Curious about how Yoga can complement your football? Read onto find out more…
Dedicated to #TeamStHelena participating in the Ynys Mon (Anglesey) Inter Games Football Tournament 2019 15-22 June. If you’re reading this guys, I hope you will be inspired by Yoga enough to give it a try. Well done on making history as the first St Helena Football Team to compete on an International level!
For those who don’t know, St Helena Island is where I grew up!
Why is Yoga Great for Footballers?
Today, yoga is a mainstay for professional athletes and teams and more and more people are discovering the countless ways that yoga can be used to improve athletic performance – from increasing mental concentration and improving flexibility and balance to preventing common injuries and honing skills.
As football involves a lot of running and strenuous action on the legs, yoga offers incredible benefits for footballers. Footballers (or any athletes for that matter) can benefit greatly from integrating yoga into their training. Many top professionals advocate for yoga, saying it improves the longevity of an athlete’s playing career.
Did you know that Ryan Giggs often refers to yoga as his “Fountain of Youth” and a huge reason behind his ability to play into his 40s! And, have a look on the link below to see what other professional footballers swear by Yoga. (Spolier: Messi & Ronaldo included 😉
Benefits of Yoga for Footballers
- Preventing injuries
- Improving flexibility (especially in the hips & hamstrings where footballers tend to experience more tightness)
- Stretching and strengthening muscles
- Improving concentration
- Improving balance and coordination
- Optimising organ function
- Increasing energy and endurance
6 Beneficial Yoga Poses for Footballers
Here are 6 yoga poses (asanas) for all you footballers to try. You may also find my blog on 10 Simple Yoga Poses for Beginners a great introduction to yoga.
1. Downward-Facing Dog Pose
The Downward Facing Dog pose stretches the hamstrings and calves, as well as the shoulders. It also calms the nervous system.
To start, come to your hands and knees, then spread your fingers and push firmly into the ground. Tuck your toes under and rise up through your hips into the pose. Keep a slight bend in your knees and then aim to get your heels down on the ground (it’s ok if they won’t go all the way down). Keep your back straight and long and your tailbone pointing towards the ceiling.
Draw the shoulder blades towards the spine and actively try to lower them, rotating your upper arms outwards. Stay for at least 5 breaths (5 x inhalations and exhalalations.) More extensive info on this pose can be found here.
2. Warrior I Pose
Warrior 1 pose opens and stretches the groin and stomach while strengthening the ankles and legs. You can start from Mountain pose (instructions for mountain pose can be found here). Keep the feet hip-width distance apart and then step your left foot back about a legs-length or to wherever feels good and keeps you grounded. Your left foot is planted on the floor and your left toes pointing toward the upper left corner of your mat (approx. 45 degrees.) If you feel like you’re about to topple over, adjust your stance but do keep your left toes pointing toward the upper left corner of your mat, and keep your hips levelled and facing forwards.
Then bend your front right knee. Find a good balance and if you can, on an inhale, raise your arms above your head; palms facing each other and fingers spread open. Hold the pose for at least 5 breaths. More extensive info on this pose can be found here.
3. One-Legged Pigeon Pose
The Pigeon pose is a deep hip opening pose, stretching the hip rotators as well as the quadriceps and hip flexors. Activities like running, walking, and cycling build strength in your hips, but they do not flex or stretch your hips and can end making them feel tighter. Stress is also a major contributor to tight hips, as we tend to hold tension in the hip area.
Come to your hands and knees, and slide your left knee up closely behind your left wrist. If the knee feels stressed, bring the right ankle closer to the right hip. Centre yourself so that your weight is even.
Then slide your right leg back behind you; straighten it and let the front of your thigh sit on the floor. Look behind you to make sure your back leg is extended straight and not out to one side. Make sure your back thigh is rotating inward and press all five toe nails of your back foot onto the ground.
Now lower the outside of your left butt cheek to the floor. Your body will want to avoid putting weight on your left hip, especially if it is tight. Try to maintain equal weight in both hips.
You can stay upright, placing your fingertips on the ground and lengthening your torso. Or move down towards a sleeping pigeon pose (see pic below), by either supporting the upper body with your elbows, or lowering yourself completely to the floor. Place a blanket or a block under your left hip if you need support to keep the hips even. Stay for 6-8 long, steady breaths and repeat on the other side.
4. Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend
A.k.a Wide Angle Straddle Pose, this is a great pose for creating space in the groin and inside the legs while strengthening your spine. To do this, start by sitting in Staff Pose.
- Sit down on the ground with your legs together and extended straight out in front of you. Move the flesh out from underneath your sitting bones and root them firmly down into the ground.
- Flex your feet and press your heels down. Activate your legs without hyper-extending your knees.
- Plant your palms beside your hips with your fingertips pointing toward your toes, and press into your hands to sit up tall.
- Gently draw your low ribs in and find a slight lift in your sternum, bringing your torso perpendicular to the floor. Soften the tops of your shoulders and relax your shoulder blades down your back.
- Lengthen all the way from your tailbone up and out through the crown of your head, and tuck your chin in slightly toward your chest.
Now transition into Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend by taking your legs out wide. If you find that your lower back is curving, place a block under your hips.
You’ll want to create space and length between the pubic bone and your navel. Take your hands behind your back, your fingers facing forward, and lift the sternum. Sitting up straight might already give you a good stretch in the groin, so you can stay upright.
If not, hinge from the hips and slowly walk your hands forward. As soon as you find yourself bending from the waist, stop going further and keep your spine straight. Stay in this pose for about a minute if you can.
5. Twisting Low Lunge
When your knee lowers to the floor in a lunge position, it is called a ‘low lunge’. A twisting low lunge shown here, creates space in the thoracic spine; stretches back extensors, ilia-psoas & thighs.
Starting on your hands and knees, step one foot between hands. Lower back knee to floor (use padding if needed), aligning front knee with hip joint and front ankle. Inhale and use your lower abdominals to lift weight off of your front hip joint, lengthening up through the entire torso. On an exhale, twist, bringing opposite elbow to outside of front knee, drawing bottom ribs towards inner thigh. Lengthen your spine on inhalations, deepen twists on exhalations. Take 5 breaths on each side.
6. Crescent Lunge / High Lunge Pose
This pose looks very similar to Warrior I. However, in Crescent pose, the heel of the back foot is lifted off the mat, toes are tucked under and pressing into the ball of the foot.
See below infographic for visual guidance on this pose:
For a variation of this pose, try bending/dipping the back knee. This activates the quadricep muscles of both legs even more. This variation is more accessible for those with very tight hip flexor muscles as they may not be able to extended the back leg straight. This variation actually offers more strength-building in both legs.
How often should I practice Yoga?
If you only practice for 30 minutes to one hour a week, you will start to experience the benefits of the practice quickly. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. Be patient with it, it might seem hard at first but you will see results if you keep it practicing it regularly.
Is breathing important during yoga practice?
YES!! Without the breath, yoga is no longer yoga. And with the wrong breath, yoga can adversely affect the body. Knowing when to inhale and when to exhale is imperative. Because breath and movement are naturally linked, they must be intelligently paired in yoga. Correct yogic breathing supports the asana (yoga poses) movement and deepens its effects. The basic rules are:
Inhale when opening the front of the body:
Inhalations expand the chest and abdomen. To intelligently link inhalations to movement, any asanas (yoga poses) that open the front body should be practiced on an inhalation. These include backbends, raising the head, and raising the arms.
Exhale when compressing the front of the body:
In the Seated Forward Bend pose, for example, the back is stretched and the front of the body contracts. You should move into all forward bends on an exhalation. Twists and side bends, which restrict expansion of the chest and abdomen, should also be practiced on an exhalation.
If you were to inhale while coming into a forward bend, twist, or side bend, you would be expanding your chest and abdomen with the breath, but compressing them with the movement. This contradiction would adversely affect the body.
Take-home message for footballers:
Strength, endurance, flexibility, and mental focus are only a few of the benefits of yoga that can help athletes perform well in their chosen sports. Aside from being a form of physical exercise, yoga is also recognised as a form of healing and therapy that helps athletes recover from their many sports-related injuries, and can generally improve mental and physical health.
Remember, yoga is not just a workout, it is a work-in! It is so much more than just a way to work out and keep in shape. Yoga teaches you how to listen to your body. Yoga means union and it essentially means, that which unites the physical and the spirit. Through the practice of breath control, meditation and performing poses, yoga helps strengthen your body and your mind.
Wishing you many more years of success in sports and well-being!