Focus. Concentrate. You got this! Be patient. Is this a tennis court or a yoga class? Hard to tell right? That’s the point. Many of the same elements of a yoga class are also played out on the tennis court. When you marry tennis and yoga together you get the perfect match. Like yoga, tennis is mental & physical and what you do on your yoga mat can directly relate with how you handle yourself on the court. When you practice yoga, you will find a huge improvement in your over all tennis game. Some of the things in yoga that will enhance your tennis is deep breathing, increase strength and flexibility through purposeful stretches, & positive thinking by letting go.
One of the most important things yoga teaches us is to “come to the breath.” What exactly does this mean and how can it help my tennis? Come to the breath simply means to focus on your breathing. Sounds simple, right? It’s not as simple as it sounds. It takes practice, time, and even energy to focus solely on breathing. Try it, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Which hand is moving? If it’s the hand on the chest, then you are shallow breathing and not fully getting a good quality breath. A deep inhale where your diaphragm is activated causes your stomach to push out allowing you to take in more air. To do this you have to clear your mind and only think about the breath until it becomes second nature. Things like slowing down, thinking things through, and increasing stamina are just some of the benefits. As you practice your deep breathing you will find yourself slowing down and relaxing a bit. You might notice that you are more aware of your surroundings and your body.
In a tennis match it is easy to get caught up in the excitement, energy and fast paced nature of the sport. When this happens you are more likely to be bombarded with thoughts and actions that do not serve your game. When your breathing is in check, you are more likely to play with awareness, making conscious choices about ball placement, or choice of shot. When you’re playing with a deliberate purpose and using the breath to slow you down your ability to make smart decisions is enhanced. Another benefit of a good quality breath to your tennis match is that it builds more stamina. Think about it. When you can take in more air, more oxygen can be distributed to working muscles and more of the carbon dioxide and other waste products produced from this work can be effectively transferred out increasing your stamina and longevity on the court.
On the yoga mat many of the same actions we do in class directly correlate with actions on the tennis court. From explosive transitions on the mat to lunging, & reaching also happen when we are playing tennis. Think about it. When we jump to the top of the mat from downward facing dog to say standing forward fold we are engaging the legs and hips to launch ourselves forward. This same power from the legs is also needed for serving, sprinting to the net and over all explosiveness in all aspects when playing a match. Poses such as Trikonasana (Triangle) or Warrior II for instance are also great poses for tennis players in that many of the same muscles being used to achieve the pose are also used on the tennis court. In tennis, strength, balance & flexibility in the shoulders, quadriceps and hamstrings, are essential in being a quality tennis player. Playing tennis not only takes technical skill but also physical fitness and finesse to be able to move well on the court. Poses such as Triangle and Warrior II are great for tennis because they effectively hit all of those areas of the body. Triangle and Warrior II both balance and stretch, the shoulders, specifically the scapula, which is important for serves and overheads. These two poses also strengthen the quadriceps and stretch the hamstrings which is particularly important for agility and speed on the court without injury. There is nothing worse than pulling a hamstring lunging for a ball that could have been prevented with Triangle Pose which stretches the hamstrings and Warrior II that strengthens the quadriceps.
I don’t know about you, but when I am in a heated match, letting go of even the littlest mistake is extremely difficult. I want to analyze it and replay it over and over even though there are still more games to be played. Not only that, but the negative self talk begins. Things like, “How could you be so careless?” “What kind of a crappy forehand was that?” “I cant believe I could be so stupid!” I am sure like me, these thoughts invade your mind too like an out of control avalanche without time to consider how these thoughts are actually affecting our game. In the short term we may believe that this negative self talk is “helping” us or making us “better.” We believe this because sometimes when we talk this way we still win the match reinforcing the negative behavior thus fueling the belief that we are being productive.
However, in the long term these patterns will become hindrances to progress and improvement causing us be stifled and stunt our growth as tennis players. This is where learning to let go on the mat can greatly facilitate our progress and growth on the court. On the yoga mat, it is not about perfection its about progress and the journey. That too is how we should approach a tennis match. Each pose in yoga presents us with a challenge maybe its tight hamstrings preventing us from lengthening our legs in Downward facing dog. Or our ankles are weak and we wobble during tree pose. How do we handle ourselves in this situation? Are you calling yourself names? Telling yourself you are stupid? No! More than likely you are slowing down, breathing, you are probably encouraging yourself to give it one more try or maybe you are accepting your challenge for what it is and moving on without guilt. This is letting go and getting rid of thoughts and emotions that are not serving us during our practice. We can do this on the court as well. On the tennis court try and take the same approach. When you double fault on a serve, don’t beat yourself up for it. Accept it for what it is and prepare for the next point.
When we spend time analyzing the past while trying to be present it just sets us up for failure. Each point in a tennis match is part of a journey. We all want the end result to be a win, but we cant get to the end by being hung up in the past or worrying about the future. When we walk out on to the court we must approach the match the same as we do our yoga practice. Accept that you will have challenges and know that these challenges are being presented to make you stronger. Stay present win or lose it is all part of the journey. When you let go of the things that do not serve you on the court, those challenges become a great deal easier to handle and seem a lot less daunting.
Mental to physical, yoga and tennis are so intertwined it’s amazing. I truly believe that practicing yoga and improving your tennis game can go hand in hand. You can see from what I talked about today that physically, yoga prepares the body for the wear, tear and stress that tennis puts on the body. At the same time the mental component of yoga also strengthens our resilience to difficulties on the court. Yoga makes us aware of our thoughts which allows us to be proactive and not reactive tennis players thus improving our chances of success. I am confident that if you take the time to marry tennis and yoga you too will see that they are, “the perfect match.”
Written by Julie S.