Yoga and Baseball Have More in Common Than You Think


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It begins in silence. Eventually, there’s a long, slow breath out as the body, poised between stillness and movement, readies itself for something that has been practiced so many times it has become unconscious. Then the body contorts, the weight shifts, and the mind focuses exclusively on a series of carefully coordinated maneuvers and nothing else.

I’m talking, of course, about a pitcher delivering a 98 mph fastball.

Baseball has been around the longest of any professional sport, although it’s still a newcomer in yoga years. Yet if you’ve ever watched even a few innings of a game, chances are you’ve noticed the intense twists and balancing postures that seem to be both meditative and explosive. There’s an alignment and sequencing of a pitcher’s wind-up, a first baseman’s stretch for a low throw, and a batter’s coiled stance before the swing. The overlap between these and a carefully sequenced yoga class might suggest a kinship.

“I believe that thousands of years ago, the yoga mystics and the baseball mystics were hanging out and they had a good laugh about how similar they are,” jokes Alan Jaeger, a former collegiate baseball player and a pioneer in integrating yoga into Major League clubhouses.

These days, it’s pretty standard for athletes not only to have access to trainers and coaches with a background in the discipline but to have yoga be a required—and often appreciated—part of their training. As athletes increasingly embrace the mental and physical benefits, yoga and meditation play an increasingly essential role. But that wasn’t always the case.

“When I started teaching pro athletes 30 years ago, none of them knew what yoga was,” explains Gwen Lawrence, an instructor who has worked with numerous professional sports teams and athletes, including the New York Mets and New York Yankees. “They thought it was all miming and stretching. They quickly realized nothing was further from the truth and saw how hard it was and how relevant it was.”

In recent years, says Lawrence, most athletes start practicing in yoga in high school and continue it during college. “The physical part gets people in the door, but they also start to appreciate the breath and the quiet and the presence,” he says. In other words, hitting a fastball requires not only supertrained fast-twitch reflexes but the ability to regulate the physiological systems that might start to go haywire in front of 30,000 fans in the bottom of the 9th.

Blooper, the Atlanta Braves’ mascot, meditating before a game. (Photo: Icon Sportswire | Getty)

 

And when you consider baseball as a sport that manifests as a ritualistic repetition of specific patterns, you can start to observe the similarities. “It’s eerie,” said Jaeger, who’s also the founder of Jaeger Sports, a physical and mental training organization for baseball players.

“I can’t emphasize enough the correlation between these functional movements in yoga and how they relate to throwing, pitching, and hitting,” says Jaeger. “I think baseball players really love yoga because they intuitively feel not only the obvious benefits of flexibility and balance, but the functional connection of moving in ways that are really going to help them on the field,” said Jaeger. “It’s intuitive.”

Pay close attention the next time you sit down with our national pastime and see if you can identify the yoga influence on display. Turns out you can practice yoga just about anywhere.

Yoga or Baseball? 

With the 2024 season in full swing, we were curious to hear the thoughts of Jaeger and Lawrence on big leaguers in action (and inaction) as to whether they were just stretching or actually practicing yoga. Although practicing yoga is more than making a shape, with an emphasis on focusing your awareness and slowing your breath, so in some ways we can’t discern who is doing yoga and who isn’t. But we can guess.

Javier Baez of the Detroit Tigers practicing the pigeon pose
Shortstop Javier Baez of the Detroit Tigers takes a moment during a game to stretch…or is he practicing yoga? (Photo: Duane Burleson | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

Gwen Lawrence: This first picture is a standing pigeon stretch, sometimes referred to as figure four. It’s most similar to Pigeon Pose.

Alan Jaeger: Yoga pose. It’s like Half Lotus meets an element of Lunge.

Three different yoga poses that resemble baseball stretches that players practice in the outfield
Pigeon Pose (left), Half Lotus (top center), and Lunge (right). (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL: It’s useful for hip tightness and lower back issues, including sciatic nerve issues. Also, when the hips are open, there is less stress and strain on the knees.

AJ: I would say do that pose while holding onto a pole or wall. To practice this position properly, you need to keep your knees stabilized over your ankle. The lower you go to get a deeper stretch in that hip or glute, the more your knee is going to tend to buckle toward the right. If you’re holding onto something, you can gradually sit and keep that knee over the ankle so that it feels stable.

Yoshihisa Hirano of the Arizona Diamondbacks practices a yoga squat on a baseball field
Yoshihisa Hirano, formely of the Diamondbacks, pauses to strike a pose in the seventh inning before delivering his next pitch. (Photo: Dilip Vishwanat | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

GL: This, I would imagine, is just a low back twist. By bending the knees, you can really isolate the back twist. It is most similar to a yoga Squat or Goddess Pose.

AJ: Totally a yoga pose. Half Moon is sort of there. There’s also Revolved Triangle. We’ll go Revolved Half Moon.

Yoga poses Half Moon, Revolved Triangle, and Revolved Half Moon.
Half Moon (left), Revolved Triangle (center) and Revolved Half Moon (right). (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL: It’s useful for lower back mobility and alignment as well as a light hip and lower back opener.

AJ: Everything should be done moderately and gradually. And be highly aware of those knees staying strong over the heels.

Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays practices a shoulder stand pose on a baseball field
Josh Donaldson, prior to his retirement, finds some relief before a game. (Photo: Tom Szczerbowski | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

GL: Yoga. This pose is closest to Plow or Shoulder Stand.

AJ: This is both. There was a period in baseball where we always finished stretching with doing this pose. It strongly reeks of both baseball and yoga.

Two different yoga and baseball stretches known as Plow Pose and Shoulderstand
Plow Pose (left) and Shoulderstand (right). (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL: This pose opens the entire back body, from the base of the skull to the ankles. An open neck will help with shoulder mobility. It will also be a great pose for lymph drainage to refresh dead, tired, heavy legs. It also improves posture.

AJ: Be highly aware of your elbows and your shoulders being in a very stable position. Bending the knees can help take some unnecessary pressure off the back for someone who is relatively new to this.

Corbin Carroll of the Arizona Diamondbacks practices a pigeon pose on a baseball field
Corbin Carroll stretching stretching the hip flexors and lower back prior to a spring training game. (Photo: John E. Moore III | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

GL: Stretch. I do not know what they would call it in the baseball world but it is most similar to Pigeon Pose, Deer Pose, or an exercise called 90/90.

AJ: That’s a very traditional looking baseball stretch. It’s also very similar to Pigeon.

Woman in One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose. (Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing; Calia)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL: The benefits are similar to Pigeon. This version adds the inner thigh and lower back. And by putting the right hip on the ground, it takes the load off of the right knee for people who have knee issues, tenderness, or are rehabbing.

AJ: Be mindful of the knee. The more you bend the leg the easier you can get into this position without putting pressure and unnecessary pressure on the knee.

Kris Bryant of the Colorado Rockies stretching on the baseball field
Kris Bryant of the Colorado Rockies before a game taking those hamstrings for a wild ride. (Photo: Icon Sportswire | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

GL: This is part of a dynamic warm-up in baseball and involves kicking to open your hamstrings and lower back. If frozen, it almost resembles a split.

AJ: This looks more like a chorus line. There’s a pose where you bring your leg up and grab your toe with your hands. But this looks more like he’s dancing.

Man practicing two different yoga poses that are similar to baseball stretches
Splits (left) and Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL: That type of hold is for hamstrings and hip flexors. In the dynamic motion it helps with balance. Opening the hamstrings can free up the back. Opening the hip flexor (the standing leg) will align the pelvis properly, release the hamstrings, and take a load off the low back.

Joey Vatto of the Cincinnati Reds practices a forward standing straddle on a baseball field
 Joey Votto, who previously played for the Cincinnati Reds, working those adductors and hamstrings in the infield. (Photo: Jamie Sabau | Getty Images)

Yoga pose or baseball stretch?

GL: Yoga pose. The standing straddle forward bend.

AJ: Yoga. This pose is so cool. Prasarita Padottanasana is basically what he’s doing.

Woman demonstrates Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
Prasarita Padottanasana, which is also known as Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend. (Photo: Andrew Clark)

Any tips for weekend warriors looking to utilize this stretch?

GL:  I would not recommend you copy this pose with the feet that wide unless you have experience, as he does. This stretch is best for the inner thighs, to refresh the brain, and for hamstring and ankle mobility.

AJ: Inversions are extremely important to the body. Because we walk upright all day, our organs are upright. Do it somewhere where you’re not on a baseball field or a ball might hit your head when you’re not looking. Take your time and enjoy this position. It’s a relaxing posture. It’s beautiful.

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