If you’re like me, you’re busy, and it’s often overwhelming to think of how to incorporate “all the things” we should be doing for ourselves. You probably have heard that Yoga is good for you but you’re not exactly sure how to fit it in, or how to choose the type of class that’s appropriate, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it.
Given that you’re a tennis player, I’m going to assume that you want to be able to play as much as you can for as long as you can, and that you want to be able to play up to your potential. With that said, I want to offer 3 simple ways you can get started with practicing Yoga for Tennis: Before, During and After being on court. For those of you who are experienced with yoga, you might find that these subtle suggestions offer a way of making a connection between tennis and yoga that you’ve not considered in the past, and you will get that much more out of your practices going forward!
Yoga before Tennis
It’s often said that if you’re aware of your breath, you’re practicing yoga and it’s true! The breath is our link between the body and mind, and it’s what makes otherwise (traditional or not) yoga postures “yogic.” As we tune in to our breath and synchronize movement to breath, it’s easier to put our other “to do’s” on pause, connecting to the present moment. Here are some suggestions to try before you head out on court:
Take a few minutes seated with your eyes closed in a comfortable position, first feeling your body connected to your seat, and your feet connected to the ground. Once feeling grounded, allow your awareness to become more internal as you notice your breath. Become aware of where you feel the breath in the body, if it has sound or not, and its quality (all without judgement, and as a means to observe your body/mind before stepping out on court.) What you’re doing is preparing yourself to do the same once playing: work towards blocking out distraction and allowing your awareness to turn inward apart from all the other distractions that will inevitably occur while playing.
The next natural progression is to link movement to breath before stepping out on court, on the controlled environment of your mat. The eventual goal is to be able to link breath to strokes, in order to breathe more efficiently, (especially helpful for long rallies and tough matches.) The dynamic warm-up offered below, also has the potential to aid injury prevention and to produce a feeling of being looser on court. In addition, I personally find that when I have a little nervous energy before playing, these practices allow me to work a bit of that out, making it more likely to avoid slower starts and having to hit through tension in the first few games of a match. Feel this supported way of working on the back of the body through the breath, and on top of that, help get your mind right before tennis play. Try this at home, in your office and even a locker room as close to play time as possible.
Yoga During Tennis Play:
Yoga during tennis you say??? How exactly does that work? You already know one way in observing your breath between points and even changeovers to settle yourself and reel yourself back in to focus. Don’t under-estimate this valuable time! Pros such as Victoria Azarenka are often seen on changeovers working with their breath and blocking out externals with their towels and this is one habit that is attainable by mimicking the pros! https://www.playtennispracticeyoga.com/post/yoga-for-tennis-anyone-victoria-azarenka-and-her-win-against-serena-williams-at-the-2020-u-s-open
Returning over and over to your base breath between points and changeovers to calm and even out breath when it’s become rapid can be your own secret weapon that no one has to know about!
If synching movement was successful on your mat in the warm-up, you may be ready to bring that practice on court, but I suggest trying it outside of match play to begin as you will need to focus your attention exclusively on exhaling as you hit (allowing inhalations to arise naturally as a result.) Hitting practices are ideal for this initially, using a “short court” where you generally don’t feel pressure to perform. From there take this breath practice into your lessons and match warm-ups and before long you’ll be doing it automatically (and perhaps find your own unique “grunt!”) You’ll feel less tired and more fluid in the long run, and fluidity translates into power and who doesn’t want that?!
For those of you looking for a physical yoga posture you can try on court, I suggest Cow Face Arms that can easily be practiced on court on a break using your tennis racquet. This can be practiced for several breaths before a service game or longer after a lengthy service game and after a match. Each arm mimics different and several of the actions we take in our serve, such as the back scratch position & pronation within the shoulder for those of you looking for a little extra action on your serve! Don’t be surprised if you feel big differences with regards to range of motion side to side. Tying into the benefit of injury prevention, yoga can often help tennis players become more aware of what’s happening in the body, making it less likely for injury if we’re proactive in what we discover within ourselves.
Yoga after Tennis
Now I know what you’re thinking…practicing yoga after tennis play might be last on your list of priorities but hear me out! What if you could reduce muscle soreness and aid in recovery with very little muscular output? I recommend one or two restorative postures (if you have more time, the more the merrier!) These postures are done with support and very little movement, allowing for the body to open and stretch passively as they’re held for 2-5 minutes each. The hardest part is committing to carving out the time and very rarely do I see that anyone regrets giving themselves this extra bit of self-care! As a bonus, it also allows for some quiet and reflection of your tennis play that can often be emotional and draining. My preference is to do this as soon as you can after play or after a hot shower. Don’t forget to shut off your phone with the exception of setting its timer, and don’t be surprised if you feel super relaxed afterwards! Check out this playlist I created on my YouTube Channel: Recovery & Restorative Yoga specific to challenging tennis players in setting the habit of slowing down. Practice these to feel better and recover immediately after your tennis play!
In summary, Yoga for Tennis can be practiced before, during, and after tennis play. Before you know it you just might set habits that will undoubtedly improve and enhance your enjoyment of the game but also in life! Don’t just take my word for it…practice it yourself for a few minutes at a time and watch the magic of yoga unfold itself within your tennis game!
Margit Bannon is a USPTA Elite Pro and Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She is the founder Play Tennis. Practice Yoga. where she teaches in Southwest Florida. Follow her on Instagram and subscribe to her YouTube Channel for practice videos released every Tuesday!