Yoga has its roots firmly in the East, but its asanas or physical postures have been performed in the West for decades. Recently sporting professionals around the globe have been integrating yoga into their fitness regimes to help ward off sports injuries.
Professional career cut short
Celebrities like Manchester United winger, Ryan Giggs, and basketball Hall of Famer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, both swear by it, attributing their long careers and vitality to the daily practice of yoga. In fact, Giggs, who recently turned 40, recently released his own yoga for men DVD.
Closer to home we have Andre-Louis De Villiers, ex-junior Springbok turned full-time yoga teacher, who describes yoga as “an advanced self-management tool, for better physical, mental and emotional capacity”. He adds that yoga allows you to see the bigger picture and remain present.
De Villiers is from a South African rugby family, with ex-Springbok captain brother Jean and father Andre, who played for Western Province. His professional career was cut short through injury, but he discovered yoga the same month he stopped playing.
'In the zone'
Yoga has changed him both physically and mentally. He is lighter, leaner and more muscular and managed to conquer many of the injuries he sustained from years of club rugby. He also feels mentally clearer and calmer.
Image: Andre in yoga positions
Athletes often speak of being “in the zone”, seeing the right line or making the best decision at the most opportune moment. The professional sporting fraternity are now realising that yoga is the key to this state of being, not just on the field, but in daily life. It’s called “svastha” (to stay as yourself) – a state of optimal health and balance in body and mind.
This explains why international teams like India’s world cup winning cricketers, London-based Wasps rugby club, and Australia’s national Rugby League team, The Kangaroos, have all adopted regular yoga practice. At home, our SA Sevens national side under Paul Treu’s, and “Gogga” Paul Adams’ Cape Cobras have all embraced yoga.
Limiting factor is time
With these obvious benefits, one wonders why yoga isn’t used more extensively in our national squads. De Villiers, however, understands the demands and limitations of professional sports only too well: “All the teams acknowledge the benefits of yoga, but the limiting factor is time.”
He adds that every exercise the Springboks do during their pre-game warm-up has a corresponding yoga asana or position. They may be doing the exercises in a dynamic fashion, but everything is based on classic hatha yoga positions. Dense muscle is notoriously inflexible, but yoga-style stretching can add centimetres of flexibility in areas like the hamstring.
Professional sportsmen may not be interested in finding the “path to enlightenment”, but they can definitely benefit from prolonging their careers and enhancing their game. As benefits become apparent and the practice more accepted, there’s little doubt we’ll be seeing more “downward dogging” Springboks and Proteas very soon.
Images supplied by Andre-Louis De Villiers