If you play tennis, you might be pleasantly surprised at how yoga can transform your game. This ancient discipline can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance — but it also helps you develop greater mind control and focus. Tennis can throw your body out of alignment, particularly causing strain and injury to the elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, and spine. Yoga focuses on re-balancing the body, creating symmetry and alignment. These benefits result in a greater range of motion, increased strength, and reduced risk of injury. Additionally, yoga's emphasis on breath control and mind-calming techniques will add mental power to your game.
Power up Your Tennis Game
Yoga has many benefits that will enhance your tennis playing skills. Physically, you may notice:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved balance
- Stronger core muscles
- Increased leg strength
- More stamina
- Restored and revitalized energy
- Injury prevention
- Improved full-body coordination
- Symmetry and balance on both sides of the body
If you're looking for an intense strength-building practice, try Ashtanga, Bikram, or Vinyasa Yoga. If you'd like more emphasis on creating alignment and symmetry, try Iyengar or Hatha Yoga. Play around with different styles and teachers until you find a good fit.
Yoga will improve your physical skills, but it also helps to train your brain! Deep breathing exercises (called "pranayama" in Sanskrit) increase your breathing capacity while calming your mind. Pranayama improves circulation and cardiovascular strength, but it also develops greater focus and concentration. Practicing yoga will train your mind to relax during a match, which will help you to play "in the zone" with all of your awareness on the game.
With all of the benefits yoga has to offer, it's no wonder that tennis pros, like Pete Sampras and Venus and Serena Williams, have added yoga to their training routines!
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
Three-time Grand Slam Champion
Yoga Poses for Tennis Players
The following poses can be incorporated into your warm-up and cool-down. Hold each pose for several breaths, but come out of any if you feel pinching or jarring pain. Move slowly in and out of each pose, keeping your breath smooth and even. If you're struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
Breathing Exercise: Three-Part Breath
A simple breathing exercise, Three Part Breath — Dirga Pranayama (DEER-gah prah-nah-YAH-mah) — brings your awareness to the present moment and calms your mind. This technique requires no special sound or position to achieve a relaxed and focused state of awareness.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position on the floor, in a chair, or on a bed.
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your rib cage.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply, but naturally.
- Begin to focus your awareness on the breath as it moves in and out of your body.
- Feel the lift of your belly and the expansion of your ribs on your inhalations, and feel the slight compression of your ribs and the drop of your belly as you exhale.
- Next, bring your bottom hand to your chest, just below your collarbone. Breathe all the way into this area and allow your chest to rise slightly; then exhale and let it go.
- As you inhale, feel your belly lift, ribs expand, and chest lift. On your exhalations, notice how your chest drops, ribs contract, and belly lowers.
- Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath, inhaling and exhaling fully.
Full-body Stretch: Extended Triangle Pose
A standard pose in many yoga styles, Extended Triangle — Utthita Trikonasana (oo-TEE-tah tree-koh-NAH-suh-nuh) — tones the legs and stretches the hips, groins, and hamstrings. It also opens the chest and shoulders, and improves balance and coordination. It helps to relieve lower back pain, as well.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat. Turn to the left and step your feet wide apart. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height. Your feet should be as far apart as your wrists. Rotate your right (front) foot 90 degrees so your front foot's toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left toes in slightly. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot.
- Reach through your right hand in the same direction that your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back, and then fold sideways at the hip. Rest your right hand on your outer right shin or ankle. If you are more flexible, place your fingertips on the floor. You can also place your hand on a yoga block.
- Align your shoulders so your left shoulder is directly above your right shoulder. Gently turn your head to gaze at your left thumb.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, inhale and press firmly through your left heel as you lift your torso. Lower your arms, change the position of your feet, and repeat on the opposite side.
Full-body Strength: Warrior II
A powerful standing pose, Warrior II — Virabhadrasana II (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — increases stamina. It strengthens the quadriceps, calves, Achilles tendons, shoulders, and upper back. Additionally, it stretches the hips, groins, and chest; and helps to improve overall strength and balance.
- Stand with your feet wide apart. Point your right foot to the top of the mat, and turn your left foot slightly inward.
- Raise your arms parallel to the floor, reaching out actively from fingertip to fingertip.
- Bend your front knee to 90 degrees, making sure to keep your knee over your ankle. Press back through the outer edge of your left foot.
- Keep your torso perpendicular to the floor, lengthening the space between your shoulder blades and broadening across your collarbones.
- Draw your tailbone slightly downwards, and gaze out across your right middle finger. Hold for up to one minute. Repeat on the other side.
Standing Balance: Tree Pose
A popular balancing pose, Tree Pose — Vrksasana (vrik-SHAH-suh-nuh) — stretches the hips, thighs, torso, and shoulders. It builds strength in the ankles and calves, and helps to remedy flat feet. Additionally, it improves balance and coordination.
- Begin standing with your feet together. Slightly shift your weight to your left foot. Bend your right knee, then reach down and clasp your right ankle. Use your hand to draw your right foot alongside your inner left thigh. Do not rest your foot against your knee, only above or below it.
- Rest your hands on your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Fix your gaze softly in front of you. Press your right foot into your left thigh.
- If you are comfortable balancing here, bring your hands together in prayer position at your chest. For a deeper pose, extend your arms above your head, reaching your fingertips towards the sky. To deepen your pose even more, try closing your eyes.
- Hold for up to one minute. Then step your feet together again and repeat on the opposite side.
Spinal Twist: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
This seated spinal twist — Ardha Matsyendrasana (ARD-uh MAHT-see-ehn-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — helps to keep the spine, hips, and shoulder joints limber and flexible. It provides relief from fatigue and back pain, and calms the mind.
- Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you, arms resting at your sides. Bend both knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Then, drop your left knee to the floor. Tuck your left foot under your right leg and rest your left foot alongside your right buttock.
- On an inhalation, raise your left arm overhead. Exhaling, twist to the right against the inside of your right thigh. Place your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Keep your forearm raised, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. To deepen the pose, lower your forearm and clasp your left knee. Reach behind your body and rest your right hand on the floor behind you.
- Spiral your torso around your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
- With each inhalation, make your spine longer. With each exhalation, twist a little deeper.
- Turn your head to gaze over your right shoulder.
- Hold for up to one minute.
- To release, exhale and unwind your torso. Come back to center and extend both legs in front of you. Repeat the twist for the same length of time on the opposite side.
Game, Set, Yoga
Adding yoga to your cross-training plans can be a fun way to gain strength, flexibility, and focus. Practice some yoga every day and watch your game power up!