It might surprise a lot of people, but athletes across all sporting disciplines can really benefit by practising yoga regularly. Sports stars like Shaquille O’Neill, LeBron James, and the All Blacks rugby team have credited yoga with improving their overall performance and stamina, but athletes of all abilities can discover the myriad of benefits yoga has to offer.

Whether you play tennis, run marathons, or even play darts, being able to quieten your mind and visualise your goal is crucial in achieving your personal best at all times. The meditative state and mental awareness that yoga instills in those who practise it regularly can help all types of athletes to train their minds to become focused when the chips are down and also to get ‘in the zone’ during their activity. For athletes in competitions, meditation is also useful in reframing your performance and reviving yourself mentally after a loss, or finding balance following a win.

Being in top condition as an athlete isn’t just about muscular strength, as most sports require quick responses and agility to perform well. This is where an athlete who practices yoga has the advantage. Through careful stretching exercises, yoga builds flexibility, agility, balance, and the ability to react quickly and with precision.

American NBA basketball star, LeBron James, first came to yoga early on in his professional sporting career and found that his lower-back issues went away once he started practising regularly. Many athletes on professional, amateur and hobbyist levels have also found that post-game recovery is improved and injuries during the game itself are reduced. Having a flexible body and focused mind make athletes more aware of their body during play, and the relaxation and grounding benefits of yoga after any kind of physical activity keeps your head in perspective.

While athletes are generally well-trained and physically fit, it’s important to remember when starting out with yoga not to rush ahead. Pushing yourself too hard too quickly can be dangerous as your body isn’t yet attuned to the movements of yoga. Practising yoga isn’t a competition and shouldn’t be treated as such. People – yes, even athletes – progress at their own pace, so just because one person is able to move, bend and hold a position, doesn’t mean that your body is ready to do the same. Listening to your body and taking on board the instruction from your yoga teacher is paramount in getting the most out of your yoga class.