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Level up: how yoga can help e-athletes stay fighting fit

Image: Michael Tseng

In our last blog, we explored how Hayley Winter, founder of The Institute of Yoga Sports Science® (YSS) was one of the early pioneers of teaching yoga online, and this week we’re carrying on the digital theme taking a look at the world of competitive online sports, or eSports and how yoga can help e-athletes stay sharp and focused.

Online gaming used to be the sole province of teenagers playing at home on their Nintendo’s, but since the 00’s has been steadily growing into highly lucrative tournaments where teams and players can earn significant amounts in prize money every year. With the grand finals of the British eSports Championships set to take place next year at the Birmingham NEC, and eSports set to feature at the 2022 Asian Games, eSports popularity is soaring.

Far from being a bunch of kids playing video games, eSports is now a over a $1bn industry with revenues reaching $700m in 2017 and predictions of $905.6 this year. With a global audience exceeding 400 million players, (yes, that’s right, 400 million!) it’s a massive industry and community. Teams of players compete in huge arenas such as Wembley SSE Arena and the O2 in front of massive crowds and there are lucrative sponsorship deals with high profile companies such as Coca-Cola and Youtube.

While some critics argue that watching teenagers play video games is not a ‘sport’, the big guns like Amazon (who bought online platform Twitch in 2014 for $950m) tell a different story. In the United States, colleges now have eSports Varsity teams and offer scholarships and in the UK, Staffordshire University in the UK is offering the first ever BA degree in eSports, which started this year.

Not surprisingly the majority of players and enthusiasts are young and male, hitting the very desirable 16-30 demographic. There are currently around 30 different recognized eSports titles, including Multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA) games such as League of Legends and Dota First-person shooters (FPS) like CSGO, Call of Duty and Overwatch. There are also Fighting games like Street Fighter, Tekken and Smash Bros and Sports-based titles including FIFA, PES, and Forza.

What are the risks?

Despite the lack of physical contact or what some consider to be athletic activity, gaming for hours on end takes an inevitable toll on the body and mind. As this is a relatively new area, researchers and medical professionals are still studying the potential effects on players, but some of the most common areas putting gamers at risk of injury or ill health are:

1. Poor posture and an inactive lifestyle.

Although the most obvious injury that is sustained by gamers is carpal tunnel syndrome, (otherwise known as ‘Space Invaders Wrist’) there have also been several reports of high-profile gamers suffering from a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) in recent years. Although the correlation isn’t definite, there is evidence that a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and bad breathing are contributing factors to such injuries. Gamers spend hours sitting and hunched over their consoles so this is definitely an area where more help is needed.

2. Mental fatigue and burnout

With the stakes in eSports being so high, there is immense pressure for e-athletes to stay focussed and to be able to play at the top of their mental game for hours, As young players become public figures, there are also increasing amounts of anxiety and other mental health issues being reported. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion as well as feelings of cynicism and detachment. The intensive training schedules for e-athletes also can take them away from much-needed downtime, rest and recovery with friends and families. It is common for these streaming stars to retire in their late teens or early twenties!

YSS tip: Introduce YSS breathing techniques and meditation to your training schedule, proven benefits are increased energy and improved reaction times.

3. Poor nutrition and lack of exercise

As mentioned before, the link between an unhealthy diet and health issues is widely reported on. Gamers spend hours sitting, without taking breaks and grab food on the go, often with little nutritional value. (We have some free techniques plus a special offer to support e-athletes and anyone who spends long periods of time sitting - info at the end of this article).

The benefits of eSports

It’s not all bad! When played or watched in moderation, there are definite benefits or advantages to eSports. Recent research conducted shows that taking part in eSports can provide many benefits to players which include:

  • Increasing perceptual and cognitive skills

  • Improving Decision making, reaction times and multitasking

  • Positive social and communication benefits

  • Promoting teamwork and develop communities

  • Improving dexterity and concentration

With increasing worries about young people’s social isolation, eSports provides a great opportunity to be actively engaged, rather than use social media passively or watch TV. But, researchers are quick to point out that regular exercise is a must for all would-be streaming stars. Some of the benefits of increasing physical activity for e-athletes is that there are significant gains in mental agility, endurance and reaction times during gameplay.


eSports teams will spend countless hours perfecting their strategies and practice intensely in order to be in peak condition. For professional eSports players competing in League of Legends, for example, teams will live together almost all year round and spend 12+ hours every single day preparing for all the various tournaments that they’ll be participating in. For top ‘dream’ teams such as Los Angeles-based Team Liquid, train in state-of-the-art facilities and have access to nutritionists and sports psychologists.

As eSports is really still in its infancy it’s only a matter of time before more coaches begin to realize the benefits of a more holistic approach to training, hopefully addressing all aspects of the athlete’s wellbeing.

Image: Saranny Him on Unsplash

Marie-Claire Isaaman, CEO of Women in Games says: ‘Professional playing can be compared to the practice of athletes. The skill involved in playing and mastering video games has led to the professionalization of eSports’

Marie-Claire’s organization recently launched a report highlighting the need for more diversity in the industry, and she further adds:

‘Yoga Sports Science is way ahead in designing programmes that can help e-athletes stay sharp, focused and fit through fine-tuning the body and mind and the power that lies in the breath. As an organization keen to support more women into eSports, Women in Games have been considering the health implications and will be recommending this initiative to all women in eSports and the esports organizations we work with’.

How can Yoga Sports Science® help?

For pro-e-gamers it can be a challenge to practice hard and reach optimal performance levels while doing everything else to ensure staying in tip-top shape. What if there were small tweaks to a daily regime that would help optimize productivity, resulting in improvements in play? These can range from taking breaks or using mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises. Yoga can play an important part in an e-athlete’s routine. As well as improving physical fitness and health, research shows that yoga improves mental agility and sharpens concentration.

Hayley Winter demonstrating one of the YSS Breathing Techniques used by athletes.

Our top tip

Many athletes we’ve worked with have found that using our yoga breathing techniques have had the biggest impact on their performance. Our approach is to maximize the power that lies within the breath which helps to, amongst other things:

  • Generate greater concentration and mental stamina.

  • Perform more efficiently.

  • Promote a greater sense of well-being.

  • Manage stress.

  • Relax and restore your energy levels.

Want to find out more? We’re giving away our simple, and easy to use session on Breathing Techniques which will enable you to see for yourself what the missing link in sports performance is and how the YSS approach will help you to maximize the benefits of breathing!

If you’re experiencing pain and discomfort due to sitting for long periods of time, we have a special offer giving you access to a simple yoga session that can be easily practiced in a chair, or introduced into your training.

Click here to get the offer and use the coupon code: EATHLETES to get $12 OFF, you get it for $7!

Want to know more about how to apply Yoga Sports Science® techniques to athletic performance, including eSports? If so, why not think about becoming a Yoga Sports Coach™? Our next online course starts November 10 and there’s a 10% discount if you sign up before 31 October!

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