Yoga Works ...For Athletes, Too!
by Ryan Leier
Often when we hear the word yoga we think of contortionists with their legs behind their head or we think of soccer moms in Lululemon pants attire. Maybe we are thinking of bearded hippies chanting OM!
Yoga is an ancient science of realizing our true nature, becoming the best we can be, and connecting with God. I am a dedicated practitioner and student of yoga on and off the yoga mat. At its heart, yoga is a spiritual tradition. These days many athletes are using the ancient yoga techniques to become the best athletes they can be. I believe getting yoga to athletes will only help more to get the teachings of yoga out to the world. In the case of many elite athletes, yoga works. It has the power to make an athlete stronger, more flexible, and more durable. It also has the power to help heal injuries and, more importantly, to prevent injuries.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar is considered by many to be the one of greatest players in basketball history. He was the first athlete in the NBA to play 20 seasons. He is the all-time NBA leader in scoring, minutes played, and all-star games played! Kareem says, “There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga. My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil, but it was yoga that made my training complete. I truly believe it helped me to prolong my career and kept me from getting serious injuries. The stretching aspect perfectly complements the strength training and cardiovascular endurance that are so well covered in a traditional sports work out. I’ve encouraged my parents and children, along with other athletes, to learn yoga and incorporate it into their training regimes.”
As most athletes recognize, results also depend on the mind. Yoga not only benefits the body but also the mind. Breathing and concentration (ie. steady gazing in the poses) also benefit the mental side of the competitors. Yoga practice can bring an athlete to the space often called “being in the Zone.” Kareem realized that concentration and breathing rather than sheer physical strength were extremely important. Particularly the breathing: “Basketball is an endurance sport, and you have to learn to control your breath,” he says. “That’s the essence of yoga, too. So I consciously began to use yoga techniques in my practice and playing.”
There are as many different styles of yoga as there are hairstyles. One style does not always work for all. (Picture the mullet on most people!) The yoga that I practice involves the body, the breath, and the mind. Vinyasa Yoga is sometimes called Power Yoga or flow yoga. Vinyasa can be translated as flow. It is based on the principles of body alignment, core engagement, conscious breathing, and steady focus with the eyes. It is designed to make the body stronger, more balanced, and more flexible.
The physical fruits of a consistent yoga practice include an increase in body awareness and range of motion, and improved balance and core strength. Yoga is unequalled as a preventive medicine and many practitioners notice a decrease in injuries.
“Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind and it’s a technique that has really helped me,” says National Basketball Association MVP Lebron James. Yoga is designed to bring mental focus. With practice you can easily increase your mental clarity and powers of concentration. Mental benefits may include a better body awareness, control and release of stress and anxiety, increased focus and clarity, and ability to relax at will. Imagine being able to control your thoughts and emotions as well as easily eliminating any distractions... All of these fruits are part of a healthy Vinyasa Yoga practice.
One of my main teachers is Baron Baptiste, who created Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. Baptiste worked with the Philadelphia Eagles football team in the 1990s. Within two years he helped take the Eagles from second most-injured team to second healthiest team. With this new health they became Super Bowl contenders. NFL quarter-back Tom Brady says, “I practice yoga at Baptiste Power Yoga, which has studios around town. It’s great for flexibility, it’s therapeutic, and great for your attitude. And it gets you some silence during your day.” Many people do not realize the Chicago Bulls football dynasty in the late 1990s was using physical and mental yoga techniques to get an edge on the competition. Bulls coach Phil Jackson was open to the tradition, as he used alternative methods to improve his team’s chances of winning.
Many of the world’s greatest athletes have been know to practice yoga, including Wayne Gretzky, Dan Marino, Kevin Garnett, and Pete Sampras. Pro football player Ricky Williams even put his career on hold for a couple of years and became a certified yoga teacher!
Interestingly, in the surfing world, where competitors are more likely to share their secrets to success, yoga is very popular and widely accepted. Nine-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater swears by yoga as does Laird Hamilton, who is considered by most to be the greatest and bravest big wave surfer in the history of surfing. Hamilton says, “It’s an integral part of my fitness routine. I get peace of mind from yoga; it calms the brain. [But] it’s also a great workout. If you think yoga is wimpy, you obviously haven’t done it much.”
Yoga is an ancient tradition that has survived for thousands of years because it really works. It is a movement from distraction to direction, from disintegration to integration, from injury to health and wholeness. Real athletes DO yoga. Some will even admit it!
Ryan Leier has realized his vision of yoga through the foundation of his yoga studio, One Yoga, located in Saskatoon at 527 Main Street.
For more information call (306) 612-2121, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or visit www.saskatoonyoga.com. You can also watch his video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIgmD8v21NM.