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-Yoga Journal, Nov. 2003
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.)
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:
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:
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.
|Introduction: Real Men Do Yoga||xiii|
|2.||The Joy of Flex & Why Yoga Flexes Best||5|
|3.||Flexing the Upper Body & the Spine||15|
|4.||Flexing the Lower Body||29|
|5.||Yoga Power: Building Functional Strength & Muscle Energy||45|
|6.||Balance & Body Control||63|
|7.||Cardio & Learning to Breathe [Again]||75|
|8.||Working the Core: Abs & Beyond||87|
|9.||Injuries: Prevention & Recovery||97|
|10.||No More Back Pain!||111|
|11.||Yoga for Golf Plus: Sport-by-Sport Workouts||121|
|Tennis, Racquetball and Squash||128|
|Baseball and Softball||129|
|Hockey and Skating||130|
|Skiing and Snowboarding||130|
|12.||Staying Focused: Work Sharper, Play Better||135|
|13.||Deep Relaxation: Stress Busting & the Best Sleep of Your Life||141|
|14.||Meditation: Going Deeper Within||149|
|15.||The Payoff: Peak Performance in The Zone||161|
|16.||Sex: The Yoga Bonus [For Both of You]||169|
|17.||Making It Work: Yoga in Your Life||175|
|18.||Get with the Program! Yoga Workouts for Rookies & Veterans||179|
|About the Author||193|
|About the Contributors||195|
Posted March 23, 2009
Posted May 23, 2005
I was very impressed with this book. I have done a lot of reading on other (mental) branches of yoga, but this was the first one that taught how to do postures for strength and flexibility. It is a very easy read, as the authors use a great deal of wit and easy-to-understand language in explaining each pose and their benefits with outstanding detail. There is also a section on yoga meditation which was surprisingly complete; the one chapter was more insightful and used much less flowery language than entire books written on the subject! I have already started doing some of the routines in the book, and they are making me wonder if I should give up on weight lifting altogether! Definitely worth reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2003
A great book that documents the enthusiasm of a new brand of yogi we've never heard from before ... jocks. The writing style is casual and sometimes very amusing, but no compromises are made in the presentation of the material. I've practiced for five years or so (admittedly not a long time in yoga years) with excellent instructors and can't think of anything I would have added or could have said better. Not being an athlete myself, it was pretty fascinating to hear the benefits professionals get from this great discipline. Hats off to Capouya and Lechonczak on a great job!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2008
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Posted December 5, 2009
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Posted April 20, 2011
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