YOGA FOR THE ATHLETE
I guess you could say that sport and especially football plays an integral part in my life.
I have four wonderful and diverse children, and the two older boys are football crazy! I have stood many a Sunday morning watching my sons play in rain, snow and freezing wind and wondering how it happened that I ended up loving the one game I had always loathed as a teenager. Actually I think I was a culteral snob, having trained as a proffessional ballet dancer and really, ballet and football did, nt go out together!
So it was funny to find myself on the sidelines shouting and screaming and finding out just how and why it was that people loved football. Its sooooo liberating!
The funny thing was that the childrens father who I, d met as my own yoga teacher on a beginners course at the Sivananda Centre in London was also a MAD FOOTBALLER! And so my life took an interesting turn.I met the union of spirituality and good down to earth sport on the football pitch,in which most of the world find a common ground!
I actually think its no accident that they call the amazing union of all nations in the name of football as
THE SPIRIT OF SPORT, because I do believe that although we have trouble with sport I have also been astounded when I have been lucky enough to see boys of many races, colours, and religous beliefs who don’t speak the same language, unite under the flag of football.
Having said that,I can sometimes feel in a state of severe stress when the Arsenal supporter in the house has just seen Leicester city beat them and their supporter who also lives in our house is now jumping up and down with delight!
I dread those days because I must console one and congratulate the other!
That’s where I can use some of my vedic knowledge and say,THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
As the years passed and my yoga practice developed,my classes became bigger and bigger I was interested to see more men and to find that a lot of them were current or passed athletes.And these were predominatly footballers.
Have you ever seen an ex-footballer?Its heartbreaking at times, because their body is in such trauma.
When I say trauma I mean,tight,sometimes with so little mobility in the legs and lower back that is bordering on a disability!Their knees are usually damaged by simple wear and tear or serious cartilage damage which has left them with constant pain.
To be fair footballers these days can have excellent care,physiotherapists now have so much more knowledge as well as being open even to yoga and Pilates.
So it was with great delight that I one day received an email from Leicester City Football Club!
I was invited to do a masterclass with the under 19,s.This was so exciting as I would be working with the up and coming stars of tomorrow.I answered immediately and made a date.
Over the last few years,due mainly to my contact with athletes I taught more and more Astanga Vinyasa,or Power Yoga as I call it and it is with this medium that I am seeing so many amazing results.
However Sivananda Yoga has equally wonderful results so I decided to always incorpoate the yoga breathing tecniques which are not practised in the Astanga form although it has a strict breathing structure which is an integral part of Astanga.
So after I had settled down after the first flurry of excitement I then had to decide on a structure for the masterclass.I knew however that the hardest part would be to get over the giggles and the pedictable yogi jokes that I could guarentee would ensue!
I need not have worried.
Yes we had the jokes,but I played on them as part of the warm-up.I asked them what they thought yoga was and the replies were not that predictable.
One boy answered “stretching”,another meditating,and ofcourse we had the compulsory,sitting on your bum OMMING!I was having fun and we broke the ice!
The boys ranged in age from 17 to 19,a lot were so tight in some areas like the hamstrings and calves that you could have been forgiven if you thought they had never excercised in their lives.And yet in some areas they were bulked-up ie,in the thigh area as you would expect.
I started the session with kapalabhati-forceful breathing to kick in the cardiovascular system and to flood the body with oxgen,well the results were interesting.At least two of the boys felt sick and light-headed,this was ofcourse due to all the oxgen pumping around the body.Now this shocked them as they believed that running during a match for 45 mins.would have developed their cardiovasculsr system to have made it superior to that of a yogi!but ofcourse I explained that they still did not use their lungs to their full capacity and that this type of breathing discipline would expand their lungs and use the the expansion of the rib cage to assist in full use of the lungs,as well as toning the tummy muscles and massaging the internal organs,and that the forceful exhalation would empty the lungs completely therfore enabaling to fill them to capacity too.
O.K.so myth number one hits the dust!
We then go on to deep relaxation because I can see we are never going to calm them down!
WOW!!! The result was amazing,their minds and I say minds rather than bodies were so in need of switching off that they were in danger of staying ther all night.I have teenagers and I know that they never stop mentally,always needing stimulation,even if their bodies look like they are in a state of total inertia!!!
It took no time at all to start a really tough Power Yoga workout because they had become focused.I used this term,focus,throughout the session applying the mind-body principle to their particular position on pitch.
I also discussed anger,lack of discipline and lack of confidence which could all be overcome by positive thinking and positive action and by using breath control and abdominal breathing before a game and after.
Now Astanga and yoga generally have odd terminology to a lay person but these kids had got down COBRA,DOG AND BREATHE DEEP with no trouble by the end of the session plus a couple of the lads had even begun to correct eachother.How wonderful.I felt so proud of them because these boys had’nt chosen to come to a class,they had been lucky enough to have had a coach with an open mind and a vision of the future in football as being more embracing of other and sometimes more ancient forms of exercise which could develop in a young person a whole approach to the body as not just that but the real power being there in the mind!
We finished our class with the bit they loved best,deep relaxation.I did’nt want to wake them.
The result of that masterclass was that their coach loved it.He and the physio.had also joined in plus a lot more of the staff which was great because he was practising what he preached.
So it is now a regular slot in their training programme,lucky boys!
In my next article we will break down the basics to rehabilitatoin and improvement of the range of specific muscle groups that sportsmen and women lack through their football training.
Each month I will highlight a different sport including,swimming,rowing,running,martial arts,cycling.golf,tennis and cricket and I would be most happy to include any sport you my practise yourself.I will cover specific excercises to enhance your own practise or training and take interveiws with some of the sportspersons I have had the pleasure to work with and you can hear their story and how yoga has profoundly changed their view on training and life too!
Anne Marie has been teaching body work for 27 years.Her roots are in classical ballet,contemporary dance,jazz dance,woking with some of the best like Arlene Philips,Robert North,Fergus Early,the London School of Contemporary Dance as was and of course great yoga teachers like Iyengar.Swami Vishnu Devananda,Maxine Tobias whowas one of the first in the early 70’s.and the wonderful Narayani.
She has tavelled to many countries teaching and studying although these days she juggles a busy teaching schedule with some classes as big as 66 students with running a home and looking after four children.
She is just producing a yoga video aimed at her students but will also be available to the public.It is a power yoga workout based around her very unique style and features her “Saturday Class”.