Print Posted by Sports Yoga on 23/05/2017

The Art of Teaching Yoga to Athletes - How to make it work!

The Art of Teaching Yoga to Athletes - How to make it work!

The Art & Science of Teaching Yoga to Athletes and in Sport

I’m Sarah Ramsden – although I am probably better known as something like ‘The Ryan Giggs Yoga Woman’. I teach yoga to athletes and in sport. I’ve worked at Manchester City FC and Manchester United FC for 9 years now, working with senior, U21 and youth teams. My work covers the England Women’s football team, GB Taekwondo, the Football Association, many other football clubs and individual players, and of course all the runners, bikers, triathletes, fell runners, swimmers who come to my classes.

Yoga for athletes is big and getting bigger. Fuelled partly by the media coverage of top footballers like Ryan Giggs, and partly by a growing awareness of the benefits of yoga, regular sports people (and lots of them men) are seeking out our yoga classes.

And as a yoga teacher you are uniquely placed to take advantage of this amazing interest.

So here’s my One to Ten of successful working with athletes. I’ve split it into 5 areas of stuff you should know; and 5 aspects of character or teaching that maybe help.


Know Your Stuff No 1: Functional Anatomy

This isn’t dry lists of muscles and attachments (though you do need to know a bunch of them). This is the amazing process of how we move, how we mediate how we move, how our movement adapts us. This is teaching from the extraordinary absolutes of our biology and it opens a world of teaching based on the bodies before you and what they need. Think Vanda Scaravelli meets twenty first century dissection techniques meets quantum biology.

Know Your Stuff No. 2: Your Sport

You’ve gotta gotta know this! How does playing a particular sport change the bodies who play it? And how do you know? And how can you check – because Hey! We’re All Different. So how could we test it? And what are we testing? And what would we expect anyway? So you need a working knowledge of sports physiology. And you need a good working knowledge of what adaptation you might expect of a footballer, or rugby player, or triathlete, or mountain biker or taekwondo player…

Know Your Stuff No. 3: Your Language

With the footballers, I work in their world and I am a privileged guest in that world. So no I don’t throw Sanskrit around – it won’t help them be better footballers. I use the language of their sport so I can communicate. And if you are going to be talking and working with physios, you had better get your medical / anatomical language up to scratch. Without it you won’t communicate. (Don’t worry it isn’t hard).

Know Your Stuff No. 4: Stability

You can call this Bandhas, pilates, segmental stability or whatever but getting some functional stability around someone’s middle is up there as one of the most important things you can do for someone. Especially if that someone is an athlete. And sticking that someone into Navasana repeatedly doesn’t really count as decent stability training. So you are going to have to go outside the yoga box here and really learn this one. But it does come full circle back to many yoga techniques and the impact on yourself and others is extraordinary. Understanding this one will be top of the list in any professional sport.

Know Your Stuff No. 5: Strength

Strength is what holds us together and strength defines athletes. It is super important. So you need to understand how strength is developed, and how flexibility and stability work with strength to allow us to move the way we are designed to. And the way a sport demands of us.


As A Teacher: Be Passionate

I am an anatomy geek, a movement junkie, a human-body-miracle believer, an Hallelujah–Shout-It-From-The-Rooftops ‘You are fearfully and wonderfully made ’Evangelist. I am fascinated by the stories peoples’ bodies tell, by how they got to where they are. By what an absolute triumph of natural law we are even when it all goes pear-shaped. I am the person who wants to hear all about your dodgey knee, your dickey back, the time when you fell and your shoulder has never been the same. I am never bored by bodies. Find your passion and communicate it.

As a Teacher: Be an Athlete

OK, you don’t absolutely have to BUT you do need to have some idea of what it feels like todo what the people you teach do. If you are an athlete of some kind it will add tremendous depth and empathy and experience to your teaching. If you aren’t –well, just give it a go. Do a stack of strength training. Go running. Get on a mountain bike. Just for a bit. Understand how it feels and how your body responds. You will be a far better teacher for it.

As a Teacher: Be Interested

I watch a lot of football matches these days and can do the football chat with the best of them. Because for the people I work with, that is what it all adds up to. So take an interest in the sport – read about it, go watch it (or better still, go play it!). Remember that it is the desire to play that sport better, and for longer, that has brought these men and women to your class.

As A Teacher: Be Humble 

Working in sport has cut me down to size in many ways – too many to remember fortunately.  A big humbling moment was the realisation (say it quietly) that yoga is not the answer to everything and most athletes are trying to be athletes not yogis. I am not at MCFC or MUFC to make them into yogis, but into better players and the minute I forget that then I will be out on my arse. So I give them the tools of yoga to help themselves –  a balanced uncompressed body, breath work, what  being relaxed feels like, self-awareness and mindfulness – without worrying about whether they think of it as yoga or not, or what their individual journey will be.

As a Teacher: Be Relevant

I used to think that making athletes sweat on the mat by doing loads of vinyasa and complex standing poses was doing them good. It isn’t. Remember: beasting someone is easy, and a cheap trick, and is probably irrelevant – you just get them to do something reasonably challenging that they are not used to doing. Like me trying to sprint one end of a football pitch to the other (have you checked the size of a football pitch recently?): I would have a heart attack. So I don’t do stuff that isn’t relevant to them just to make myself look good (well, not often).  I try to make it about them and their bodies and their needs, and get me and my fat ego out of the way.

So start a class. Get going on your journey of working with sportspeople.  As a teacher you will be finding new and rewarding groups to work with. And for these unlikely sporting yogis, you will be giving them the double gift of doing the stuff they love better and for longer, and of opening the blessed doorway of yoga for them.

About the Author: Sarah RAMSDEN (SYT)

Sarah Ramsden specialises in teaching yoga in sport and for postural health. Her new Yoga Alliance Professionals accredited course 'The Body Athletic: Teaching Yoga in Sport' and 'The Body Aligned: Teaching for Postural Health' are on her website.


Sarah is a regular contributor to Amrita magazine. 

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