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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757301124
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/01/2003
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 261,403
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About 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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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.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Real Men Do Yogaxiii
1.Getting Started1
2.The Joy of Flex & Why Yoga Flexes Best5
3.Flexing the Upper Body & the Spine15
4.Flexing the Lower Body29
5.Yoga Power: Building Functional Strength & Muscle Energy45
6.Balance & Body Control63
7.Cardio & Learning to Breathe [Again]75
8.Working the Core: Abs & Beyond87
9.Injuries: Prevention & Recovery97
10.No More Back Pain!111
11.Yoga for Golf Plus: Sport-by-Sport Workouts121
Tennis, Racquetball and Squash128
Baseball and Softball129
Hockey and Skating130
Skiing and Snowboarding130
12.Staying Focused: Work Sharper, Play Better135
13.Deep Relaxation: Stress Busting & the Best Sleep of Your Life141
14.Meditation: Going Deeper Within149
15.The Payoff: Peak Performance in The Zone161
16.Sex: The Yoga Bonus [For Both of You]169
17.Making It Work: Yoga in Your Life175
18.Get with the Program! Yoga Workouts for Rookies & Veterans179
About the Author193
About the Contributors195

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