Yoga for Baseball
Once you make contact with the ball, taking off from a standstill to a full-out sprint forces your hamstrings to spring into action. If they're not flexible and strong, you'll definitely feel it, probably in the form of a pulled muscle.
"When you see a guy slow down as he rounds third base," says Barkan, "he's having problems with his sciatic nerve." Fielders also commonly practice the abrupt sprint-from-dead-stop as they take off to field a fly or grab a grounder.
Dandayamana-Janu Sirsasana (Standing Head-to-Knee Pose) and Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose) will help limber up your sciatic nerve, the real source of perceived hamstring tightness according to Bikram philosophy.
Strike Them Out
Throwing the ball involves a series of complex motions which, when done correctly, employs everything from your feet to your fingertips. During the wind-up, after your legs set your stance, one leg pushes off as your shoulder muscles support the cocked arm; then the energy generated in the lower half is transferred, via your torso, to your chest, latissimus dorsi, triceps, and shoulder as you release the ball; for the follow-through, when the shoulders, triceps, and biceps slow down, your trunk bends forward to prevent shoulder injury. "Throwing takes a lot out of you," says Craig Moriwaki, a trainer with the University of Washington softball team. "It's important you have the right form. Otherwise, it can be extremely stressful on the shoulders." Barkan recommends asanas like Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), and Tuladandasana (Balancing Stick Pose) to lengthen and strengthen the shoulder jointshelpful when you're lunging to either catch or throw a ball. Or, follow the example of Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernandez, originally from Cuba, who routinely does Headstand and Handstand "to relax" and Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hand-to- Foot Pose) to stretch his hamstrings.
It's All in Your Head
The mental aspect of baseball and softball is as important as physical preparation. With professional games that can drag on for hours, and the average college softball game ranging from 90 minutes to two hours, the ability to concentrate for long periods of time is key. Even though a right fielder may get just one ball a game, he/she still needs to be mentally present for the entire game. "Practicing yoga, when you have to stay within yourself and in the moment, helps on the field," says Barkan.
The ability to make decisions quickly is also imperative. "I have about one second to decide whether or not I should throw to try and get somebody out," says Vicki Siesta, who plays on the softball team at Princeton University. "The difference can be two runs coming in, or one out made." And when she's the one trying to score the runs, she's got to think even faster. "I've got to decide whether or not to slide. If it's yes, then I have to choose whether to go head or feet first, on the outside or inside of the bag, all in an instant," she says.
Breathing exercises which promote regular inhaling and exhaling help to both keep your head in the game and your mind as sharp as a cleatbenefits that come in handy in all ball sports: "I was playing golf with Leiter and [then] Miami Dolphins center Jeff Uhlenhake one day, and they were asking me to teach them how to take their breath back to normal," says Barkan. "It helps your focus, no matter what your game is."
Dimity McDowell is a Brooklyn, New York-based freelance writer.
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