IT HAPPENS TO EVERY ATHLETE: You finish a workout and, instead of feeling invigorated, you contemplate checking into a nursing home. But while rest can be restorative, the surest methods to recover your mojo—and bolster your bod against sports injuries—don't involve beers and TiVo. Active recovery is an essential part of any conditioning plan. And as an increasing number of pro athletes are discovering, the best treatments for staying on top of your game come from the realm of alternative health. The trick is matching the cure to your complaint.
TRY IF: You've lost your groove and feel mentally fatigued.
HOW IT WORKS: Developed in India, this ancient combination of postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) has run rampant in the States for a reason: Nothing beats it for mind-body wellness. Asanas include seated twists and hip openers to reduce lower-back tension, standing postures to strengthen quads and calves, abdominal work to build core strength, and inversions to develop the upper body and improve coordination. Deep breathing throughout elevates oxygen flow, centering your mind and increasing circulation and flexibility. "Most sports increase tension in muscles and joints," says Ashley Turner, an L.A.-based yoga instructor who leads retreats for surfers and snowboarders. "Yoga wrings that tension out."
FREQUENCY: Two 90-minute classes a week.
WHO DOES IT: Serena and Venus Williams, Kevin Garnett.
TRY IF: You're suffering from acute or chronic pain.
HOW IT WORKS: This 5,000-year-old form of Chinese medicine is lauded for its effectiveness at reducing pain and swelling, loosening tight muscles, and improving circulation. After a preliminary exam, the acupuncturist will insert cactus-spine-thin needles—which typically go an eighth- to a half-inch deep—at precise points along the 12 energy channels, or meridians, to clear "blockages" thought to be linked to discomfort and disease.
FREQUENCY: For acute pain from an injury, three sessions a week for two weeks; for general wellness, once a month.
WHO DOES IT: Shaquille O'Neal, Matt Hasselbeck.
TRY IF: You don't trust your limbs after an injury.
HOW IT WORKS: A hybrid of yoga and calisthenics, Pilates is based on the concept that a strong core is the key to full-body stability. Using spring-tension machines (sounds scarier than they look), you'll elongate and strengthen big muscles like the quadriceps and glutes, tone the local muscles in your shoulders, and build abdominal and pelvic strength. "When your core is integrated with both your global and local muscle groups," says Santa Monica, California, instructor Marcee Friedman, "they'll work together in a balanced way, which stabilizes your joints and helps you move more efficiently."
FREQUENCY: For injury recovery, three times a week; for maintenance, once a week.
WHO DOES IT: Curt Schilling, Tiger Woods.
TRY IF: You keep getting injured.
HOW IT WORKS: Developed in the fifties, Rolfing is a manipulation of the fascia tissue, the cartilaginous substance that surrounds muscles. By using a variety of firm and gentle hand-pressure techniques to elongate the fascia throughout the body, Rolfers enable the skeleton and muscles to slip back into their natural alignments so you can move the way you're supposed to. The result: You'll suffer fewer injuries and heal faster. Even better, "athletes get a bump in performance because their whole body works better," says Jeffrey Maitland, former team Rolfer for the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
FREQUENCY: For optimum alignment, ten 90-minute sessions over the course of ten weeks.
WHO DOES IT: Randy Moss, Phil Jackson.
TRY IF: You feel underpowered and unfocused.
HOW IT WORKS: This ancient Chinese martial art consists of linked, slow-motion poses—one-legged stands, twists, and kicks—that teach you to quiet your mind and utilize the natural flow of energy, or chi. "Instead of isolated motions, you'll move from your core and thus harness more power with less effort," says Jeff English, a Santa Fe, New Mexico–based tai chi and tennis instructor. You'll also learn to concentrate on your breathing so you can turn off all that distracting inner dialogue—"I should have worn my other shoes!"—and focus on the task at hand.
FREQUENCY: Two to three times a week with an instructor, then solo once you have the moves down.
WHO DOES IT: Yao Ming, Jet Li.
TRY IF: You're toasted from a major competition.
HOW IT WORKS: Passed down by Buddhist monks, Thai massage blends elements of acupressure (acupuncture with fingers) and yoga. Think of it as intensive stretching class, except that your teacher moves your body for you while using his thumbs, hands, elbows, knees, and feet to dig into your key pressure points. "The simultaneous stretching and compression increases energy flow and range of motion, soothes tense muscles, and eliminates toxins," says Kimberly Call, a Thai-massage therapist and instructor in San Francisco. You might feel like a puppet, but you'll rebound that much faster.
FREQUENCY: A two-hour session after intense training or competition.
WHO DOES IT: Rochelle Ballard.