Tips & Techniques to Get You Back to Full Strength

Yoga for Rehabilitation

Denise Smith 
December 18, 2018
Yoga for Rehabilitation

Colin is a graduate of Marian Central Catholic High School and is now a student at Notre Dame, studying business. He participates on the Club Rowing Team and enjoys recreational running. We are so proud of our former athlete and wanted to share his thoughts on how yoga can be beneficial for EVERY athlete.

About three years ago, Denise Smith opened her business as a runner-specific physical therapy outlet. She thought that her own love for exercise would allow her to enter into the minds of her patients and sympathize with their injuries. However, an unexpected consequence accompanied this. Smith recalled that “running became anxiety provoking” and “I constantly was thinking of new ways to help clients during my runs. I could not concentrate.” Within a matter of weeks, Denise was challenged by a patient to begin yoga, claiming that it would bring a love of running back. This practice quieted Smith’s brain and allowed her to enjoy exercise once again (D. Smith, personal communication, September 17, 2018). Yoga acts as a mender for the entirety of a person’s health: mind, body, and soul. When it is implemented in rehabilitation, yoga not only aids in healing bodily injuries, but also the emotional instability and mental state that often accompany these afflictions.

Athletes often have a tendency to overwork themselves. Cross-country contenders enter a habitual routine of running every day, losing fulfillment when they lack exercise for a day. Rest days come with fear, even causing worry. These emotions can have dramatic effects on performance on the field. Yet, yoga provides an outlet to relieve stress, train in a different manner, and enhance overall well-being. Experiences and thinking have dramatic impacts on our brain and nervous system and how “profoundly and immediately they can influence our physiology” (Kabat-Zinn, 2012, p. 228). The mind has power over our entire body and a profound influence on our health. Even further, when injury plagues an athlete's career, his mindset changes along with the hurting of his body. These negative thoughts prolong the rehabilitation process because of their effect on the physical body. With this recognition, practices like yoga take priority in healing through calming emotions and regulating thoughts in a calm environment. However, there is a crucial second step in the rehabilitation process.

After a patient achieves a sound mental state, the physical therapist commences with the physical healing of the specific injury. Practitioners employ a variety of practices which include stretching to elongate the muscle and exercises to strengthen the joint. As a continuous practice, yoga provides these same healing techniques to the patient. The positions that yogis hold resemble exercises that therapists prescribe and have similar benefits of strength and stability. With these aspects in mind, Smith suggested yoga to an athlete who had a recent ACL injury. This particular patient was adamantly opposed to the practice, but with much persuasion, she attended her first yoga session. Not only did it help with the physical aspect of strengthening the muscle, but also, her misconceptions about yoga were broken. The athlete learned that yoga could be utilized as an off-day recovery workout and aid in keeping her body physically healthy (D. Smith, personal communication, September 17, 2018). Cases such as this ACL injury illustrate the versatility of this mind-body exercise; yoga can be scaled to a skillset or physical injury, and even decreases the likelihood of future injuries. The potential for yoga to be altered to all skill levels and ages make it one of the most adaptable forms of rehabilitation.

Similar to the practice of Reiki, difficulty in certain poses can indicate previous injuries and any stressors on the body. Originating as a spiritual practice of Hinduism, yoga strongly resembles Reiki in its ability to restore emotional wellbeing (Kielton, 9/10/2018). Differing styles touch on aspects of Hinduism, emphasizing the spirit-body connection. Several poses have roots in ancient religion and have the purpose of bringing the spirit to a peaceful state. Even the physical process of rhythmic breathing aids in calming emotions both inside and outside the studio. Smith recognized the emotional benefits of yoga even at home. Oftentimes, she would wake up in the middle of the night, overcome by stress, and not be able to fall asleep. Utilizing the steady breathing techniques from yoga, her emotions were calmed, and sleep came naturally to her (D. Smith, personal communication, September 17, 2018). This instance exemplifies yoga’s practical purposes in many aspects of life, not just within the studio. A peaceful environment has a dramatic impact on spirit-body wellbeing, shortening the process of physical rehab.

Because of its length and tediousness, rehabilitation manifests itself as a dreaded process to athletes. Nonetheless, yoga expedites recovery of entire bodily health. Physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of healing are affected, allowing the patient to put their rehabilitation into perspective. The versatility of yoga as a practice that can be modified for any skill level offers the primary reason it should be implemented in rehabilitation. A total healing of mind, body, and soul is required for complete treatment of an injury, and yoga acts as a form of rehab that heals the entire person.


Kabat-Zinn, J. 2013.“Doctors, Patients, and People: Moving Toward a Unified Perspective on Health and Illness,” pp. 219-241 in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Illness and Pain. New York: Bantam Books.

Kielton, C. (2018, September 10). Reiki Healing. Lecture presented in University of Notre Dame.

Denise Smith
Meet the Author
Denise Smith graduated from Marquette University in 2002 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy and has been a certified running technique specialist since 2014. She is a consultant for multiple local middle and high schools and instructs courses in Kinesiology at McHenry County College. Denise also travels the country as part of the Pose Method education team with a lecture series on injury prevention and treatment along with the running technique certification course.