Yoga for athletes

13 oktober 2019 | Av Maria Rizell Hegg

If you have a car, you hopefully don’t start doing maintenance when the wheels are falling off... With this in mind, how do you go about maintaining your body? Do you ignore symptoms like pain until there’s no pill or other quick fixes that can make them bearable anymore? Maria Rizell Hegg tells us about the benefits of yoga for athletes.

The conscious pit stop

If you’re an athlete what is part of your concept for building yourself up?What are your tools for maintenance? Just like a Daytona 500 race car makes pit stops, not to mention the time spent on preparations before a race, with the ambition of maximizing output. What are your conscious pit stops, so that you can put all of your horsepower to use when it’s time?

I once worked with an amateur triathlete who was upping his game and starting to compete more. It was not until I pulled the car analogy the he understood the need of caring more for his body as a counter balance to the increased workload, just like how much a race car is tended to in comparison to a cab or station wagon.

Now you may think I want to sell yoga to you as a part of your training routine. I will later on motivate why and how it can be helpful but it may not be for you. Well, who can decide if it is?

Team player

A lot of team athletes are used to putting their trust in the people around them when it comes to physical matters, and a lot of team athletes are even required to. A team plays its best when working well together, still it consists of a group of individuals who can be very different, in many ways.

A great example of this is what I heard from Tobias Wörner, a physiotherapist and researcher with a special interest in athletic hip and groin pain. He’s done a series of studies on hockey players. Among them a study on hip and groin problems with 80% of the goaltenders in the two highest leagues in Sweden participating. Tobias told me about two players where the x-ray plates showed that both had CAM hip impingement. One of them experienced a lot of pain while the other was oblivious to this, as his hips felt just fine! Why? Maybe further studies will explain this, maybe they won't as we are pretty complex beings.

Listen to your body

Funny thing is, I don’t think the best race mechanics always follow standard procedure when fixing a car. But maybe it’s just me having the glorified idea that the best mechanics are those who are the best at listening to the engines and actually hearing what’s needed. And this is where yoga comes in as a conscious pit stop to tune in to yourself and your engine, getting to know how to maintain it to not leak energy. What could an energy leak be?

With a lack of mobility for example, let's say the ankles on a goalie, some other part of the body will have to compensate for this. In the worst-case scenario it may be the knee joint moving beyond healthy limits. It could also be stiff hips making the back bend and work more and so on. For someone who’s hypermobile energy leaks may be clear as going to end range movement always is a hazard, will the muscles hold to stabilize the joints making the movement secure? These are quite basic examples where most great physio-coaches probably are on top of their games.

But there are more factors

An SHL (Swedish Hockey League) goalie, who I just started to work with, expressed something that I think a lot of people can relate to. One day you feel like you’re a long time yogi or kung-fu-master and the next day you feel more like a fridge. When the fridge feeling kicks in what is your most effective way to increase circulation again without triggering imbalanced patterns in your body?

The key
A key thing with studying and practicing yoga, as I've understood it, is the study of the Self. The better you get at listening to the signals of your body AND learning how to respond to them, the better you will be at maintaining a healthy healthy and being fit for performance.

This is also key when I teach yoga. To sense your body before and after you do something, this also goes for breath and mind, so that you sense the effects of the practice and how your body and mind responds to it.

Still, even if given the facts in the form of x-ray plates, as mentioned above, how one individual experiences it may differ to the other. If your joints feel rusty and clunky, what helps you to lubricate them and create space? If you feel high strung, tense and tight, can you discern what is actually making you feel stiff and that another approach may actually be helpful to soften you up? What gives you more mobility when you feel resistance in your movement, stretching passive muscles or activating them with movement towards the end range? If you are a workhorse on and off ice/track/field have you ever experienced a fear of missing a training session at the same time as your body screams for recovery work?

Not learning all the poses but learning you
I believe learning to answer these questions, learning to listen and respond to your racing vehicle, your body, to make you the best pit stop mechanic is the first great thing yoga has to offer. Not learning all the poses and good stretches, but learning you! Then you can apply the different techniques that yoga offers.

For example:

  • Energetic practices for balance, body control and controlled movement relaxing practices to increase circulation while releasing tension, which can also help reset imbalanced patterns in the body rather than using tension to compensate for another tension.
  • Yoga Nidra, the yogic sleep, a recovery method so effective that the US Army is researching it so that the soldiers can sleep less!

For many, yoga is one thing, and it’s easy to deem it “not for me”. But, as I said, the first thing really, is to find out what helps you serve yourself, and this you do with the help of all of the different practices yoga, or other mindful practices, have to offer.

At Yogobe you can find me and the specific as well as more general work which I do with hockey players. But that’s not all, there are so many brilliant teachers and different techniques available for you. I hope you will give Yoga and Yogobe a try!


10 min

Yoga with

Hockey yoga, by Maria Rizell Hegg.

5 min

Yoga with

Quick sequence looking to release specifically the upper back, hips and front of thighs, Maria Rizell Hegg.

5 min

Yoga with

Denna korta, men effektiva, genomkörare fokuserar på bröstrygg, säte samt utsidan av sätet, av Monika Björn.

15 min

Yoga with

15 välinvesterade minuter där vi koncentrerar oss på de områden där både löpare och cyklister ofta känner sig stela i, av Monika Björn.

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Maria Rizell Hegg

Maria Rizell Hegg är yogaläraren vars fascination för ishockey som sport fått henne att specialisera sig inom yoga för hockeyspelare.

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