Yoga for Swimmers: Keys to a Strong, Safe and Effective Practice

Athletes and coaches have many questions when considering the implementation of a yoga practice for swimmers. The most important question to have answered is; how do you make a yoga practice safe and effective?

Here are six keys to developing a safe and effective yoga practice.

Intention

Incorporating yoga practice for swimmers into your training can have many benefits. One amazing thing about yoga is that classes can be designed to match almost any focus. Sessions are created in a holistic manner and can fit seamlessly into your periodization.

Before participating in a yoga class know what your intention is. Are you targeting core body strength? Do you want to improve mobility? Or are you looking to recover from an intense workout in the pool?

All of the above can enhance your ability to perform in the water, but classes are designed differently based on the intention.

As with any training you need to have clarity about why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Awareness

There are two aspects of awareness that are key in a yoga practice designed for swimmers. They are breath and body awareness.

Breath

The awareness of breath is the essence of any yoga practice. The breath is the bridge between the mind and the body.

How you breathe prepares your body and mind for change as well as strengthening focus. Breathing can be a way to relax or to energize. 

Once you have tapped into the type of energy you want to work with the next step is coordinating breath and movement. By doing this it develops the ability to perform with greater ease, awareness and flow.

Your breath also gives you a tool to develop present moment awareness. Your breath is a home base for your attention. Not only is this a benefit on its own, but that focus will help your practice be more effective. 

Body Awareness

The first reason body awareness is important is safety. By focusing on this skill you learn to listen to your body and understand what your limits are.

Your practice should challenge you in a way that you are outside of your comfort zone without reaching a point where you feel pain.

Developing greater body awareness also allows you to control your more body effectively, which can be applied directly to developing better technical skills.

Developing this awareness creates a stronger connection between the breath, the body and the mind as well as how each one of those influences the other. Understanding this connection is something that can be used to help improve your performance in the water.

Mindfulness

One of the most significant things that separates yoga from other dry land modalities is the training of present moment awareness.

Practicing in a mindful way is about bringing your attention to the present moment, noticing when your attention wanders and returning to the present moment once again. This is a way of fine tuning your skills of focusing and refocusing.  

There are several misconceptions when it comes to mindfulness. Many think it is about clearing your mind and attempting to think about nothing.

I encourage my students to allow thoughts to come into their minds noticing them without allowing them to steal their attention away from the moment, away from their breath.

If your attention gets taken away, which it most likely will, acknowledge it, accept it and refocus on your breath with a smile.

Allowing Not Forcing

Allow don’t force. When coming into different poses always work with your individual range of motion.

Yoga is not about being bendy, being beautiful or being able to do a handstand.

This expectation tends to lead to two things; it discourages people from trying yoga or many try to force themselves into poses they are not ready for.

The intention of a Swimming-Specific Yoga practice is to develop skills on the mat that can transfer to your life off the mat. Being able to bend yourself into the shape of pretzel doesn’t mean you are going to swim faster or prevent injury.

Yoga teaches the balance between effort and ease. You can work towards being able to do different poses, but when challenging yourself on that path you need to listen to what your body is telling you.

Allowing yourself to come into poses ensures you are working with your individual range of motion in a healthy and productive way. This also teaches patience in the development of your skills and gives you the ability to move with greater ease.

Stability

Never sacrifice joint stability for increasing your range of motion.

Joint stability is key when it comes to injury prevention and training in a functional way.

To be able to achieve greater range of motion in a meaningful way you need to be able to apply force in that range. 

It not you will not be able to use that new range to increase your effectiveness in the water and it can leave the joint vulnerable to injury.

Remember the goal is to increase the effectiveness of your movement not achieve the “perfect pose” (there is no such thing!).

 Non-Judgment

Athletes consistently judge their performances, which is a necessary part of improving in the quest for excellence. One of the things that can happen though is that mindset can change from being about performance to harshly judging who they are as a person. This can have detrimental affects on their mental health.

Yoga gives athletes the time and space to stay away from judgment while learning to accept who they are as a person, which includes their strengths and weaknesses.

Yoga is not about perfecting a pose or judging yourself against others. The practice is about challenging yourself in a mindful way, which can have a very positive effect on both your wellness and performance.

Bonus: HAVE FUN!!!

Something I have always loved about yoga is being able to treat it as a form of play. That is of course as long as you do not take yourself too seriously. It is okay to take what you do seriously, but never take yourself too seriously.

I often ask students when practicing our balance, “Ask yourself how can I take myself too seriously when I am working on my balance by pretending to be a tree?”

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

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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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