From building strength and flexibility to getting into to the right mindset, yoga is instrumental in athletic success. However, yoga is not only a preparatory tool. It can also be used effectively to unwind from physical activity and to aid in recovery. Contrary to popular belief, flexibility is not a requirement when you practice yoga. In fact, yoga helps you to increase your range of motion in joints that you didn’t think possible. Strength-building or endurance exercises tend to tense up and shorten specific muscles due to repeated contractions. Meanwhile, yoga poses can elongate muscles and tendons, which in turn, relieves tension.

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For example, Nike Master Trainer Traci Copeland claims that yoga stretches the body out. Her yoga routine is actually patterned after track and field superstar Allyson Felix’s program. This offers great relief from soreness caused by running, or even just from being inactive for extended periods of time. Many runners develop the Iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome) due to the overuse of the IT band. When the IT band is tight, stretches such as supta padangusthasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose) or anjaneyasana (low lunge) can be very helpful. Another example is the cat-cow pose for overworked shoulders. The key is to find poses that elongate the tight areas instead of contracting them further.

Because breathing is an important element in yoga, it can go a long way towards recovery. Proper breathing techniques lead to a more consistent supply of oxygen to the muscles. Oxygen is required for muscles to function efficiently and for improving circulation. If there isn’t enough oxygen in the bloodstream, it can lead to prolonged muscle inflammation— a known source of swelling and pain.

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Focusing on breathing also contributes to the meditative side of recovery. LeBron James’ trainer, Mike Mancias revealed to GQ Magazine that meditation and yoga are actually part of the basketball star’s daily recovery routine. The physical aspect counts as his stretching session while meditation helps the athlete sleep better. Sufficient sleep is crucial to the recovery process as the muscles repair and rebuild as we rest, enabling them to become stronger. James’ yoga routine also included Bubble Yoga using the Waff mini Elites inflatable pads, which helps reduce stress, enhances balance and helps the body to recover. This very thorough approach to recovery is why James has remained at the top of his game for so long. In fact, at 34-years-old, yoga is more important than ever for the basketball star. James is actually one of the highest earning sports stars in the world, and if he wants to stay at the top, there’s no doubt that yoga will play a big part in extending his career.

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However, not all types of yoga are beneficial for recovery. Instructor Chris Magee details several variations of yoga that you’ll find in a gym, but restorative yoga is the most suitable for active individuals looking to help with recovery. It focuses on ‘release work rather than flow’ and uses props extensively for support. Unlike the Vinyasa or Power styles, it’s not about the smooth flow from one pose to the next but about holding poses longer to achieve muscle relief.

Whether you are an elite athlete or just starting out, yoga is beneficial for everyone. If you’re interested in incorporating restorative yoga in your routine but don’t know where to start, check out Big Bear Yoga Festival’s summary of author Josh Kaufman’s experience as a beginner, outlined here on Big Bear Yoga Festival’s website.

Written by Alyanna Channel Exclusive for bigbearyogafestival.com

About: Alyanna Channel is a yoga instructor with over five years of experience. She teaches four different styles of yoga: Hatha, Yin, Pre- and Post-natal yoga. As an avid rock climber and trail runner, Alyanna has turned to her yoga practice for her recovery sessions and hopes to share its benefits to others. Connect with Alyanna and find out more here.