Your free throw...

ain’t got nothing on this down dog!

Sure, yoga might not be an athlete's first choice when it comes to working out and training, but that doesn't mean it still can't kick your asana (excuse my yogi language) when need be!

Down dog

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Believe it or not, yoga is actually a great complement to many intense sporting activities, especially running, cycling and climbing to name a few. Studies have shown that athletes spend much less time being sore when yoga is a part of their normal regimen, as the increased circulation helps to cleanse excess lactic acid build up in the muscles. It also helps to maintain a proper range of motion and balanced alignment of the skeletal and muscular systems and ultimately prevents injury and dysfunction so that an athlete can continue to enjoy their sport. Talk about a touchdown!

Still not completely convinced? Well, let me introduce you to Alanna Zabel — yoga, pilates and fitness instructor extraordinaire! Alanna has gained national exposure for her yoga expertise and celebrity clientele, including the oh-so-dreamy Adam Levine (be still my heart). She also works with many athletes and has even launched her own active wear clothing line called AZIAM.

Needless to say, Alanna knows a thing or two when it comes to yoga and fitness, and that's exactly why SheKnows chatted with her to get the 411 on why yoga is so beneficial for athletes.

SheKnows: How often do you recommend athletes participate in yoga classes in order to see/feel results?

Alanna Zabel: I recommend practicing yoga two to three times a week to supplement more intense workouts. This typically helps to balance intense (often anaerobic) activities, while increasing cardiovascular capacity and reducing risk of injury. One will usually feel great after the first class and begin seeing positive changes in their bodies at about three weeks.

For my clients who play professional sports, I only recommend a 15-20 minutes stretch before their game, and a deeper 30-45 minute stretch afterwards, focusing on balanced posture and increased range of motion of the major joints. During their off-season, we really focus on going deeper into their yoga practice and achieving greater mobility.

SK: What should athletes/runners be aware of when first beginning their yoga practice?

AZ: Athletes tend to bring a "more is better, faster is better" mentality into yoga, which can be dangerous, especially if they aren't as limber as they would like to be. They tend to push themselves beyond what is practical and helpful in the long run on their yoga mats. The best advice that I can give to a beginner is to listen to your body, don't push yourself too far and try to enjoy the process. With yoga, it is truly the tortoise who wins the race!

SK: Is there a specific yoga pose to help relieve knee/joint pain, which is a common complaint among athletes and runners in particular?

AZ: As long as the knee pain is not related to any muscle or tendon tears around the knee, stretching the muscles around the upper thighs and hips is typically the best way to relieve periodic knee tightness and pain. My two favorite go-to poses are modified standing bow and gentle seated pigeon. Especially if there is any pain and/or tenderness, supportive restorative poses are much better than dynamic stretches. Relax into a comfortable, supported position and hold the pose for 5-10 minutes while taking deep, slow breaths.

Modified standing bow

Modified bowl

Gentle seated pigeon

gentle seated pigeon

SK: What yoga pose would you recommend to relieve sore feet?

AZ: Parallel foot rolls into seated stretch. Start in a bent-knee standing forward bend with fingertips on the floor in front of you. Roll onto the balls of your feet (lifting your heels), then roll back to your heels (lifting your toes and balls of your feet). Depending on your lower back and hamstring flexibility, you can do this with straight legs as well. Repeat five times and finish by staying on the balls of your feet, sitting on your heels. If your balance feels good, try balancing with your hand in front of your chest.

Parallel foot rolls

Parallel foot rolls

Parallel foot rolls

Parallel foot rolls

Up next: Check out Alanna's top five yoga poses for athletes! >>

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