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Yoga aids tennis players of all levels

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Yoga and the sport of tennis have a lot in common.

Both are definitely physical and mental, but other aspects like flexibility and keeping one's focus also come into play.

We've flipped the calendar to a new year and that means that short break tennis players usually take around the holidays is now over and tennis enthusiasts are now dusting off their racquets.

Tennis players in the Atlanta area, the state of Georgia, and around the country have different dreams. They may include winning one more league match that they did last season, making the high school team, or even someday playing on the grounds of Wimbledon.

Andrea Zavislak-Musungwa, small business owner of You Yoga, Me Yoga in Sandy Springs, Georgia says yoga could help them all.

Yoga and meditation help refine and improve our focusing skills. So for tennis players it makes sense that they can help us enter "the zone," a term tennis players know as playing perfect tennis, more frequently. In yoga is is called living "in the moment."

In recent years, breathing techniques have become chic in tennis. These include slow, deep breaths before serving or between points to get centered, relax, and bring yourself back to the moment. Breath control is part of every yoga asana or posture. But in tennis, it's nothing new- Arthur Ashe used this technique back in the 1975 Wimbledon final. That day, Ashe upset the one and only Jimmy Connors. During changeovers in the match, Ashe covered his head with a towel and calmed himself with controlled breathing. Many pros do this today, and amateurs could help their play with similar techniques practiced in a yoga class.

Other benefits of yoga for tennis players include: increased strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. If you haven't noticed (or if your body hasn't told you) tennis is a much more physical sport today than it has even been. The sport of tennis isn't easy, it really throws your body physically out of balance. The elbow, wrist in your dominant arm, knees, calves, ankles, and hips take a beating. Some studies have shown that during a two-hour tennis match your body can take as much beating as a tight end does during a football game.

I haven't even mentioned your back. The back and spine on serves, returns, and overheads will twist and turn like a spring.

Yoga will give you greater flexibility in your back and shoulders, especially on shots that require rotation.

Back in the early 2000's Yoga Journal noted that yoga silences your "inner chatter" and helps tennis players strengthen injury-prone joints. They highlighted these asanas for "courtside" yogis:

-Warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II) to develop strength and balance.
-Chair pose (utkatasana) to create space throughout the ankle and knee joint; lengthen the Achilles' tendons, calves, and spinal column; and firm the abdomen.
-Bridge pose (setu bandha) to develop a supple back and torso.
-Handstand (adho mukha vrksana) to build mental and physical focus and agility.
So before, and while you hit the courts this winter and spring, you might want to hit a yoga class and see what yoga can do for your tennis game in 2014

Yoga is good for your body, mind, and tennis game. Who knew?

You can check out the variety of classes as You Yoga, Me Yoga Studio, 8745 Dunwoody Place, Sandy Springs, www.youyogameyoga.com.

Andrea Zavislak-Musungwa contributed to this article.

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