You are on a tennis court and all is well: your backhand is still going strong and your serve is impeccable. Point after point, you win the game. Inspired you come back to the same court the next day and unfortunately you are faced with a different scenario: nothing works, every ball comes out and the more points you lose the more irritable you become. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar to most tennis players. If you are not a pro, you may experience some instability in your tennis game.
Yogic practices can go a long way in making your tennis game more stable and stronger.
Meditating for just ten minutes a day can greatly improve your focus during a stressful match and dristi (single point gaze) would prevent your tennis instructor from yelling, “Look at the ball! For the seventeenth time in a half hour practice. Pranayama (the practice of breathing) increases lung capacity, so that you don’t run out of breath while your tennis partner is busy moving you from one corner of the court to the other. Regular practice of asanas would make you more flexible, thus increasing your range on the court. Sun salutations make the spine more flexible, so if used as a pre-match stretch, they can significantly reduce the risk of injury.
While most yoga poses can be used to enhance the game of tennis, some poses are even better than others as they target tennis-specific injuries and problem areas. These poses can be performed both on and off the court and of course if you want to see improvement quickly you should try to practice regularly.
Before you begin your yoga practice, take a moment to center your breath. Breathe in and out deeply and completely through your nose (ujjayi breathing.) Try to remember to come back to this type of breathing between difficult times in your next game. You will notice the calming and centering effect of the ujjayi when you worry about a tie-break or losing a match.
Inhale and raise your arms in the skyward prayer pose. Exhale and bend forward, placing your palms on the floor, fingertips aligned with toes. Then straighten your legs, if you can. Inhale and look up. The spine is straight. Exhale and jump or come back into the chaturanga by bending your elbows back. Look ahead, not down. The elbows should be very close to the body, don’t let your tailbone stick out into the air. Keep the space between the shoulder blades wide. Hold the pose for five breaths. This pose strengthens your arms and wrists, so you’ll never have to use one of those boring wrist machines again, as practicing chaturanga should eventually give you better racquet control.
Inhale and walk forward, lifting it up towards the upward facing dog.
Your thighs should be a few inches from the ground. Look at the tip of your nose. Make sure the inside of the elbow folds forward, opening the shoulders. Hold for five breaths.
Up-dog is ideal for the treatment and prevention of tennis elbow. Because the pose opens up the shoulders, there is less pressure on the elbow joint. The pose also strengthens the spine, arms, and wrists. It can improve your service.
Exhale and work your way towards a downward facing dog, pushing back, straightening the legs, and trying to place the soles of the feet on the floor. Look at your navel. Spread your fingers apart and make sure that the inner folds of the elbow are still facing forward, while the middle fingers are parallel and pointed forward. This way you avoid the tennis elbow by stretching the shoulder joint. Activate your quadriceps and hold the pose for five breaths.
The downward facing dog is one of the best pre-game stretches. It stretches the spine, sides of the torso, shoulders, arms, neck and backs of the legs. If you practice the dog face down regularly, you should have a better reach on the court and you may feel lighter running towards the net. Your shots on the ground can improve dramatically with all of these stretches. If you like this pose, you are unlikely to develop leg cramps after the game, due to the regular hamstring stretching. The serve should become very powerful as soon as the shoulder is opened.
From a standing pose, inhale and lift your right knee into the chest. Exhale and open your right knee to the right, placing the sole of the right foot in the inner side of the left thigh. Imagine the energy lifting your left leg. Lift your pelvic floor up and up. Keep your torso straight and on the inhale raise your arms in prayer above your head, forearms behind the ears for the tree pose, vrksasana.
Keep your gaze fixed on a still point in front of you. Hold for ten breaths and repeat on the other side.
The tree pose is great for balance and coordination, which is necessary for tennis. It also strengthens the back and torso muscles for a great serve and works the leg muscles for ground hits and volleys.
Practicing yoga can make your tennis game more stable, improving your strokes and helping your injuries. Most importantly, yoga can stabilize your mind, so you can get into the “zone” needed to win.