Athleticism requires a certain drive—mentally, physically, and emotionally. The dedication of an athlete is admirable—the many hours spent training, week after week, and the moment of glory when an athlete is making a play or finishing that last mile—it’s no wonder so many athletes are also our heroes. But it’s not all fun and games. The life of an athlete can take its toll. Fortunately, the practice of yoga can help athletes balance their training so that they experience more physical comfort, enhanced balance, and mental sharpness.

Muscle tightness in athletes is usually quite prominent due to the many hours of strength training required, which is disproportionate to the time spent stretching. While many athletes incorporate “a few minutes of stretching” before and after their training, it’s not enough. Yoga helps to balance this tightness not only with postures that increase flexibility, but also with breathing and awareness techniques to help the athlete relax areas of the body where tension is held. This is important for people who are prone to injuries. Yoga helps bring about an awareness that can prevent injuries in athletes who tend to “push through it.”

Balance is another aspect that yoga helps athletes to hone. Every sport requires a certain element of balance, but rarely do athletes train for it. Postures that help to improve balance, such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), and even standing postures such as Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) all help the athlete to establish a firm stance, no matter the position of the feet. This training helps athletes maintain balance as they engage in their sport.

Mindfulness may be the best reason of all for athletes to practice yoga. While yoga postures help to bring about better flexibility, relaxation, and balance, ultimately it is the mind that can make or break any athlete. Most athletes say that when they are fully engaged in their sport, they are able to reach a state of complete absorption—as though everything drops away and all that is left is the current moment. This is mindfulness. Rather than catching glimpses of this powerful state, yoga teaches continual mindfulness. Sure, it takes practice, but the more an athlete can reach this state on a regular basis, the better able they will be to perform when it matters.

Overall, yoga helps athletes get out of their heads and let go of competition. When the athlete is able to tune into the present moment—with a body awareness and comfort gained through the yoga practice—they can take their performance to the next level.