orange yoga mat on the garden (Photo: Tatomm, Chutima chaochaiya)

Yoga is not an Olympic sport, not yet anyway. The reality is it’s already a big part of these summer games. Athletes have brought their yoga mats all the way to Rio.

For them, the practice is a huge part of their workout routine and may just be the added the boost their bodies need to reach peak performance.

So far, team USA men’s basketball has looked invincible. The team spends many hours in the gym fine-tuning their craft. But the most important workout may not come from shooting, sprinting or lifting. It may come from a yoga mat.

NBA players and Olympians past and present like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have all made yoga a part of their training regimen.

Love even has his own yoga video, and talked about his commitment to the practice — prior to the summer games in 2012.

“I try to get a couple of workouts in at least every day, and I don’t feel like I’ve done enough, I’ll either jump on the bike or call Kent. I’ll do extra stuff in here for the yoga, so for me, I just look at it like I mentioned the players are made in the summer and there’s no time to stand still, ” Love said at a time when he still wore a Timberwolves jersey.

The “Kent” Love mentioned is none other than Kent Katich, who is known as “the” yoga instructor throughout the NBA. “Players like Kevin Love or guys of that stature, when they start doing it and their success is only getting better; younger players pay attention,” Katich said of high profile yoga enthusiasts like Love, LeBron and others.

At studios like Yoga 101 in Berea, instructors see athletes adding yoga to their training all the time. “Basketball players, runners, cyclists, cross fitters, body buildings, competition weight lifters. On campus, I have tennis players, basketball teams. I work with soccer teams, lots of athletes,” said instructor Julie VanMeter.

Some athletes may use the ancient practice to improve flexibility and stretching. Others may target poses that help increase explosiveness and power.  “It’s a wonderful complement to any practice. It’s awareness, it is breath, it is moving through the breath. That’s what I teach the most,” added VanMeter who works with clients from elite athletes to teaching a “Silver Sneakers” program.

Breath oxygenates your system. And Yogic breathing can help expand your use of oxygen which can help with stamina.  Something Team USA will need as they continue pushing their bodies on the court, and in the quest for gold.

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