In this blog, Mental Grit looked into a very important form of meditation that people often take for granted – Yoga and Sports. This technique has been proven useful alongside mental skills training to help athletes unlock their full potential. Heather Hagan, who is a USA triathlon coach and a certified strength and conditioning coach, tells us how she fused yoga with her other coaching techniques to great effect.
Yoga has become a standard part of our culture but most of us still dismiss it as “stretching” when in fact it is far more than that.
Elite athletes NFL stars to marathon runners have found it to be an invaluable addition to their training. And of course, so have coaches.
USA triathlon coach Heather Hagan is one of them. She is a level 2 triathlon coach, a USA cycling coach and a certified strength and conditioning coach having done a stint with the Alabama State university football team, where she worked with football players on injury prevention and core strengthening. So, it’s fair to say Heather is a well-rounded and experienced coach in its quintessential form. But in an attempt to elevate herself above a growing niche of triathlete coaches, Heather took it a step further by becoming a Yoga instructor.
“I started looking for ways to be a little different in order to stand out because there are more and more triathlete coaches now, who like me, are certified in strength and conditioning and injury prevention as well.”
It turned out to be a very good decision.
“Having practiced yoga personally, the act of quietness and being still was always a part of me so I blended that aspect of mental skills training with my coaching and it has helped so much. I’ve had athletes say that the only reason they were able to complete races was because they knew that the mental preparation I had them use built their self-esteem and confidence up ready for that day.” Properly practiced, yoga can improve every part of an athlete’s performance, from endurance to power to speed, while also promoting overall health and wellness.
But most people dismiss Yoga as an unorthodox exercise for ‘weirdos’, even athletes.
“Initially, when it came to the Yoga sessions at the end of practice, I realized that a lot of them were uncomfortable with that quiet moment. I have to explain to them that it’s not some creepy out of this world thing, it’s actually very beneficial.”
The True Purpose of Yoga and Sports
But Yoga is different from the western concept of exercise. The physical benefits of Yoga for the athlete does not compare to the more ephemeral benefits. For most athletes think yoga is a great “workout” – a means to tighten the core and tone the body. Normally as soon as the rigorous portion ends and it’s time for the meditative portion of the session, the savasana (corpse pose), where the student lies down on his or her back for a period of quiet meditation, some leave under the false belief that this aspect unnecessary and the hard work is already done. So it’s no surprise Heather has that issue with her triathlete clients, who are type A personalities. When it comes to Yoga, it’s widely believed that savasana is where the magic happens – the best and most beneficial part of the practice. According to experts, the series of physically challenging yoga asanas were conceived and organized as a means to prepare the mind and body to reap maximum benefit from the subsequent meditation.
Yoga and Sports – the Benefits for Athletes
As a mental skills technique yoga’s main purpose and benefit is to improve a person’s ability to quell, quiet and control the impulses of their mind, which is way more elusive than you might think. The human mind is a mysterious contraption that can be an enemy, constantly feeding us negative and fear-based signals that keep us trapped and even paralyzed. Consistent Yoga practice helps clear the mental clutter that invades our daily experience and undermines our best self, unlocking the untapped potential that significantly aids optimum performance.
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