| By Jimmy Riaz

Yoga, a Hindu system of meditation and self-control, involves a plan of physical exercises and breathing control … it strives for complete unity between the mind and body. The sport of tennis also requires complete unity between mind and body; in fact, it’s a mind-body game. If you want to improve your tennis game, then Yoga is the way to go.

Some of the sport’s top pros practice Yoga. Bjorn Borg spends at least one month every year with his Maharishi in Geneva, Switzerland. People call Borg “The Ice Man” because of his intense concentration achieved through Yoga. Some of the sport’s all-time greatest pros, Jimmy Connors, Billie Jean King and Ken Roswell among them, played well beyond their years and all were practitioners of Yoga.
Many other former professional athletes also practiced Yoga while in their prime, football’s Joe Namath and George Blanda, boxing’s Muhammad Ali, and Sharif Khan, Pakistan’s greatest squash player. These men ha done thing in common—they knew how to blend their energies and achieve complete unity in mind and body. This sort of unity could be attributed to their practice of Yoga.
Yoga can be learned through a teacher called a “Yogi.” First, you must understand that there are two types of Yoga: Hartha Yoga and Karma Yoga.
Hartha Yoga is physical (outer) and Karma Yoga is internal (inner). In Hartha Yoga, you perform physical exercises to limber up the body, such as swinging your tennis racket from side to side or up, over and back. You may do deep knee bends as you swing your racket, inhaling as you go down and exhaling as you come back up.
In Hartha Yoga, loosening up the back is a very important step. We all have 28 vertebrae in or back, and therefore, we need to swing the racket up and back 28 times to loosen, stretch and limber up each vertebrae. If you jump right into playing without stretching, you may hurt yourself badly. Evan a fiddle player tunes up their instrument before playing … your body deserves as much. Hartha Yoga teaches us that our “Ki´ is the center of our body’s gravity. The Ki is located one-half-inch below the bellybutton and all of our body’s energy revolves around it. We need to keep our Ki parallel to the tennis ball. The only way to keep our Ki parallel to the ball is to get under the ball, hit up and follow through. This has the effect of putting all your body weight into the swing and the ball. Putting all your weight into the ball is a secret weapon that many outstanding sports figures practice. When Jimmy Connors used to hit his backhand, all the weight from his body would go into the ball. He blends all his energies and the synergy is a beautiful thing to watch.
Karma Yoga, the second type of Yoga, focuses on the inner qualities of mind control and breathing. Positive thinking is the key. You must be positive in tennis and the only way to remain positive is to inhale positive energy. If you inhale negativity, then that attitude will unfortunately shine through. If you constantly state that your backhand is terrible, then your backhand will remain terrible and you’ll never be able to hit a good backhand shot. If you think you know how to hit a good backhand and concentrate on it, then you will do just that.
Karma Yoga requires strict concentration and focus. Some of my own students come to learn to play tennis, but their minds are clouded with all their other thoughts except tennis. Their minds simply are not there and they play poorly, blame themselves, their tennis pro and others. The reason for their poor play is because their mind and body are not working in unison.
In Karma Yoga, you practice meditation, focusing on one thought and forcing your min to stick to that thought. Your Yogi will give you a mantra or a special thought or saying, that you will repeat with each heartbeat. As you play tennis, you can repeat this mantra to yourself over and over again. You mantra is your secret, as you never discuss it with anyone and never give it to another person.
In summary, Yoga is the secret to better habits and an improvement on your tennis game.
++Think positively
++Ask a Yogi to give you a mantra
++Limber your body before playing
++Use your Ki as your balance point
++Meditate and concentrate as you play

You will begin to center your life and your tennis game will improve. Both results are the secrets of happiness.

Jimmy Riaz

<p>Jimmy Riaz is a United States Tennis Association professional from Pakistan.</p>