Yoga for Swimmers: 3 Ways Yin Yoga Can Improve Your Performance

Yin yoga is a slower moving style of yoga. When I say slow I mean slow!

The intent of yin yoga is to not only stretch the muscle tissue, but to affect the deeper connective tissue in the body by using poses that are typically held between three to five minutes.

The poses chosen for a yin yoga class are determined by two factors; does the pose allow the musculature to relax and can it be held for a longer period of time.

A yin yoga class will typically have poses that include a back bend, a forward fold, a twist and a hip opener. This style of yoga can be quite intense dependent on how an athlete approaches the practice.

There are many ways that yin yoga can benefit athletes. In this article I will go over three of them:

  • Mental Toughness
  • Recovery
  • It Makes Yoga More Accessible

Mental Toughness

The mental aspect of a yin yoga practice is very beneficial in two ways. The first is it challenges an athlete to be out of their comfort zone for a longer period of time. One of the guidelines in a yin yoga practice is come into a pose at 80% of your max range of motion. However the intent is still to come into a pose where an athlete is outside of their comfort zone. Since an athlete will be outside of their comfort zone anywhere from three to five minutes the challenge is to find a way to get through this discomfort.

The second is when staying in stillness an athlete is challenged to create a state of mindfulness, which sharpens their focus. Mindfulness and focus are two areas that are a great benefit in sport. When athletes describe competing in a ‘flow state’ or competing in the ‘zone’ they often talk about how they are engulfed in the present moment and how their focus becomes laser sharp. By practicing this state during a yin yoga session athletes will have a better chance at being able to create this state during a performance.

The key to practicing this type of mindfulness and focus is the breath. If an athlete anchors their attention on their breath the self talk that creates doubt and mental discomfort will have less of an effect on them because their attention is centred on their breath. Because an athlete does not attach their focus on these thoughts this negative self talk can leave their awareness more quickly.

Recovery

Yin yoga enhances an athlete’s ability to recover more efficiently. With the goal of affecting the musculature at a deeper level athletes will be able to release tension that they cannot in other forms of training. Mentally it allows athletes to become more mindful in a way that they can release their attention and attachment on thoughts that are causing anxiety and negative stress.

The timing of a yin yoga practice is very important. Within the season I have found the best time to bring in this type of yoga is during periods where the focus is on recovery. That may be within a hard training cycle when athletes are under a great amount of physical or mental stress or during a taper phase.

The timing of a yin yoga session during your week or day is also very important. Since the physical goal of yin yoga is to reach deeper muscle and connective tissue a session should be placed at the after a practice not before a practice. Since athletes are gaining greater length in the connective tissue the joint capsules may be more lax immediately after this type of session. If you place a demand on an athlete to create force that involves the joints affected in a yin yoga class it could leave them vulnerable to injury.

It Makes Yoga More Accessible

For many people starting a yoga practice is a challenge. Often they feel they are not flexible enough and/or strong enough.

A yin yoga practice is a great way for people to overcome those misconceptions. First yin yoga allows athletes to be in a pose for an extended period of time, which enables them to find positioning or alignment that will work for their specific range of motion. One of the guidelines for a yin yoga practice is to come into a pose at 80% of your max range, therefore an athlete will not have an expectation to force themselves into a specific position.

Many yin yoga poses can be adapted to an athlete’s individual range of motion through the use of props. Props will allow athletes to come into a pose in a way that does not put a demand on their body, which may make them feel that pose is impossible to access.

When it comes to strength yin yoga does demand much if any strength in the majority of poses. Since the goal is to create a deeper release in the musculature and connective tissue an athletes needs to allow the body to release tension. When using strength tension is created with in an athlete’s musculature, which directly contradicts the purpose of a yin yoga practice.

Guidelines When Practicing Yin Yoga

There are a few guidelines that I feel are extremely important when practicing yin yoga. They include:

  • Allowing yourself to come into a pose rather than forcing yourself to come into a pose. Many people will think they have to look a certain way for a pose to be beneficial, this is not the case. If you need to do not be afraid to use props to adapt poses for your specific range of motion. A yin yoga teacher will be able to help you with this.
  • Come into a pose to 80% of your maximum range and/or intensity. You should feel intensity in the pose, but you want to feel an amount of intensity where you will be able to release tension in the musculature being targeted. Your best guide will be your breath. If you are holding your breath at any point you need to lessen the intensity of the pose. You should always be breathing with ease.
  • If you are hypermobile in a specific joint you should not practice a yin pose targeted at that joint. This is extremely important because one of the most common causes of injury in any athlete is hypermobility. Since yin yoga is focusing on lengthening deeper muscular and connective tissue to help improve mobility, for someone who is hypermobile it may create instability within a joint.
  • Focus on breath. Through a yoga practice you can learn the skill of intentional relaxation. One of the best way to do this is to allow your exhales to release the tension you are feeling in the area targeted in a pose.

*Follow this link to get a short yin yoga sequence for the back, shoulders and hips.

This Yoga for Swimmers article is brought to you by Swimming Specific Yoga the world’s top resource for online yoga classes and courses designed for swimmers.

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About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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