Yes, even professional athletes have found benefits in taking yoga classes! Generally they already have a lot of strength and muscle, but yoga is the perfect way to complement their vigorous training programs. With the addition of stretching the muscles, increasing range of motion in the joints, and increasing the ability to focus, they have a complete and comprehensive program that works both their bodies and minds.
I have been a yoga instructor for over 13 years, and I have worked with clients of all levels and abilities. Working with beginner clients is pretty straightforward because they need to learn about all aspects of yoga - the alignment of the poses, ways to transition from one pose to the next, breath work, meditation, and also the state of their body. They need to become aware of their strength and flexibility, or lack thereof. Then they can begin to work on bringing their bodies into balance. (Which, as we know, is one of the goals of a yoga practice.)
Working with professional athletes is not quite as straightforward because they already have such a strong foundation of strength, often flexibility, and most times impeccable focus. The question becomes, what can they gain from a yoga practice? As an instructor what can I offer to them to add value to their training, their sport, and their life? This can be looked at from a broader perspective but also an individualized perspective.
From a broader perspective, the benefits of a yoga practice for a professional athlete is to counterbalance the difficult, repetitive, high impact movements that they expose their bodies to. The gentle, various, low impact movements of yoga work their muscles in a different way to increase their capabilities but also allow them time to heal.
From an individualized perspective, an instructor can plan a yoga program based around the athlete’s personal sport. I had the pleasure of working with an NFL athlete. He was very strong, fast, and surprisingly flexible considering his muscle mass. I used our yoga sessions to stretch more deeply to allow him greater movement during his games, range of motion exercises to prevent joint injuries, and core strengthening yoga poses to support his body during impacts. I was also able to focus on any specific muscles he was having trouble with whether they were overly tight or bordering on injury.
Working together we had fantastic results, and it was enjoyable to see that even the most elite athletes can gain something from the more gentle art of yoga.