Sports News Article
Published: 14th March 2011
Ashtanga yoga is an ideal form of yoga for the tennis player, it is a dynamic and challenging practice that requires effort, determination and discipline. It is said that where there is no effort there is no benefit. Strength, stamina and sweat are unique aspects of this traditional yoga, seemingly contrary to Western perceptions of yoga. A demanding system synchronising the breath with movement, it promotes a strong, flexible body and a relaxed, focused mind and consequently is a great compliment to any tennis player, whatever their level.
I joined Berkhamsted Tennis Club in June 2010 and whilst I am a beginner to tennis I have already noticed how imbalanced you become when playing. Through yoga our aim is to balance our bodies both physically and mentally. We use the whole body, not isolated parts. A tennis player will put more strain on one side of the body creating an imbalance as they use specific muscle groups rather than every muscle group. Ashtanga yoga uses every muscle group for better flexibility, it improves strength and stamina, and it creates unity of mind, body and spirit.
A tennis player needs the ability to stretch for shots, being more flexible would give them extra length and would aid mobility across the court. Whether serving, playing a forehand, backhand or volley, the muscles around the shoulders and back, the knees, hamstrings and hip flexors are all are brought into play. Greater flexibility in all these areas would aid this motion, alleviating the stress placed on each joint and muscle group caused during the execution of each shot.
A tennis player needs calmness of mind especially during matches. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to play matches with the same confidence that we have when training. The increased pressure of match play causes us to lose some of our self confidence and what should be easy shots suddenly become hard, we make unforced errors and then lose our concentration and control. Yoga can help us regain control of our senses through breathing correctly, which will encourage a calmness of mind.
The breath is one of the most important aspects of ashtanga yoga. By being aware of your breath you are able to create an inner peace and calm, a steadiness of mind to aid stressful situations such as set or match point. When in a stressful situation you will often find that the first thing affected is your breath, it may get faster, harder or forced. Learning to be mindful of the breath is an asset to any demanding situation not just tennis matches.
Tennis is as much a mental sport as a physical one. A tennis player needs to be in the moment, focused on each and every shot, not worrying about previous points or the possible outcome. Yoga aids this mental concentration enabling the practitioner to be in the present.
A story I often tell to my yoga students is of two monks walking along a riverside. They come across an old lady trying to cross the river, and ask if they can help by carrying her across. She is most grateful and they duly take her across and continue on their journey. Some two hours later, one monk says to the other ”Do you think we were right to carry that lady across the river?” The other replied “Why are you still carrying her, I left her behind at the river”. Learning to let things go and being able to focus on every shot is an important asset for every tennis player.
In short ashtanga yoga is physically superb and mentally outstanding for most disciplines, not just tennis. It is suitable for men and women, beginner and accomplished athlete. Yoga may be something you view with a little scepticism but great tennis players – Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, practice it for a reason, so why not try it and see?
Cathy Haworth teaches ashtanga yoga in Berkhamsted to beginners and advanced students, tennis players and non-athletes. For more information on her classes go to www.bayogastudio.co.uk