Yoga Research: Mindfulness and Athletic Performance

Swimmer practicing yoga and mindfulness

When it comes to playing sports, the mental game is as, if not more, important than the physical one. And plenty of research has shown that mindfulness and athletic performance are inextricably linked—in a good way. In order to perform physically, the mind needs to be in the right state. Only then can it accurately receive signals from the body and the environment, as well as send signals to the body.⁣⁣

Being able to be fully present to receive information means being able to acknowledge—but not attach to—outside information. Negative thoughts, performance fears, self-criticism, noise, even an achy Achilles are all signals that can crowd the brain. They can pull their focus and attention away from delivering 100 percent to the task at hand. And that can happen, whether it’s the next corner kick on the soccer field or slalom race on a ski course.

Running Soccer Football Players. Footballers Kicking Football Match game for great mindfulness and athletic performance

Mindful Yoga: The Link Between Mindfulness and Athletic Performance⁣

But practicing mindfulness, particularly mindful yoga, ⁣can help improve an athlete’s mental game. How? By fostering a nonjudgemental performance attitude. Mindfulness encourages athletes to develop their moment-to-moment awareness. It can train their brain to accept the existence of thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

What’s more: It can re-establish their mind-body connection. Doing so will help them become aware of important body sensations while performing. And practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting still. In fact, yet another study highlighting how mindfulness benefits athletic performance has recently come out. And it suggests that practicing yoga could offer an athletic advantage. The Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise published the systemic review this past March. It found that practicing yoga helped athletes reduce their performance anxiety by 65 percent. They also reported their overall athletic performance improved by nearly 8 percent.

Yoga and healthy lifestyle concept group of people doing Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana on mats at studio for great mindfulness and athletic performance

And for athletes, yoga may be a more beneficial mindfulness practice than either cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or meditation as it’s an active intervention. This review even suggests yoga should be a standard in athletic training programs for its power to help regulate the mind of performance athletes. And we agree.

Connecting Mind, Breath, and Movement

Yoga class with women practicing Alternate Nostril powerful breathing practice for great mindfulness and athletic performance

We teach yoga, we know the power of yoga, the magic that happens when we connect the mind to the breath, the breath to the movement, the mind to the body. That awareness makes it easier for us to learn new movements, know how to make adjustments, and down-regulate our nervous system into a flow state.

Bottom line: More efficient movement patterns come from inner awareness of being able to perceive and create ease. So if you’re looking for something to give you an edge over your competition, we suggest starting here.

How to Practice Mindfulness for Athletic Performance

Discover the link between mindfulness and athletic performance by exploring these three mindful yoga practices:

Foundations of Mindfulness

Foundations of Mindfulness

This practice provides an introduction to mindful meditation. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve psychological health and wellbeing by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression and helping to promote emotional regulation, and more. Through these techniques, we train our attention to stay present and improve our focus.

Grounding Meditation for Stress and AnxietyIFrame

Grounding Presence for Stress and Anxiety

Harness your awareness of the present moment to help process feelings of anxiety, and enhance your ability to handle stress more efficiently. Yoga teacher Amber Gregory will guide you through some simple mindful stretches, breathing techniques, and guided meditation. Start the day with a new mindset, gain composure before an important meeting, and/or unwind and change gears at the end of the day.

Short and Sweet Restorative YogaIFrame

Short and Sweet Restorative Yoga

This is a gentle, grounding, restorative practice that begins with self-massage with a ball for the pectorals, and ends with a supported backbend to open the chest. We use physical sensation and breath sensation to guide awareness and arrive in a moment of restful presence.

Reprinted with permission from ThreesPhysiyoga.

Diana Zotos Florio is a physical therapist, yoga teacher, certified strength and conditioning specialist, mother of three, and the cofounder of Threes Physiyoga Method. A constant mover, she loves all forms of exercise and considers movement to truly be medicine. 

Prior to founding TPM, Diana spent seven years working as a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery treating anyone from inpatient joint replacement patients to professional marathon runners. She’s been practicing yoga for over 20 years and has always treated her patients through the lens of yoga. Diana completed yoga teacher training at OM Yoga in NYC in 2010.

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