Chris Evert, Alicia Molik, Mary Pierce, Martina Navratilova, Iva Majoli, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Kim Clijsters participated in a Tai Chi session at the 2017 WTA Finals in Singapore.

When the University of South Florida’s men’s tennis team won their conference tournament and reached the second round of the NCAA Championship in 2019, the players were hitting great—but they were also feeling great.

“The players were tough and calm during the pivotal moments,” said coach Ashley Fisher.

A major reason for that? Yoga. Yoga benefits players both physically—with balance, flexibility and core strength—and mentally. Playing with a peaceful state of mind rather than a stressed one allows you think less and react quicker. Critical thinking is important, but once the point begins, you really don’t have time to think.

Everything we do on a regular basis is at an unconscious level, but with breathing techniques, you can compartmentalize any situation, even during intense and stressful competition. Our players were able to better navigate these situations and respond accordingly.

Here are some breathing techniques I've found work best for tennis players, along with some yoga advice.

Simona Halep has worked yoga into her training routine.

Simona Halep has worked yoga into her training routine.


Anuloma Viloma

Alternate nostril breathing that calms the body and mind. I use it before meditation or a Hatha (a physical activity). Covering the right nostril with your thumb, inhale through the left nostril, in a four-count hold for 16 seconds. Then switch sides, exhaling through the right nostril for eight seconds while covering the left nostril. Repeat for as many rounds as needed.


If players are tired from training, we will practice Kapalabhati breathing, which cleanses and purifies the lungs, and rejuvenates the mind and body. (Kapala means head/skull; bathi means shine/illuminating.) Start with slow and “normal” inhalations, then move to quick and forceful exhalations. Do this for 20 counts and hold the breath; then 40 counts and hold the breath; and then 80 counts and hold the breath.


Also known as Bellows Breath, this energizes the body and helps detoxify, strengthening the respiratory system. Similar to kapalabhati, this is a rapid and loud inhalation and exhalation powered by motion of the diaphragm. One inhale and one exhale equals one round; this can be repeated in consecutive rounds.

WATCH: Simona Halep on her ankle, knee and leg after her Wimbledon win


Yoga Dos and Don'ts

  • DO: Gently motion your body accompanied by the breath. It’s very powerful; a little goes a long way.
  • DON’T: Use forceful and aggressive motions while practicing yoga.
  • DO: Use restorative yoga stretches to cool down and cleanse your muscles. (Avoid hot yoga at this time.)
  • DON’T: Try and practice the perfect pose. Performing a small progression can be just as healing.
  • DO: Headstands, if you can. It’s the king of yoga. An inversion pose helps your legs, heart and brain reverse the circle of blood.
  • DON’T: Dismiss different exercises without trying them. Not all yoga is the same; some is relaxing and restorative, while some is energizing.
  • DO: Listen to your body’s needs and practice yoga accordingly. Even if you have a serious injury, there are breathing techniques (like Kapalabhati and Bhastrika) that will help relax your body and help it heal.

Barbara Soto, a former NCAA Division I tennis player, is a yoga instructor and works with the University of South Florida men’s tennis team.