Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs credits yoga for keeping him in the game. Faced with debilitating hamstring injuries, Giggs worked with yoga teacher Sarah Ramsden to improve his strength and flexibility. Ultimately, Giggs, who made his debut for United in 1991, was able to move past his ailments and keep playing at the highest level well into his late 30s. Whether you play soccer professionally or just for fun, yoga exercises can provide a wide range of benefits.
As did Giggs, many soccer players experience hamstring pulls or tears. These types of injuries may be prevented with better flexibility in the back of your legs. Certain yoga exercises effectively stretch the hamstrings, such as Standing Forward Bend, Intense Side Stretch and Downward-Facing Dog. It’s also important to have flexibility in your hip flexors, quadriceps and calves to avoid injury while you’re dribbling, kicking and running. Triangle pose, along with the High Lunge and Low Lunge, work to stretch these muscle groups.
Knee injuries are also common in soccer players due to the cutting movements demanded of players. Balancing yoga postures strengthen the ligaments and muscles around your knees and ankles, which can prevent injury and misalignment. Try practicing balances such as Half Moon, Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe pose and Lord of the Dance pose. These postures also build your flexibility by stretching muscle groups in your legs and hips.
Soccer players need strong core muscles to anchor the hard-working legs and arms and promote agility. Your core consists of the muscles in your torso, including your abdominals and lower back muscles. Several yoga postures build strength in your entire core, such as Chair pose, Plank, Boat pose and Crane. Other yogic techniques like uddiyana bandha, or upward abdominal lock, help tone your core. Avoid performing uddiyana bandha if you have stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or are menstruating or pregnant.
Athletes talk about being “in the zone,” the state of being in which you’re purely focused and aware. Yogic breathing techniques, or pranayama, can help calm your nervous system and channel your mental energy in such a way. Try performing 10 minutes of pranayama each time you practice yoga, using a simple technique such as ujjayi, or controlled breathing. Your inhales and exhales should sound like gentle ocean waves. Visualize your perfect feint, goal or save as you breathe.
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