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YOGA AND TENNIS

by Donna Davidge

Last week a student who regularly attends my hatha yoga class came in saying he was particularly sore. It turns ut he had just played tennis for the first time in a long while and was feeling the effects. He said he really needed the yoga class.

Most athletes have heard of the benefits of pre and post stretching exercises though there is some debate as to the benefits of it. In this day and age many people are practicing yoga as their only exercise or as an adjunct to other exercises. Kareem Abdul Jabar was ahead of his time, doing yoga over twenty five years ago and attesting to the fact that it warded off injury, which many of his other colleagues sustained. Both tennis and basketball have the shorter more rapid exertions of muscular energy combined with some longer running. Though it is not actually distant running, the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles definitely happens with this kind of activity. Yoga stretching can counter that effect and also allow you to be more agile on the court.

Let’s look at some yoga postures that might benefit your tennis game. Tennis is known for the condition called “tennis elbow” so any stretches that benefit the shoulders are a good place to start. When shoulders are more flexible then the lesser joints, the wrist and elbow, are less likely to be injured. At the same time you would want to strengthen the shoulder and supporing muscles, which is where the arm balances, which begin in yoga with the basic down dog position, also help. The great thing about yoga is that it is about balance, which means both strength and flexibility. Also the ability to move with your feet firmly grounded can benefit from standing poses such as the warrior, which also stretches the shoulders. Actual balancing poses, such as tree, can keep you from tripping up on the court. Twists are another aspect of yoga that could greatly improve the movements required in tennis. Twists can be practiced from a seated position as well as a standing or kneeling one. They should be rotated from the waist, not the lower back, and standing  or kneeling one. They should be rotated from the waist, and lower lower back, and create a nice stretching of the ribcage that allows the intercostal muscles to stretch. It is always good to have intial instruction from a qualified instructor to make sure you are doing the poses correctly.

The ribcage is also an important thing to look at in terms of breath. Many athletes breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, working primarily the lungs. Yoga breathing, which takes time and practice, can allow for deeper breathing, expanded lung capacity and oxygenation of the blood. Yoga breathing is not a chest breath but rather a breath that starts in the bottom of the torso, breathing in deeply through the nose, and expands the breath upwards towards the thoracic region, creating an empowered beath in the belly and chest. This deep breath can put more power behind your punch in hitting the ball.

Yoga is defined as the union of mind, body and breath so the meditative aspect of yoga cannot be overlooked in improving any athletic’s focus. Off the court simple one pointed meditations, focusing on an object as simple as a candle flame, or focusing on the breath or even a sound (silently or outloud) are all techniques used in yoga to improve our focus and train the mind to do less wandering.

I asked the student if he had been playing singles, as he sounded like it was pretty intense, and he said no, it was doubles that they were all over the court. So no matter what your level or type of tennis, a good yoga class can likely improve your game. Depending on the type of yoga you practice, and thee are many approaches these days, you might even pay more placement of your feet and joints on the court, another way to fine tune your game.

Donna Amerita Davidge owns Sewall House Yoga Retreat in Maine (www.sewallhouse.com) and has been teaching since 1985 in