Yoga & Tennis

by Pam Olley

Spring 2011

Yoga expert Katia Ponce claims your game can benefit from Yoga. Read on.

Q: You started learning yoga before your first son was born. What was your inspiration to learn yoga, and how did you incorporate yoga into your practice?

A: My inspiration was the baby that I had in my womb, I was pregnant, I started to look inside myself more and more. Without knowing it yet, my body and my soul was craving to learn how to breathe, really breathe. I wanted to move my body in a calmer and slower way. My body was used to intense cardiovascular workouts and when I was pregnant I knew I needed something different – more internal.

Q: What did you find in yoga that you did not find in any other physical activity?

A: In the physical aspect I found more flexibility, a more toned body, a feeling of wellness in all the cells of my body, better sleep, better digestion, better sense of wellbeing in all the muscles and bones of my body.

In the spiritual aspect I found a conscious understanding of inner balance, life alignment, strong foundation, self-acceptance, kindness, gratitude. I learned from my brother also a dedicated yoga practitioner and former Davis Cup Champion, the beautiful concept of “Living in Truth”.

In the conscious aspect, yoga has helped me to learn how to focus more in the present moment, without forgetting the good aspects of the past and to plan for the future.

Q: Please share with us a defining moment for you in your yoga practice.

A: It is when I realize I am not controlling things, when I am listening only to my body, letting it move. I love the peace and gentleness of a class when we share the stillness and breathe together. Such moments are totally beyond any measure of value.

Q: How does yoga benefit tennis players?

A: Tennis is a sport that requires great speed and endurance, short bursts of power and quick reflexes. At some point players experience issues and injuries in the joints (knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, hips and wrists).

Yoga can keep the body supple and flexible, helping to minimize injuries, correct those you already have, and take your game up a notch as well.

There are many conditions familiar to tennis players that can be remedied with constant yoga practice. Aching back, tennis elbow, weak footwork and an inability to focus are all challenges that a steady yoga practice can remedy.

Yoga also helps with your ability to breathe. Learning how to breathe can energize you, calm you down, and really make a difference between points, games and during points.

Dividing the benefits in three levels, physical, mental and spiritual, we can say;

Physical Level: When you play tennis your muscles are constantly tense, in yoga the muscles are trained to relax which allows for much faster reaction time, and less risk of injury. This power versus force approach has many players saying: “I’ve never played better. I can really get my body behind the ball, especially with my serve”.

In tennis we are constantly throwing our body physically out of balance, yoga is about balance on and off of the mat, therefore we need the physical benefits of yoga. Yoga provides increased strength, stamina, balance and flexibility making you less prone to injury.

Flexibility is very important in tennis. There are so many twists, turns, stops, starts and spinal arch while serving. Each posture in yoga is designed to recalibrate, balance, harmonize, rejuvenate and restore our muscles, joints and cells, as well as to remove the tension that is deeply embedded in these areas. So Yoga is extremely therapeutic. The postures are intense, and moving slowly is actually making you stronger so that when you are off the mat, you can move faster.

Mental level: A lot of tennis players play to experience one emotion: “The ZONE experience” Playing in the zone is a fantastic experience. Impossible shots go in. Your rhythm is exceptional, the small tennis ball seems as big as a basketball. Each hit is smooth and solid. When you are in the zone, your focus is super sharp. Yoga and meditation help refine our focusing skills. They can help us enter “the zone” more frequently.

Yoga helps you relax and handle stressful situations more easily. It teaches you how to quiet the mind so you can focus your energy where you want it to go - into a difficult yoga pose, on the tennis court or golf course, or in the office. Yoga encourages positive thoughts and self-acceptance.

Spiritual benefits: Builds awareness of your body, your feelings, the world around you, the needs of others. Promotes interdependence between mind, body, and spirit. Helps you live the concept of “oneness.”

Q: What famous players that you know practice yoga?

A: Andy Murray practices yoga, as well as Serena Williams. There are also top players in different sports that practice yoga, including basketball stars, Lebron James and Steve Nash. Yoga is also promoted by Hollywood stars like Elle Macpherson, George Clooney, and Daniel Craig.

Q: Why do you think some may feel intimidated by yoga? How can they overcome this?

A: Sometimes we are afraid of our limitations, nowadays in some parts of the world yoga has become more identified in the physical aspect of the practice, however it goes into deeper levels. And that is when you don’t care about feeling limitations, yoga is not about competition or judgment. It is about feeling good, growing, breathing, opening, balance … Yoga is a beautiful journey!

Katia Ponce is an experienced holistic nutritionist, yoga and life-wellness coach, whose programs have aided top performing athletes in tennis, golf, swimming and basketball to achieve success. Many others have also benefited from her unique approach to holistic wellness and discovered how using yoga can improve their life. Katia knows sports, as both a former member of the Mexican Olympic Volleyball team and a National high ranked tennis champion. Now, she has melded her experience and professional training into a series of customized wellness holistic programs of life coaching, nutrition, yoga and holistic image called InLINE.