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Yoga for Great Tennis
by Anastasia Dorohova

You are on a tennis court and everything is looking good: your backhand is as strong as ever and your serve is impeccable. Point after point, you are winning the match. Inspired, you come back to the same court the next day and unfortunately, are faced with a different scenario: nothing works, every ball goes out and the more points you are losing, the more irritable you become. Sadly, this scenario is too familiar to most tennis players. If you are not a pro, you are likely to experience some degree of unsteadiness in your tennis game.

Yogic practices can tremendously help in making your tennis game steadier and stronger.

Meditating for just ten minutes a day can greatly improve your concentration during a stressful match and dristi (single-pointed gaze) would prevent your tennis instructor from screaming: "Watch the ball!" for the seventeenth time during a half-hour practice! Pranayama (breathing practices) increase the lung capacity, so you don't run out of breath while your tennis partner is busy running you from one corner of the court to the other. Regular asana practice would make you more flexible, therefore increasing your reach on the court. Sun Salutations make the spine suppler, so if used as a pre-game stretch, they can greatly reduce the risk of injury.

While most yoga poses can be used as an aid for a tennis game enhancement, some poses are still better than others, as they target tennis-specific injuries and problem areas. These poses can be done both on and off the court and of course, if you'd like to see quick improvement, you should try to practice regularly.

Before starting your yoga practice, take a moment to center your breathing. Inhale and exhale deeply and fully through the nose (ujjayi breath.) Try to remember to go back to this type of breathing in between difficult points during your next match. You will notice the soothing and the centering effect of ujjayi when you are stressing out about a tie-break or about losing a game.

Inhale and lift your arms in prayer pose up to the sky. Exhale and fold forward, placing your palms on the floor, with fingertips in line with the toes. Then, straighten your legs, if you can. Inhale and look up. The spine is straight. Exhale and jump or step back into chaturanga, bending your elbows straight back. Look in front of you, not down. The elbows have to be very close the body, don't let your tailbone stick out in the air. Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Hold the pose for five breaths. This pose strengthens the arms and the wrists, so you'd never have to use one of these annoying wrist machines again, because practicing chaturanga should eventually give you a better control of the racquet.

Inhale and move forward, lifting to upward-facing dog.

Your thighs should be a few inches off the floor. Gaze at the tip of your nose. Make sure that the inner elbow creases face forward, thus opening the shoulders. Hold for five breaths. Up-dog is great for tennis elbow treatment and prevention. Because the pose opens up the shoulders, there is less pressure on the elbow joint. The pose also strengthens the spine, the arms and the wrists. It can improve your serve.

Exhale and make your way into a downward-facing dog, pushing back, straightening the legs and trying to place the soles of the feet on the floor. Gaze at your navel. Spread your fingers wide and make sure the inner elbow creases are still rotated forward, while the middle fingers are parallel and pointed straight forward. This way you are preventing the tennis elbow through stretching the shoulder joint. Activate your quadriceps and hold the pose for five breaths.

Downward facing dog is one of the best pre-game stretches. It stretches the spine, the sides of the torso, the shoulders, the arms, the neck and the backs of the legs. If you practice downward-facing dog regularly, you should have a better reach on the court and you may feel lighter while running to the net. Your ground strokes can improve tremendously from all of this stretching. If you love this pose, you are unlikely to develop post-game cramping of the legs, because of the regular hamstring stretch. The serve should become very powerful from the shoulder opening.

From a standing pose, inhale and lift your right knee into the chest. Exhale and open your right knee to the right, placing the right sole of the foot into the inner side of the left thigh. Imagine energy, lifting through your left leg. Lift your pelvic floor in and up. Keep your torso straight and on the inhalation, lift your arms in prayer up above your head, with forearms being behind the ears to tree pose, vrksasana.

Keep your gaze steady at an unmoving point in front of you. Hold for ten breaths and repeat on the other side.

Tree pose is excellent for balance and coordination, necessary for tennis. It also strengthens the back and the torso muscles for a great serve and works on the leg muscles for ground strokes and volleys.

Yoga practice can make your tennis game steadier, through improving your strokes and helping your injuries. Most importantly, yoga can steady your mind, so you are able to get "into the zone," necessary for winning.

Anastasia Dorohova teaches yoga at various corporations and tennis clubs in New York. She also leads nutrition, holistic health and diet workshops. As a graduate of The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Anastasia believes that there is no one diet that works for everyone, so she employs various Eastern and Western nutrition philosophies and diet while working with her clients. Anastasia successfully works with multiple private clients and teaches them in yoga, meditation, nutrition and overall health. She produced and starred in three DVD's: Yoga for Great Tennis, Yoga For Tennis Elbow and Bad Knees, and Easy Power and Flexibility for Tennis. Her web site is www.steadybliss.com.

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