The following are questions I was asked about my work in 2007 in Orange County, California. I would still give the same answers.
Why did you decide to go this route with what you know?
Yoga is a pretty sizable piece of what I offer in my services. Having studied, practiced, and taught techniques from yoga for decades—including a long immersion over a period of years in India—I have firsthand knowledge of the immense value of this ancient science. I love sharing with my students what I’ve experienced and seeing it measurably improve their performance. I received so much from my own journey as a dancer, but I didn’t know about yoga then and I wish now that I had. Yoga would have helped me navigate the elite performance track—not just the physical issues but also the issues with nerves and with the mind. I know yoga would have made me more durable as a professional dancer. This durability is what I want to share now.
Have you trained athletes? Which sports are you focusing on?
I have worked with martial arts, volleyball, tennis, surfing, running, water polo, cycling, soccer, basketball, and free diving. So, it’s a range. With my students, regardless of their sport, I have seen consistent and often quick results. I feel a kindred spirit with athletes; we have a common bond. I know that the elite performance track is both grueling and rewarding. The part I want to play is to help athletes on this track, doing what I can to support them. I would like to see elite performers using the most healthy means to stay resilient.
Are there any specific types of yoga you are focusing on? Any specific aspect of yoga? Can yoga benefit any athlete? How?
One of the benefits of yoga to an athlete—any athlete!—is teaching proper alignment for both stretching effectively while also building strength. In this way, yoga is great for the body. It’s also great for the mind. By allowing your energy to flow more freely throughout your body, yoga prepares you to have a quiet mind. How yoga will help you depends on what you need in the moment. The body and mind are both highly complex and always changing, so what a particular athlete needs at a particular time is going to shift. I like to stay focused on solutions because I think this gives the best results. That being said, there is enormous benefit—of course!—in regular, consistent practice, especially if a student practices with discernment. Only the athlete can assess what works for him or her at a given time. In other words, take responsibility to ask for what you want.
A really cool thing about yoga is that it has a domino effect. When health or balance is achieved in one system of the body, this inevitably improves other areas. One example would be very simple regulation of the breath. This not only affects the nervous system, it also affects the muscles, the endocrine system, the heart, and the digestion.
Are there specific yogas that benefit specific types of athletes? Which for which? What are the benefits?
Again, this would depend on what the athlete’s goals are at a given time. It’s not so much taking on a specific style of yoga as it is adapting postures and practices to address what is needed.
Let me give you a personal example. Some years ago, I recovered from a concussion with a specific sequence of restorative yoga postures. In the early stages of recovery, I worked with a focusing technique to replace sitting for meditation. Generally, the right use of yoga results in mental clarity, emotional calm, and greater endurance. Yoga can be used to correct training imbalance and promote strength with flexibility. Yoga can be a huge benefit for stress, weight loss, and care of the mind as well as helping with sleep.
Are there any types of athlete that yoga would be bad for? Or a specific type of yoga you wouldn’t recommend for a certain type of athlete for some reason?
Let’s simply say that you need the right prescription for the issue you want to address. And if one yoga technique doesn’t work, there are many others. There are so many ways to use yoga. In this year’s Olympics, I heard the beach volleyball gold medal winners say they practiced yoga in a heated room, specifically to give them endurance to compete in extreme heat. If you want to correct training imbalance, then you need to focus on specific alignment with slow and careful use of postures and subtle adjustments. For recovery from fatigue or to rest the mind, it would be a different approach.
Are there any drawbacks of yoga for athletes?
Yes, don’t do yoga if you don’t want to! And be specific in asking for what you want. If one person cannot help you, do some research until you find what you need. If you do choose to use yoga as part of your sport training, remember it is the appropriate posture or sequence of postures for the specific need that is important. A yoga class is always good, but I would say, train smart—by which I mean that it’s better to do the correct sequence for what you want so you get the result you want.
Have you seen a growing trend in the number of athletes using yoga to help them in their sport? How have you seen this and why do you think this is?
Yes, yoga is used more and more by elite athletes. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he was able to retire when he chose to due to his yoga training. Tim Salmon got an extra year with the Angels. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl. Barry Zito was a consistent, durable pitcher. I will say that when I saw a major leaguer practicing a quick headstand with variations on the dirt before a game, well that was clear evidence—although I personally would not recommend that particular time and place for practice of headstand.
Have you noticed reluctance by any athletes, trainers, coaches in using yoga for sport training? Why do you think this is so?
The athletes themselves are often enthusiastic to give something new a try. I have, however, had trainers, front office and coaches walk away from my offer to help. This resistance by trainers, coaches, heads of school athletic departments, and their front offices is, in my opinion, simply because they don’t yet understand all the implications and the subtleties of how to use yoga. In my experience, a comprehensive approach to yoga is a viable path to increased success for athletes.