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Alignment in power yoga

This is an excerpt from Teaching Power Yoga for Sports by Gwen Marie Garro Lawrence.

This is an excerpt from Teaching Power Yoga for Sports by Gwen Lawrence.

Before you determine the yoga poses that best fit an athlete’s body and sport, you need to understand the movement skills required of that sport and how those movements affect alignment. Study the sport as much as you can, either in person or by watching videos or television. Consult with coaches and trainers, and consider these questions:

  • Does the sport involve or require endurance, such as being able to run several miles during competition?
  • Does the sport involve or require quick agility moves, such as those of receivers and defensive backs in football who change direction on a dime?
  • Does the sport involve or require diving, such as when a soccer goalkeeper makes a save?
  • Does the sport involve or require twisting motions, as in basketball, football, or baseball?
  • Does the sport involve or require jumping, like a basketball or volleyball player must do?
  • Does the sport involve or require static movement that is powered from the core, as in skiing?
  • Does the sport involve or require mental strength, like that of a quarterback or pitcher?
  • Does the sport involve or require upper-body-driven movement, as in golf or swimming?
  • Does the sport involve or require lower-body-driven movement, like running or playing as a football receiver?


These questions will help you to understand what the sport requires and what types of movement skills an athlete must develop or maintain to excel in that sport. Yoga can enhance or improve those skills with regular practice of the poses and techniques you will learn in later chapters. When you feel you have a comprehensive grasp of a sport’s demands, you can begin to visualize poses that complement the athlete’s current training and add challenge. Remember the six facets of PYFS that we learned about in chapter 1. Then you can start to consider additional relevant information to help you formulate the most effective routines for your athletes.


Observe and Question

When you watch games or competitions, drill down to the specifics. Think of the different positions within the sport. For example, baseball pitchers, catchers, and outfielders all move differently throughout a game, and they each benefit from yoga techniques that are specific to their positions. It’s incredibly important for you to consider the duties of each athlete on the field of play and how that person’s body moves. This type of thinking is what separates PYFS from a “regular” yoga class. Also keep in mind that not only do you want to strengthen the body for repetitive sport positions, you also want to include poses that unwind the body and relieve the constant stress from those repetitive positions. A good example would be a catcher’s squat, where the stress is on the back and hips. In this case, an inverted table is a good pose to use to open the hip flexors.


What game-related improvements will athletes see once they start yoga?

After one to three months of consistent sport-specific practice (two to four times a week), your athletes will experience freely moving joints, better functional strength, improved body symmetry, and better breath control. These improvements support ease of movement on the field, increased power of movement, accuracy of execution, and better recovery after games.


Also, look for repetitive movements. Is there a natural movement that is regularly made in the position and sport you are observing? Of course there is, so stretch and strengthen the commonly used muscles and joints. Sports tend to be one-side dominant; therefore, they create imbalances. Be aware of misalignments that are born of repetitive moves. Learn about the injuries that are most common to each position in a sport. These can often be traced back to imbalances that come from overuse. The challenge is how to correct for these imbalances. We can never make the body perfect because there is always a dominant side (righty or lefty), but we can lessen the asymmetry and make it more manageable.


Also, listen to your players. They will offer clues and straight-up complaints about their nagging aches and pains. At the beginning of each class, ask if there are any new injuries, aches, or pains, and be ready to adjust your routine on the fly to accommodate these ailments. PYFS coaches should remember their players’ injuries and complaints and use that information to prepare routines and classes. This makes for successful PYFS teachers who can think on their feet and prove their value. A good way to observe imbalances with your athletes is to begin class with simple assessment poses to help you direct the class for the best results; we cover assessments in the next section of this chapter.


Teach Self-Awareness

It is critical when teaching athletes that you give them tools that not only make sense to them but also allow them to learn and assess on their own. Do not worry; they will always come back to you for classes! But giving them tools to succeed outside class is invaluable. Suggest ways that they can change how they see their bodies. I often take pictures (without showing the face or other identifiable clues so there is no threat to their privacy) so they can see with their own eyes what I am telling them is going on with their symmetry and their bodies. It has been my experience that when an athlete can see her issues, they become more real to her, and she becomes more motivated to fix the problems.


Practice this yourself as a teacher: take notice of asymmetry, misalignments, and other physical clues that can be addressed. As you teach a Power Yoga for Sports class, give the athletes helpful cues to feel their feet in their shoes, the clothes on their bodies, and the symmetry in their form. Too often they are so focused on the workout, game, or opponent that they tune out of their bodies, to their detriment. They need to learn to feel their clothing, the ground beneath them, the impact of the weather on their skin, and their rate of respiration. Being in tune with their bodies and their surroundings can help them to better regulate their bodies to maximize performance, not to mention reduce injuries if something feels or looks off.


This idea of both feeling and seeing the body is critical for athletes. They should look for asymmetries, bumps, bulges, or misalignments, which tend to be precursors to injuries created by imbalances. Encourage them to look in the mirror and truly see, not just look. They should follow the outline of their form and compare both sides daily. They must be advocates for their own bodies to reap long-term rewards and longevity. It is your job as their Power Yoga for Sports coach to teach them to understand and notice body alignment so that they do not ignore and therefore train misalignments.


Why is body symmetry so important?

Just as an aligned car is important to performance, safety, and efficiency, the body must be in balance to work at its best. The more in balance the body is, the more effortless the movements and the lower the risk of injury.