Real Men Do Yoga: 21 Star Athletes Reveal Their Secrets for Strength, Flexibility and Peak Performance

Real Men Do Yoga: 21 Star Athletes Reveal Their Secrets for Strength, Flexibility and Peak Performance

by John Capouya

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With its revolutionary approach to yoga and innovative, male-oriented instruction, Real Men Do Yoga will be the definitive guide for both novice and veteran men who are discovering the innumerable physical and mental benefits of yoga.

Satisfying the male fascination with sports and admiration for athletes are interviews with more than twenty pros, all of


With its revolutionary approach to yoga and innovative, male-oriented instruction, Real Men Do Yoga will be the definitive guide for both novice and veteran men who are discovering the innumerable physical and mental benefits of yoga.

Satisfying the male fascination with sports and admiration for athletes are interviews with more than twenty pros, all of whom are enthusiastic yoga practitioners: football's Eddie George, Shannon Sharpe and Amani Toomer; baseball pitchers Barry Zito (2002 Cy Young Award winner) and Al Leiter, star hockey goalie Sean Burke and NBA superstar Kevin Garnett as well as pro golfers and tennis players.

Photos of sports stars doing yoga, such as football greats Dan Marino and Chris Carter, drive home a powerful message. Each chapter offers a combination of stretches and strength-builders that target and benefit specific areas:

  • Conquering back pain (which afflicts an estimated 10 million men)
  • Improving sports performance including yoga for golf, running, basketball, tennis and more
  • Increasing flexibility in the upper body, spine and lower body
  • Building muscle strength
  • Improving sexual performance

In a sea of yoga books aimed at women, Real Men Do Yoga is an easily accessible, "non-New Agey" guidebook that takes something mysterious to American men and offers a reassuringly effective and practical guide that they'll actually use.

Editorial Reviews

GQ Magazine

"A book for those seeking a more macho road to enlightenment."
-GQ Magazine

Yoga Journal

"This may be the world's most in-your-face yoga guide ... You won't find anything about the yamas of niyamas here, but you just might interest that Gatorade-slammin'
fella of yours in accompanying you to class after he peruses this X-Games -
esque volume."

-Yoga Journal, Nov. 2003
To what does football great Eddie George attribute his peak performance? It's not protein shakes or bench presses; it's the 5,000-year-old discipline of yoga. He and many of his peers swear that yoga not only enhances their physical performance but also helps them focus, reduce stress, and sleep better. Avoiding new age jargon, author John Capouya keeps this guide simple, efficient, and geared toward the man who wouldn't be caught dead in a leotard. With beginner's exercises and play-by-play workouts for individual sports like golf and tennis, any armchair warrior can improve his game.
Publishers Weekly
This is an excellent introduction to yoga for men, although sportswriter Capouya is a little too concerned about reminding his male readers that yoga "isn't a chick thing." By keeping his book's focus on "yoga's fantastic physical and mental benefits, without getting into the more cosmic stuff," Capouya shows what yoga enthusiasts have known for years-that yoga is a "complex, sophisticated exercise system" that can be used to increase flexibility, build muscle energy and functional strength and help prevent sports injuries. The clever thing about this book is that it takes traditional and well-known yoga moves such as the Cobra, the Cat Stretch and the Eagle along with other basic yoga breathing techniques, and shows how they can fit into other body-building programs such as weight-lifting for better overall result. But the book's subtitle is a bit misleading. The book does feature short and direct page-long testimonials by "yoga jocks" like pitcher Al Leiter, as well as comments by other pros such as golfer David Duval and star running back Eddie George ("Yoga definitely builds strength. I've noticed it mostly in my upper body"), whose well-chiseled frame is featured on the cover in a yoga position. But the book's strength is its easy-to-handle introductory program of yoga techniques that can be applied to existing workouts for any other sport. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Using as examples male sport celebrities who condition and train with yoga, including Eddie George, Barry Zito, and Kevin Garnett, Capouya (deputy editor, SmartMoney magazine) attempts to dispel common misconceptions about men and yoga by outlining the practice's "fantastic physical and mental benefits, without getting into the more cosmic stuff." After briefly covering the basics, Capouya then presents exercise progressions (yoga poses and positions) for flexibility, muscle strength, core body strength, back pain, specific sports, relaxation, and sex. Each exercise comes with step-by-step instructions, illustrations, and an explanation why that particular exercise or group of exercises is beneficial. The author presents these exercises in a logical progression that not only makes sense to readers but also involves them in performing the exercises before having to finish the book. While aimed at reluctant males, this well-organized and engagingly written book would certainly be instructional for anyone. Recommended for public libraries, consumer health libraries, and universities with physical education majors.-Howard Fuller, Stanford Health Lib., Palo Alto, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Health Communications, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 12

Staying Focused: Work Sharper, Play Better

"I practice my breathing and focusing before every game," says Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Yoga helps me calm down and helps me center my energy so I'm balanced instead of going out there and just spreading my energy all over the court. I'm zeroed in on the game and have my mind set on what I need to do."

If you follow sports at all, you know that this guy is an unbelievable basketball player, one of the top five in the NBA, which means in the world. Beyond his skills and talents, he also brings it every game, never taking a night off. That's consistent effort—and consistent focus. And he's been able to laser in like that ever since he came into the league straight outta high school.

Not coincidentally, that's when Garnett started practicing yoga. "I've been doing it since 1995. It's something I've liked ever since. It was difficult at times, but when you're young and you're spontaneous, you try all things. Fortunately I was able to carry it over to now." He explains that he does a full yoga workout in the off-season and during the grueling 82-game campaign, he just uses the breath work.

For Garnett and many other top athletes—see the sidebar on relief pitcher Steve Reed in this chapter—the breath is the vehicle that gets them mentally focused. First they block out everything but their respiration; then they transfer that complete attention to the task at hand. By making sure they are breathing fully and deeply, which we tend not to do in times of stress, they also ensure they're getting maximum oxygen intake, which helps them perform physically.

However, other yoga jocks say they're big believers in the yoga poses for honing their concentration. The attention and discipline the matwork requires trains them to bear down and be "in the moment" during games. Kerry Kittles, starting shooting guard for the New Jersey Nets, tried yoga before the 2001–2002 season when he was rehabbing from a knee operation. Along the way, Kerry noticed how yoga "helps your focus."

"Obviously playing professional sports is all about focus," he says. "And yoga's all about holding a pose and maintaining your focus on that, trying to get deeper and relaxing yourself at the same time. You do that for an hour-and-a-half session, three or four sessions a week, and you become better at keeping your mind on one thing and not letting your mind drift."

One area he specifically wanted to get better in was free throws. (He's a 78 percent career shooter at this writing, which is far from shabby. But not good enough for him.) "I have a tendency of not being focused while I'm at the line, so I try to think about the stuff that I did in yoga class to help me focus and relax when I am in a pose. It really helps you get where you want to be mentally," he says.

There's really no argument between these two groups of top performers; yoga breathing exercises and the positions both put you in a position to succeed—in sports and beyond.

For former WWE wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, focusing better via yoga has a whole different meaning, having nothing to do with body slams. When he was younger, Page had a lot of trouble with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder. "I grew up not knowing how to read," he says. "You're talking about a guy who was 30 years old and reading at a third-grade level. Since I've gotten into yoga, the focus has really helped my reading big-time. I'm still not great, but I'm much better than I was."

To Page, being able to focus better ain't no game. And it's a serious business to David Cooke as well. An assistant district attorney in the Atlanta area, he prosecutes crimes against women and children: rapes, molestation, torture—the worst. Talk about pressure. "I'm in court almost every day fighting for justice," says Cooke, who's in his early 30s. "And if I lose, evil wins."
A 6'5" weight-lifter, boxer and kickboxer, Cooke started doing yoga in college. It helped him recover from knee surgery when traditional physical therapy wasn't working, and in the martial arts, he says, it gave him greater strength throughout his entire range of motion. But today he prizes yoga (breath work and poses) for the way it helps him stay focused during his criminal trials.
"The mental stress is very strong," he says, "but yoga helps me to be in the moment. When the judge is chewing my ass out and the defense attorney is cheating, I need to address what's happening now; not the last battle I already lost or the next battle, either."

During a recent trial, Cooke noticed that "I was doing yoga breathing, deep breathing in and out, through the nose. And it helped me to remain calm. Like when you're in Downward Dog, you're not thinking about Warrior, just in breath, out breath, your hamstrings . . . You're completely in that moment."

As you've just heard, the body and breath work we're already doing will greatly improve your ability to focus, on and off the playing field. Here's a new, additional exercise that will specifically train your concentration even more. It's a balance pose, probably the best kind for developing focus, and this one requires you to balance on the smallest body part yet: your toes. (You'll feel right away that this move has a pretty intense strength component, too, working the front of your shins as well as stretching the muscles in your feet, ankles and thighs.)

  • Hunker down on the mat with your hands on the floor in front of you. Raise yourself up on the balls of your feet, then:
  • Inhale and bring your torso erect, lifting your hands off the floor. Now you are balancing only on the toes, thighs roughly parallel with the floor. Find your balance with your hands resting on the tops of your knees and then extend your arms straight out.
  • Breathe.
  • After 5 full breaths, try to move your knees, which should be close together, down even closer to the floor. This will rock your torso back a little and push you up even farther up on your toes, requiring another balance adjustment.
  • When you're stable again, you can raise your arms up to the prayer position in the front of your chest (optional).
  • Break the pose by rocking back on your heels.

Working this narrow edge is kinda tricky, no? It requires full concentration, and that's the point. After you've done this 2 or 3 times to get the hang of the form, try these variations, both of which also require intense focus, but in slightly different ways:

  • Repeat, but this time, try to keep your attention on your breath, not your body, its movements, or the balance challenge you're engaged in. Focus on making each inhale and exhale full and deliberate. Do for 10 full breaths, then come down.

Notice any difference in how you feel, or how well you were able to do the exercise? Were you able to focus on your breath throughout, or did you jump back and forth between that and making sure you stayed on your toes?

In this last variation, we'll ratchet up the degree of difficulty and turn the focus inward at the same time. How? Simply:

  • Repeat the Toe Balance, with eyes closed. Or try to anyway—this is a toughie.

I recommend using this eyes-closed focus exercise as an extra, occasional supplement to your regular balance work. When you want to emphasize focus a little more—or change things up for variety's sake—sub this in for one of the other balance poses in our rookies and veterans workouts, and try it all three ways. Or, if you really like this one, go ahead and add it in permanently.

¬2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Real Men Do Yoga by John Capouya. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

Meet the Author

John Capouya is an award-winning journalist and yoga enthusiast. He was the health and medicine editor for Newsweek; the editor of the "Sunday Styles" section for the New York Times; the editor for Pro Magazine; and is now the deputy editor of SmartMoney Magazine.

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