It’s no secret that yoga has an extensive number of physical benefits.
But one of the specific things that makes it so appealing to so many people is that it can also help alleviate physical pain, most notably in the back (where pain can be so persistent and problematic). The stretching and flexibility required in yoga forces muscles associated with this sort of irritation to be stretched out, often through fairly basic poses such as upward- and downward-facing dog.
However, the role of yoga in alleviating physical pain actually goes far beyond these basics.
In fact, this form of exercise has become a central part of overall injury recovery and prevention for more and more people. A number of popular athletes, for example, have begun to incorporate yoga into their workout routines. Even hefty football players, who don’t fit the mold of the typical "yogi," have shown their appreciation for the practice.
"Obviously (yoga) helps with flexibility, what we call join integrity, discipline, focus and balance,"
Says James Collins, Los Angeles Chargers Director of Football/Medical Services says “[Yoga] helps you get through the season, helps reduce your chance of injury and things of that nature." Collins also explained that yoga, as opposed to regular stretching with its linear nature, greatly benefits multidirectional joints crucial to football, like elbows, wrists, ankles and hips. The practice helps keeps these joints pliable and makes recovery much easier.
Another mainstream sports figure who's spoken to the healing capabilities of yoga is LeBron James himself - one of the greatest basketball players who's ever lived. During Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, James went down with debilitating leg cramps. Yet he was good as new for Game 2. James credited this speedy recovery to yoga, explaining that he had elected to attend a yoga class the morning before the second game. In that game, James would play just under 38 minutes, scoring 35 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as his Miami Heat held off the Spurs in a close game.
Now 34 years old, James has actually become known as something of a yoga aficionado, and his recovery practices may be more important than ever in 2019-20 as he launches perhaps his last best bid for an NBA title. Bolstered by the addition of superstar Anthony Davis, James's Lakers are being listed by international bookmaking sites with some of the best odds, if not the best odds, to win the championship. If the Lakers are to make good on those bookmaker projections, James will have to preserve his body despite the staggering mileage he's put on it. And for that matter, Davis - who has a fairly extensive injury history - may also benefit from learning some of James's practices.
These highlight examples from some of the most popular and visible sports leagues on Earth demonstrate that athletes are taking notice of yoga's value in injury recovery. And to further clarify that value, it's worth pointing out that yoga doesn't just vaguely help with muscle preservation and joint recovery. There are in fact various specific poses that can be beneficial for common sports-related issues. For instance, the common foot and heel injury plantar fasciitis can be helped by sole stretches that occur in yoga routines; inflammation of the rotator cuff (a problem for athletes in many sports) can be alleviated by the simple plank pose, and variations on it. And as mentioned, there are numerous simple poses that can address lower back pain, or back stiffness in general.
The list could go on, both of athletes who have been open about benefiting or even prolonging their careers visa yoga, and of specific poses and exercises that can combat common injuries and strains. Hopefully though, the information above has expanded your view of what yoga is capable of in the world of sports. It isn't just preventative, and it isn't just for fitness - it can also, at least in some respects, heal.