Top five yoga poses for basketball

In a new series, yoga professional Gwen Lawrence will choose a sport and show us the top five poses designed to keep athletes in the game. This month, the focus is on basketball.

The key to using yoga to reduce the risk of injury in any sport is to be proactive, not reactive. In basketball, that means guarding against the tight hamstrings and sore hip flexors caused by pounding the floor at high speeds. Constant jumping, shooting and shot-blocking can create backaches and shoulder tightness, and running and cutting can be as hard on knees as they are on Achilles tendons.

Here are some poses to balance the wear and tear on the court.

1. Standing crescent pose: This pose can counterbalance the repetitive movement of reaching to defend a player or the basket. A 30-second hold on each side, two or three times, can open the side of the body, making the wingspan reach a breeze.

It also opens the space between the ribs, allowing greater lung capacity, which is critical in this aerobic game.

2. Plank wrist opener: An often overlooked issue with basketball players is the need to open the wrist joint to create flexibility.

A flexible wrist can create a greater range of motion and more power to launch the ball to the hoop.

To get that flexibility, try holding plank pose and engaging the abs while turning the wrist.

Hold for 30 seconds on each side for two to three sets.

3. Pigeon pose with quad variation: Pigeon pose is a beloved position for many athletes. It releases the hips and glutes and can relieve sciatic pain.

For the basketball player who is constantly cutting and running, the more open and supple the hips are, the less stress there will be on the knees.

Bending the back leg to add a quad stretch to the position will open the quad and deep hip flexor for better range of motion. Holding this pose for two to three minutes on each side will also help alleviate stress on the back.

4. Hero's pose, toes tucked/untucked: Kneeling in hero's will keep nice flexion in the knees as well as stretch the quadriceps.

Keeping the toes untucked first and holding for two to three minutes, you will also stretch deep into the shin and open the top of the foot to increase range of motion in the ankle.

This can help with quickness by giving you more power to push off.

Doing the toes-tucked version will intensely open the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia (bottom of the foot, arch area) as well the bottoms of the toes.

Together, that increases the ankle's range of motion and makes for smoother, easier running and jumping.

5. Standing forward bend against the wall: We all know that stretching the hamstrings is important for agility. Folding over and leaning your back against the wall and holding for three to five minutes to open the hamstrings can get results faster if done regularly.

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball and hockey, as well as with several college teams. Follow her on Twitter @gwenlawrence.