Racquet sports are widely regarded as one of the best ways to stay fit. Besides being physically challenging, most racquet sports demand intense concentration, great anticipation, coordination and mindfulness.
It is no wonder then that everyone from Novak Djokovic to PV Sindhu consider yoga to be an integral part of their training.
While there are a host of training techniques that can get you physically fit, none of them can integrate the mental aspect of the sport into your training quite like yoga.
So whether you play squash, table tennis, badminton or tennis, these easy to do yoga asanas are guaranteed to improve your performance on court.
1. Padmasan or Lotus pose; to sharpen the mind.
There’s a common saying in tennis “control your mind, control the momentum, control the match.”
Since tennis, like most racquet sports, is largely an individual sports, success is often dependent on the mind’s ability to remain calm under intense stress, to be able to focus on the present moment without being influenced by the past. In this regard, the humble padmasan, might be the most beneficial asana to add to your training.
Here’s how to do the padmasan:
- Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Bring your right knee to hug your chest, bring your right ankle to your left hip, such that the sole of your right foot faces the sky.
- Next, bend your left knee and cross the left ankle over the top of your right shin such that the sole of your left foot should also face upwards.
- Press your groins toward the floor and try to sit up straight
- Find a comfortable position. If you find it difficult to get comfortable here, you might want to use a meditation cushion.
- Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing up.
- Soften your face and bring your attention to your breaths as you hold for 10 counts.
2. Virabhadrasana or Warrior II; to improve balance, strength and conditioning.
The warrior pose, and more specifically warrior II helps tone the arms, lower back and legs. It also improves stamina, awareness and balance in the body. This powerful pose is a great way to strengthen both your body and your mind.
Here’s how to do the Warrior II pose
- Stand with your feet together at the top of your mat.
- Step your left foot back unti it’s parallel to the bottom of your yoga mat.
- Open up the inner thighs to face the longer edge of your yoga mat.
- Extend your arms out until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Extend your palms and fingertips and draw your shoulder blades together.
- Look directly in front over the extended right arm.
- Once here try and square your hips as much as possible.
- Hold and repeat on the other side
3. Ustrasana or Camel pose; to help with the quick changes in direction.
This is a great asana to strengthen your upper body and make your shoulders, chest and back become more supple. This asana opens up the anterior chain and strengthens the posterior chain.
Here’s how to do the Camel pose:
- Begin in a kneeling position on your mat with your knees at a comfortable hip-width distance apart.
- Reach your hands until they fall on your lower back.
- Focus on pressing the shoulder blades together and try to draw the elbows in toward your spine.
- As you inhale, lift your head toward the ceiling and press your hips forward to bend backwards.
- As you exhale, slide your palms to your heels as you straighten your arms to come into the full variation. Consider using a pair of yoga blocks to make this asana more attainable.
4. Butterfly pose (Badhakonasana) to improve lateral movement and sudden acceleration and deceleration.
The Badhakonasana or butterfly pose is again very deceptive. As easy as it looks, the benefits of being regular at this asana are unparalleld. It’s a great stretch for your adductors, abductors, groin, hamstrings and knees and improves flexibility in these most crucial muscle groups.
Here’s how to do the butterfly pose:
- Begin in a seated position on your yoga mat and bring the soles of your feet together.
- Elongate your spine and engage your core.
- Hold each foot with your hands and rest your elbows on your inner thighs.
- Focus on your breathing. As you inhale keep your spine long and as you exhale try moving your torso forward until you feel a stretch.
- If you find it difficult to stay here, you might consider using a meditation cushion to ease you into the asana
5. Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward-Facing Dog Pose; to add explosive power to your serve and ground-stokes.
This pose is great since it targets almost all muscle groups at the same time. Not only does the down dog help strengthen the entire posterior chain, but it also strengthen your wrists and ankles which are crucial to on court performance. Besides the physical benefits, the downward facing dog pose also helps with mindfulness and “staying in the now”
Here’s how you do the Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward-Facing Dog Pose
- Get onto your mat on your fours. Hands over shoulders and knees under hips.
- Press down on your yoga mat with your palms and press down on your mat with your toes.
- As you exhale, lift your knees off the mat and try to straighten your legs.
- Try and touch your heels to the back of your yoga mat while lifting your tailbone to the ceiling.
- Keep your head in a neutral position between your arms, and stay strong in the chest.
Practice each of these asanas for 10 breaths each.
The best part about the yoga asanas above is that they can be done, anywhere, by anyone and anytime.
Also since these asanas can be easily modified to suit your level of fitness, they're sure to help improve your performance on court, irrespective of whether you’re a weekend warrior or a battle hardened tennis pro.
Besides the above mentioned asanas, another great warm-up routine is the suryanamaskar.
Here's what tennis pro & ATP player Adil Kalyanpur says about his warm-up routine:
"As an athlete I use yoga and mobility exercises as part of my warm up routine. I have a naturally stiff body and my muscles tend to get tight very fast. So adding a bit of yoga to my program has been really effective in improving my flexibility and helping avoid muscle spasms. I’m a huge fan of Surya Namaskar - especially since I found out it can restore hormonal balance in the body and can help you focus more. In sports every 1% makes a difference and a tool like yoga has so many positives it’s hard to ignore them. I hope we realise the potential it holds and use this wonderful method to enhance all of our lives."
So go ahead and use these asanas as the perfect pre-match warm-up or part of your regular training and level-up your game!
About the Author: This article is written by Alok Jayakar an NTRP 4 rated tennis enthusiast and co-founder of Kosha Yoga Co. You can follow him on Instagram @alokjayakar for more about two things he loves the most, tennis & yoga!