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Yoga for Pros

Think yoga is just for chicks who love sporting Lululemon, or for granola eating guys?
Think again: Professional sports teams have recognized the value of yoga practice and are integrating it into their training regimes.

Thanks to yoga instructors like Kent Katich, aka “the yoga guru of the NBA”, for increasing awareness of yoga’s benefits to dozens of the NBA’s top players over the past few years, many pro sports teams have followed suit, adding yoga instructors to their staff. The NFL’s Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, NBA’s Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and MLB’s Chicago Cubs are just to name a few.

Professional athletes are initially turning to yoga for its physical benefits of improving flexibility, core strength, balance, recovery time and preventing injury with hopes of prolonging their career.  They soon discover the emotional and mental benefits of reduced stress, increased focus, discipline, energy, clarity, awareness of the breath, body and mind.

Check out these 10 Downward Doggin’ Athletes; we’ll start the list with an oldie but goodie who’s an avid yogi!

  1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is probably best known for his trademark goggles, sky-hook and Lakers jersey.  Kareem spent 20 seasons in the NBA when he retired in 1989 as the All-Time Leading Scorer – a list which he still sits at #1 today!  He began yoga breathing in high school, but it wasn’t until 1976 when he incorporated asanas into his training. He continues to practice Bikram yoga 5-6 times a week and said, “I believe that yoga is one of the reasons I was able to play as long and as healthy as I did.” Amen to that Kareem!
  2. Barry Zito, starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants has practiced yoga for years and even meditates before games.  In 2011, Zito was plagued with injuries and put on the disabled list – he honed in on yoga’s teachings of focus and discipline, which helped him make a comeback to the starting line-up the following season.

    Barry Zito "letting it fly" in twisted crescent lunge. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

  3. Arian Foster, Houston Texans Pro Bowl running back does yoga. “It’s important to stay limber and loose, so I do a lot of yoga.  The more loose your muscles are, the more oxygen can get to them and the faster you can recover…build and grow.” He also eats a primarily vegan diet – a football player that does yoga, is saving animals and the planet at the same time????  That’s hot!
  4. Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers keeps his back-end tight with weekend Bikram sessions.
  5. LeBron James, forward for the Miami Heat, said “yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind and it’s a technique that has really helped me.”
  6. Ray Lewis, former lineback for the Baltimore Ravens once told ESPN “I do it (yoga) for the lifestyle, and that’s a better motivation.”
  7. Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the NY Giants, likes hero pose to stretch the Achilles tendon, calf and foot, which builds supple ankles and prevents foot injuries.
  8. Kevin Garnett, forward for the Boston Celtics, considers himself “a downdog man” and uses yoga to center himself and harness his energy.
  9. Kevin Love, forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves, loves his 25 asana practice and believes yoga has helped build his stamina and breath control.
  10. Blake Griffinpower forward for the Los Angeles Clippers, balances his arduous hoop workouts with yoga to increase flexibility and recovery time.  “It has kept everything around my knee, calves, quads, hamstrings, ankles, all that – more flexible,” Griffin said.

    Blake Griffin palming the basketball in extended side angle pose. (Photo/nba.com)

Bonus: Mike Krzyewski, aka Coach K, head basketball coach at Duke and the U.S.A. Olympic Dream Team, goes through a yoga routine every time before hitting the hardwood.  He incorporates child’s pose to relieve stress, fatigue and to stretch the hips and thighs.

Need I say more? Yoga does a body good and it’s a practice for everybody!

Peace. Love. Namaste.


* Kevin Garnett image courtsey of exerciseyourbeauty.com

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