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Football and Yoga?

The world we live in today accepts health as being multidimensional – a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being as defined by the World Health Organization.  To maintain physical health, individuals must eat right and exercise regularly.  Mental health requires low stress levels and regular intellectual challenges.  Social well-being involves sustaining both an adequate economic status and positive relationships.  Holistic health incorporates improving and maintaining each aspect of health, and yoga provides a perfect avenue by which to practice such health.

During my first year of college, my school offered “sport yoga,” an intense style of yoga that improves flexibility, strength, and balance.  There are few things in life more entertaining than watching collegiate offensive linemen partake in a yoga class – the warm-up alone could have been a full workout for those poor boys.  Fortunately for them, the instructor made a conscious effort to spend individual time with each player during every class, knowing they only came because it was a requirement of their physical therapy program.  Coming into their first class, the injured athletes saw yoga as nothing more than one part of what stood between them and being allowed to return to the world of big hits and hard tackles.

Using her calming voice to ease them into relaxing their muscles through each movement, she turned and twisted the boys into warrior poses, pulled their shoulders long as they attempted to bend around their own bodies, and pushed their bodies toward the ground to guide them into child’s pose.  At the start of an injured football, lacrosse, or hockey player’s first class, he forcefully fought himself into positions he didn’t understand.  By the end of his first class, the stress released from his face as he thoughtlessly breathed through the motions, led only by the melodic sound of the instructor’s voice.

Strength, speed, and power athletes are not the stereotypical population of a yoga class, yet they came twice a week every week, even after their rehab program ended.  Physically, the boys were even more healthy with new strength in their smaller, stabilizing muscles, and flexibility to balance the strength of their main muscle groups and help reduce future injury.  But the benefits of yoga stretch far beyond these physical health benefits.

Pain was not an unfamiliar feeling to these athletes.  However, holding a position of pain for an unknown period of time required mental toughness – convincing themselves that this pain was beneficial and that they were capable of staying strong and not giving in to it required pushing their limits as the mind dictated what the body was truly capable of.  Above all else, the boys built up their relationship with themselves as they found trust in their body-mind connection.  They allowed that trust to relax them into furthering their potential within each pose.

What an amazing relationship they built, trusting a body that was broken to hold up through something it had never before attempted, and having the mental confidence to not back away from challenge out of the fear of breaking again.  Best of all, they found peace in this trust, moving their bodies in and out of each posture through the simplicity of breathing and focusing on nothing more than the moment at hand.

Yoga – a peaceful approach to health for the whole person.

By, Chelsea Ellwood

Intern Fitness Quest 10

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