Benefits of Yoga for Basketball Players
Kevin Love – Clevland Cavalies
1. Yoga Can Help You Play Better Defence
When you’re trying to stay in front of a shifty opponent who’s looking to drive the lane, you need to be able to change direction in a fraction of a second. Yoga can help you do this by improving mobility in your hips.
“My ‘a-ha!’ moment came about six months after I finished playing [professional basketball] and began doing yoga regularly,” Katich says. “I was playing a pickup game with some friends who were in the NBA and CBA. There was a loose ball, and I remember I felt so comfortable and smooth going after it that I almost felt weird. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been stiff all of these years!’”
Hip opening moves like Reclining Pigeon and Happy Baby can loosen your outer and inner hip muscles. You’ll feel a big difference when you pivot, jab step, or change direction.
2. Yoga Helps You Be Lighter On Your Feet
Love said that, before yoga, he used to run on court in a way that put extra pressure on his hips, knees and ankles—three common trouble spots for basketball players. “I used to be more of a plodder,” he says. “You know, it was like cinderblocks hitting the floor when you’re running.”
Plodding sends extra shock through an athlete’s lower body and posterior chain (hips and spine). That’s a recipe for injury—and it can be exacerbated with the wrong footwear.
“These guys tape up their ankles and wear heavy shoes,” Katich says. “In yoga, on the other hand, you’re barefoot. That helps strengthen your ankles, arches, metatarsals [the bones in your feet], and the proprioceptor muscles [small muscles that help you maintain your balance] in your legs. When you improve your strength and mobility from the ground up, it can change your running form and make you lighter on your feet.”
A lighter step on the court confers two benefits: you move and react more quickly, and you put less stress on your knees and other joints.
3. Yoga Makes You Less Susceptible to Injury
Perhaps the NBA’s O.G. Yogi is the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played 20 seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers and who once said, “There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga. As preventative medicine, it’s unequaled.”
Yoga helps your body by lengthening and strengthening your muscles. Long, supple, flexible tissues are less prone to tears and damage than tight, rigid ones. Abdul-Jabbar credits his yoga practice for keeping him healthy as a player. He declared, “Once I started practicing [yoga], I had no muscle injuries during my career. Yoga can help any athlete with their hip joints, muscles, tendons, and knees. Plus it keeps you in touch with your body.”
Katich agrees that yoga increases one’s body awareness, and he adds that it provides athletes with the ability to take care of their nicks and dings before they become more serious. “The message I’m trying to shout to athletes is, ‘You can take care of yourself by knowing your own body and understanding how it works,’” Katich says. “Through yoga, you’ll be better able to notice the little warning signs that pop up within your body and address them before they become problems.”
4. Yoga Helps You Control Your Emotions
“You see it all the time in games,” Katich says. “A player doesn’t get a call. He gets frustrated. The first thing that goes is his breath—he loses control of it. The next thing he does is foul somebody.”
A major element of yoga practice is learning to control—or at least be more aware of—your breathing. Focusing on your breath not only helps you hold a difficult pose, it also increases your awareness of the task at hand when you’re doing non-yogic things, like playing hoops. When you take controlled, quality breaths, your day-to-day worries, the referee’s call that went against you, your shot that clanged off the rim—you’re better able to put them behind you and stay in the present moment.
“I compare it to eating,” Katich says. “No matter what, you’re going to eat. You have to in order to live. But what you choose to eat can make a big difference. Similarly, you have to breathe. It’s involuntary. But how will you choose to do it?”
5. Yoga Can Make You Taller By Improving Posture
Yoga is as much about lengthening the muscles as it is about strengthening them. Many yoga poses elongate the spine, creating space between the vertebrae, strengthening your core and improving your posture. The result: a taller you. And what baller wouldn’t want an extra inch or two?
“It’s a little weird because it sounds magical, but it’s true: I’m taller than I was,” Katich asserts. “The very nature of yoga is to help you stretch and get longer. It’s going to improve your posture, which will make you longer and taller.
Written By Brian Sabin