As is true for all high-impact sports, basketball is fun and exciting, but hard on the body. All that running and jumping makes you stiff, and stiff muscles are injury-prone. The game also can be highly stressful, which can take a toll if not properly managed. Ballers who add yoga to their workout routines, like LeBron James, are on to something – the two together are complementary medicine.
Basketball players run and jump, both forward and sideways. Explosive repetitive movements can tighten up the hips, ankles, and knees, all essential areas for pain-free mobility. Yoga balances basketball moves by focusing on stretching and strengthening the muscles around these areas, protecting the joints and muscles by increasing flexibility. The aerobic intensity of basketball, in turn, provides cardiovascular benefits.
Because of the high-impact nature of the game, basketball players wear cushioned, padded shoes. Yoga, by contrast, is performed with bare feet. Not a big deal? Think again; proprioception, or one’s ability to move the body in space, is improved when the feet come in contact with the floor or the earth. Poses that require balance further this facility, which then allows for greater reach and movement on the court.
Need another reason to add yoga to a basketball routine? Consider the psychological demands of the game. Improving one’s drishti, or focal point, and learning to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, are both essential capabilities for any good player. Can you stay cool in a hot game? Can you control your breathing while running hither and yon? Can you focus when an opponent is literally in your face and reaching around you, lightning fast, to steal the ball? Yoga improves all of this, and it also provides a balance from the fire of the game. Stretching is nice, but when yogic breathing and concentration are added, the result can be sheer magic.
In a perfect world, you’d have enough time to play two or three days a week and attend a couple of yoga classes on top of that, but this isn’t a perfect world, and we’re all chronically short on time. With that said, it’s a good idea to find a way to work at least a few classes in to pick up a few pointers on positioning. If you find that you’re able to attend a yoga class with a teacher at least once a week, so much the better.
Once you know how to properly execute the poses, you can start incorporating them into your cool-down. Perhaps start with one or two Surya Namaskars, or Sun Salutations, matching the breath to the movement and slowing down as you flow from one pose to the next. You will have then performed Plank and Standing Forward Bend, or Uttanasana, as well as Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Dog – all of these poses that stretch the lower back and hamstrings. After that, a few of the open-hip poses will work the sides of the body, balance out the stretches to the legs, and stretch out the arms and upper back. Try Virabhadrasana 2, or Warrior 2, Reverse Warrior, and Utthita Parsvakonasana, or Extended Side Angle, on each side. When you’re finished with these, there is no better stretch for the buttocks and psoas than Half Pigeon, or Ardha Kapotanasana, on each side. Allow yourself some time in Savasana to finish.
Enjoy the game, enjoy your yoga practice, and take time to appreciate yourself for taking care of your body!