Yoga and Basketball: Bringing Your Mat Skills to the Gym

Whether you practice yoga seriously or just recreationally use it to help stretch your muscles, there is no denying that what you do is going to be beneficial when you step onto the basketball court. Here is how this applies.

The Pros Use Yoga

Kevin Love, one of the best basketball players in NBA today, is one of the biggest proponents of using yoga to improve the game.

Love credits yoga with helping him get leaner and improving his game. During the off-season, he performs hour-long yoga sessions two to three times per week under the guidance of instructor Kent Katich, a former basketball player himself, at the University of South Dakota and professionally overseas.

Today Katich trains Love, Blake Griffin and other high profile athletes at his studio in Westwood, California. And this month Katich and Love teamed up with yoga and wellness brand Gaiam to release Yoga for Flexibility, a new yoga program geared towards athletes. He says, "Yoga teaches stretching, strengthening, and breathing, and it helps you get in tune with your body. That helps in basketball—or in any sport, really."

Regular yoga practice can yield big benefits, but Katich maintains that even a few minutes can be helpful. "It's not about doing an hour of yoga every day," he says. "It's about how you feel, and what you need right now." (Source).

Love points out that there are at least 5 compelling ways that yoga will help the game of basketball. “It can help you play better, make you lighter on your feet, less susceptible to injury, help you control your emotions and make you taller.” (Source).

College Basketball Superstars Use Yoga

Love is not the only professional who has embraced yoga as a way to help improve basketball games for coaches and players (even for fans). UNC Men’s Basketball has a yoga instructor on the payroll that helps the team train. Her name is Sage Rountree. In a write-up in Yoga Journal Rountree describes her favorite 4 yoga poses for players:

  • Warrior II Pose. WHY Stretch your chest, strengthen your glutes, and stretch your inner thighs, which helps protect your knees as you move through the court. HOW Take a wide stance, lunging your left knee just over your left ankle. Keep your shoulders over your hips as you stretch your arms parallel to the ground and gaze over your left fingertips.

  • Exalted Warrior Pose. WHY Lengthen the side of the torso, stretch your lats, and improve your reach in this variation on Warrior II. HOW From Warrior II, lift your left arm overhead and rest your right hand gently on your right thigh. Holding the lunge in the left leg will build strength to protect your knee; if you are tired or would like to look like the Air Jordan Jumpman logo, straighten your left leg.

  • Triangle Pose. WHY Build lower leg and core strength, as you lengthen your hamstrings and stretch your chest. HOW From Exalted Warrior, straighten your left leg and lean over, resting your left hand lightly on your thigh or shin. Stretch your right arm straight overhead and roll your chest open toward the ceiling or sky.

  • Dancer Pose. WHY Build lower leg and hip strength in the standing leg, as you stretch the hip flexors, quads, and ankle of the lifted leg. Plus, build focus for free throws. HOW Stand on your left leg, holding your inner right foot or ankle with your right thumb facing up. Kick your right foot into your right hand and lean your chest forward.

While Katich travelled with the Clippers to all of their games for 9 years, from 2004 to 2013, he used Yoga to help get the players ready for the court. A decade and a half ago this was pretty far out there stuff; today there is a yoga studio on every urban block and in every small town - and yet somehow yoga is not quite in the mainstream when it comes to basketball training. That said, when you go this route with your team you will be in good company, with plenty of resources to help.

Kids Sports Yoga Proponents

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Even ActiveKids.com, a website that keeps up with all of the ways youth can be kept fit and moving around in communities and is “the leader in online event registration from 5k running races and marathons to softball leagues and local events…. And prepare for all the things you love to do with expert resources… and fitness calculators” has a yoga poses for basketball players resource. The website points out that:

Playing basketball requires a lot of jumping, great hand-eye coordination and a high endurance for running up and down the court.

All of that repetitive jumping, twisting and running motion takes its toll on the body; tight hamstrings, sore hip flexors, backaches and shoulder tightness, creaky knees and tight Achilles tendons. These are all common ailments of basketball players young and old. To keep a basketball player from sitting on the bench due to an injury, yoga can be a huge asset.

Yoga is good for stretching, strengthening and increased mobility of the muscles, but it's also great for breath control and spatial awareness; all traits that a basketball player needs.

Whether you choose to put your players through the poses and paces suggested by any of these experts, or your personal favorites, there are really good reasons to train the team using yoga. You will have safer, more fit, and more focused kids taking to the court.

Felipe Leon