“It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.”
Yoga instructors love that line. But the odds of hearing it uttered in the gym, on the court or anywhere else that competition is king are slim.
But while the uber-competitive world of athletics often exudes a very different vibe from your everyday yoga studio, athletes have been turning to this ancient eastern practice for a variety of performance-boosting benefits.
If you’re an athlete looking for ways to boost your performance, breath deep and read these five benefits of yoga for athletes:
1. Improve Your Balance & Muscle Memory
Whether you’re a football player breaking tackles or a prima ballerina perfecting your pirouettes, athletes need great balance.
But balance improvements don’t come from bicep curls. Training techniques that improve the body’s neuromuscular coordination (aka muscle memory) are critical to developing an athlete’s balance.
As it turns out, yoga is one such practice.
Yoga trains your body to work as one, using multiple body parts to hold and transition between poses, which helps improve muscle memory and balance. Studies have also shown Hatha yoga — which focuses more on the physical aspects of yoga — can help improve postural control. 
2. Enhance Your Executive Function
Executive function is the brain’s ability to filter out distractions, stay on task and control emotional and habitual impulses. For athletes that need to make decisions on a dime (e.g., quarterbacks, point guards, goalies), that ability can make or break the result of a play, or game. 
Studies show that regularly practicing yoga can help improve several areas of executive function, including improved memory, reduced stress and anxiety and lower cortisol levels. 
If you’re an athlete looking for a mental and psychological boost, yoga may be just the practice for you.
3. Complement Your Core Workouts
Your core is at the center of all bodily movements. When you run, catch, climb, jump or lunge, your core plays a critical role in how well you perform. That’s why core exercises are part of nearly every world-class athlete’s training routine.
But many athlete’s core training routines tend to discount yoga in favor of traditional ab exercises, such as crunches and sit-ups. While those exercises are undoubtedly beneficial, studies show that practicing yoga for just a few weeks can also lead to significant improvements in core strength and stability. 
So, which is better?
Neither — they’re both beneficial in different ways. Rather than picking sides, combine the two to get the benefits from both practices and avoid hitting training plateaus.
4. Increase Your Aerobic Fitness
Efficient breathing is an essential part of any sport that requires consistent cardio. Most athletes turn to traditional forms of cardio (e.g., running, indoor cycling, interval training) in favor of yoga to improve their aerobic capacity. But studies show that yoga helps improve athletic endurance, as well as their ability to utilize oxygen during exercise. 
One study showed that swimmers who practiced regular yogic breathing practices (Pranayama) experienced increased respiratory muscle endurance and decreased airway resistance. As a result, they were able to take more strokes per breath.
Combine yoga and traditional cardio to reap the aerobic benefits of both practices.
5. Enhance Your Flexibility
Walk into a yoga class, and you’re likely to see students bending and twisting their bodies far beyond an average human’s range of motion. That’s no coincidence, as studies show that yoga can significantly improve overall body flexibility, providing athletes with a significant performance boost.
But before driving to your nearest yoga studio to sign-up, it’s important to note that different styles of yoga teach at varying speeds and intensity levels. So, results can vary from class to class.
In one study, the effects of hatha yoga and ashtanga yoga (the more intense practice) were compared. While both methods improved students’ flexibility, ashtanga yoga improved body flexibility by 20-percent compared to 14-percent for hatha yoga. So, be sure to check out the studio’s methodology and test drive a class or two before buying a membership. 
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