Yoga and How Serious Athletes Can Stay Healthy
I’ve always played tennis. I love every aspect of practice, competition, and the challenge of gradual improvement. But as I transition through my 30’s, the greatest challenge is to stay healthy.
Many people don’t understand the rigors of a sport played on concrete. Is there another sport played on something so tough on the body? Nearly every movement I make on the court is a quick start with a quick stop. Each swing is explosive, yet very asymmetrical, slowly deteriorating my body’s posture over time. My goal is to play tennis until the day that I die, but this isn’t going to be easy.
I played four years of college tennis and then continued to compete in adult tournaments through my 20’s. Many factors seemed to catch up to me through this time and the game became more and more painful. I put up with the increased pain and soreness for no other reason than because I knew no other way. I actually thought that the game was supposed to hurt – that it meant I’d practiced harder and better. Then, at 28 years old, I suffered a serious injury and for the first time, the pain was too great to play. My foot injury was mis-diagnosed by a doctor, and I spent 2.5 months in a walking boot only to find that it was not healed. I didn’t want to enter another round of doctor’s visits so instead I spent the next three years of my life playing damage control. Every day I limited my movement as much as possible. Tennis was not an option. My life hit an all time low.
I remember well the summer of 2012 when everything changed. I read this book (https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Visualization-Power-Imagination-Create/dp/1608684644/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494521648&sr=8-1&keywords=creative+visualization), where the author Shakti Gawain describes a healing meditation. I didn’t consider myself the type to meditate, but given the pain I’d been dealing with for about three years, I was willing to try anything. The short version of the story is that within a year of that first meditation I was healthy and playing tennis competitively again. Though meditation was no magic cure as some stories make it out to be, it helped me find my way. With consistent meditation practice I became better at quieting my endless thoughts, and listening to myself in a deeper way. At this point many things I needed became obvious. I needed yoga.
Athletes throughout sports are figuring it out. You must create a health plan, or you will spend your time trying to heal inevitable injuries. Athletes are figuring out that yoga must be an important part of their health plan. My mind was opened when I came across this article (https://www.si.com/edge/2014/06/27/rise-yoga-nba-and-other-pro-sports). I am amazed how LeBron James can stay healthy for about 100 basketball games a year and still manage to peak during the finals. Now I know. The reason is yoga.
I know I’m not LeBron James, but I don’t need to be the best at my sport to know the value that full health brings to my life. For over two years now yoga has served as the central focus of my health plan and I haven’t missed a day of practice. It’s combination of strength, flexibility, balance, awareness, and gratitude do so much more than just allow me to play tennis in full health. It has changed my understanding of what it really means to be healthy. Yoga has taught me that if I continually improve my posture throughout all my movements that my body will have no reason to hurt, even when I spend hours and hours running on concrete. Tennis weakens my posture, and yoga corrects it. Tennis and yoga are yin and yang. So as I see my tennis peers slouching, limping, and groaning increasingly with age, I feel the best I ever have. The reason is yoga.
I explained the rigors of tennis because that’s what I know best. But each sport brings with it it’s own demands. Athletes of all kinds can benefit from creating a health plan around a yoga practice. But unlike me, they should not wait to become injured to start. The time to begin your practice is now!