the athletes he works with first began yoga simply to improve their physical condition, Katich says that an increasing number are now embracing its mental side for improved concentration, focus, discipline, clarity, calmness and an awareness and control of the breath. The athletes now recognize that in addition to the wonderful physical benefits of yoga, the mind/body/spirit aspect of the discipline is also beneficial for relieving the drain caused by constant travel and the physical demands of their sports.

Another yoga devotee is 20-year-old Steven Jackson, a three-time NFL Pro Bowl running back. The league’s active leading rusher who just signed a three-year contract with Atlanta, said in the same interview that “It keeps the limbs limber. … I feel good when I stretch, especially after traveling so much.”

There are a number of different types of yoga based on your preference but they all provide mental, emotional and spiritual advantages in addition to the physical ones. So if you’re an athlete looking for a way to improve your performance, try some yoga. It may not turn you into a professional athlete but you’ll certainly benefit from it in more ways than one.

by Miriam Latto


Story originally ran in the April 2013 Digital Issue.