How yoga benefits athletic performance

Yoga is becoming more and more popular, for good reason. It has proven physical and mental health benefits, and it’s a great activity for people of all ages.

Clearly, yoga isn’t just for “yogis” anymore. The benefits of the practice can stretch (pun intended) across other sports and activities. Here are some of the many ways yoga can improve athletic performance. Since there are many different styles of yoga, I’ve included a few types you can check out, though general hatha yoga would likely get you all of these benefits. I’ve also noted some poses to try, but a whole practice will get you the best results. 

About the author

Emily Gold is a yoga therapist and teacher, doula, and public health specialist. She is currently living abroad, in Brussels, Belgium.

Yoga improves flexibility and range of motion

Flexibility is usually one of the first things people think about when they think of yoga. Despite common misconceptions, you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga. Yoga can help you become more flexible, with focused short and long held stretches of muscles and joints. Improved flexibility can be beneficial to a variety of other sports, as well. Golf and tennis players can benefit from improved flexibility in shoulders and chests while runners would surely enjoy more stretched-out hamstrings and quadriceps. 

Check out: Yin, hatha yoga

Poses to try: Pigeon pose, wheel pose

Woman demonstrating pigeon pose
Pigeon pose
Woman demonstrating wheel pose
Wheel pose (Photo: Emily Gold)

Yoga improves balance and proprioception

Improved balance through training of muscle groups and the brain is another perk of yoga. Proprioception, the body’s ability to sense itself in its space, is also improved with yoga. While this can be great on the yoga mat, it also serves well off of it. Hockey players and figure skaters can benefit from improved balance, as can surfers and skateboarders. Proprioception is key to these balance sports, as well as other movement team sports, such as football and lacrosse. 

Check out: Hatha, vinyasa yoga

Poses to try: Tree pose, dancer pose

Woman demonstrating tree pose
Tree pose (Photo: Emily Gold)
Couple demonstrating dancer pose
Dancer pose

Yoga can improve endurance

Practicing yoga means continually moving your body towards its edge, whether stretching towards physical discomfort (not pain) or being still when your entire body wants to move. Doing this sort of work can retrain the mind-body connection to help your body become better at pacing itself for exertion. This is a great skill for all sorts of endurance sports including hockey and football, as well as long-distance sports like running and cross-country skiing. 

Check out: Vinyasa, kundalini, yin, power yoga

Poses to try: Sun salutations

Yoga can improve strength

While many athletes are already gaining strength by playing their chosen sport, repetitive motion often means that certain muscles are very active while others are often neglected. This can lead to imbalance in strength as well as future injury. Yoga is a full-body dynamic practice that can help athletes strengthen multiple muscle groups.  

Check out: Hatha, power yoga

Poses to try: Chatarunga, crow pose

Woman demonstrating crow pose
Crow pose

Yoga teaches you how to listen to your body

One of my favourite benefits of yoga (especially for kids) is that it teaches you to listen to your own body. Yoga is an entire practice of listening to your body, which is a key skill for any athlete. When practicing a sport you need to know when to speed up, slow down, take a break, or power through. Practicing yoga puts you more in touch with your body’s messages—the more you practice, the more attuned to its messages you become, on the mat but also in the rink, on the field, and on the track.  

Check out: Yin, hatha yoga

Poses to try: Downward dog, warrior 2

Woman demonstrating downward dog
Downward dog (Photo: Emily Gold)
Woman demonstrating warrior 2 pose
Warrior 2 (Photo: Emily Gold)

Yoga can improve breathing skills

While yoga is often thought of as a physical practice, breathwork is an equally important part of the practice. Yoga breathing (called pranayama) has many benefits, including improving lung capacity and breath retention—key skills for swimmers, long-distance runners, and numerous other high-intensity sports.

Check out: Kundalini, hatha yoga

Poses to try: Breathwork like ujjayi and lion’s breath

Yoga can reduce anxiety

While most of the benefits I’ve listed here are physical, yoga also has a host of mental health benefits. Yoga’s proven ability to reduce anxiety can benefit any athlete who struggles with performance anxiety. If your child struggles with anxiety or worry before or after playing sports, adding a yoga practice can help improve their overall well-being, as well as their joy in playing sport. 

Check out: Restorative, hatha yoga 

Poses to try: Forward fold, child’s pose

Woman demonstrating forward fold
Forward fold
Woman demonstrating child's pose
Child’s pose (Photo: Emily Gold)

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