I was recently contacted by Keith Downie of Sky Sports, and asked if I would mind if he came along to a yoga class I was teaching in Rowlands Gill to talk about how yoga is helping with stress of the Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC relegation battle; nervously, I said yes! Inspired by the interview and broadcast of the report on Sky Sports News HQ, I thought I would write a few words on how yoga can actually help with the NUFC and SAFC relegation battle, and also with football and professional sports in general.
At any crucial or important time in our life we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves with planning, preparation and expectations. While it’s important to be prepared, the mind can become overwhelmed if it’s constantly going and repeating these demands and expectations – often exhausting the body through things like lack of sleep. When the mind is exhausted we cannot think clearly and perform at our optimal. Just like a computer, the mind needs to be shut down completely sometimes in order to reboot. This is easier said than done because it is the job of the mind to think, and it doesn’t want to be out of work!
This is where yoga can be an amazing tool. First of all, yoga aint easy, it takes strength, balance, flexibility and concentration. These qualities do not come as easily or naturally as one would hope so it takes practice. To keep practicing even when it’s difficult and things aren’t going the way you wish they would takes what we yogis call tapas (not the small portions of Spanish food!). The meaning of tapas is ‘fiery discipline, a fiercely focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being a true state of yoga’ (Yoga Journal). Yoga means union, which translates to a properly balanced state of mind and body; a state where you can see clearly and move towards your limitless potential without bothersome sates of mind and body impeding you.
Having a strong and healthy body brings freedom. Doing yoga asana (poses) and focusing your complete attention will help to quiet a busy mind and create this space. As anyone who practices yoga knows, it can be quite challenging at times and you have no choice but to focus on the present moment. I was asked which asana (pose) I would recommend to the Newcastle and Sunderland players to keep them calm and focused for the remainder of the season, my answer was Shavasana. Shavasana teaches a person to stay completely present to the very end. It is usually the last posture in the class where you lay down on your back in a corpse pose, completely relax the body and surrender yourself to the earth. It would be so easy to let go of concentration here as it’s the end of class when you may be feeling spent, but to do this pose the way it is intended we stay aware and concentrate on the breath and the state of the body and mind allowing ourselves to fully absorb the practice. Concentration is at it’s most difficult when not moving or having a task… but we watch the breath, practice and learn to just be.
Of course, in addition to the mental strength and awareness gained from yoga, there are also physical benefits. These aren’t just beneficial for football but all professional sports, and our everyday lives. Increased flexibility, suppleness, strength and range of movement are a few of the side effects of a regular yoga practice. Core strength and functional strength are key, yoga strengthens the stabilising muscles in the body reducing weaknesses and potential for injuries.
Since living in the UK, I have learned that whenever yoga and football is mentioned in the same breath, Ryan Giggs is often the first association that comes to mind as he credits yoga with extending his playing career, and with a fantastic 24 year career as a professional footballer, it is great to hear how yoga has played it’s part:
“People are always coming up and saying ‘How are you still playing at 37? How are you still playing for United?’ and I say that one of the main reasons is the yoga, keeping me as strong and flexible as possible.”
Ryan Giggs, Manchester United, 1990-2014
If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re interested in trying yoga or would like to explore how it can benefit you, feel free to drop me a line here – I offer personal/private and group/corporate classes in and around the North East.
Thanks for reading,