Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yoga for Athletes

Very early in my studies, a teacher pointed out a number of my weaknesses. Though a humbling moment, it ultimately inspired me to practice the things I had been avoiding. Like so many of us, I found that working from my existing strengths blinded me from seeing much below the surface.

This can be a painful process. We build a notion of who we are and then we assemble evidence to support this notion. We generally watch the news channels that coincide with our existing view of the world, and when we encounter a radio or television program at odds with our worldview, we generally turn the channel quickly. It's human nature, and one of our greatest impediments to growth.

The role of a capable teacher is to guide us to visit our blind spots. Rather than practicing the same thing in the same way, the teacher asks us to see the world another way. Along the way, we find more effective and efficient ways to navigate this life.

My teacher had a particularly hard-headed student on his hands. Despite his clear descriptions of how I was deceiving myself, I alternated between denial (my body's different than his, or this is my special technique that's perfectly suited to me) and anger (he's just a fool who doesn't know what he's talking about). Finally, this teacher did what all good teachers do: he set a trap I couldn't escape from. Since I'm a very visual person, seeing a videotape of myself was the much-needed irrefutable evidence that even The Court of Scott A. Anderson would accept as evidence!

This was many years ago, and videotape was in its infancy. The cameras were tethered to a bulky shoulder pack, and the mere presence of a video camera generally gathered a small crowd. (If it wasn't the TV news being filmed, certainly something very interesting must be going on to merit being videotaped!)

As the crowd gathered around, my teacher began filming. Perfect, I thought, the crowd would serve as the de facto jury! When we finished filming, we would hook the VCR to the TV to verify that my existing worldview was indeed correct.

The next moments were transformational. What I saw on the screen was astounding...was that me?! Hearing my friends murmuring “yeah, you always do that” and “maybe you can improve”, were exactly what I needed to hear, though far from what I wanted to hear!

From that point on, I worked more agreeably with my coaches. My high jumping improved very quickly once I learned that inner perception and outer observation rarely yielded the same data. It was the start of a rewarding athletic career, and simultaneously the birth of a spiritual practice that continues to this day.

Though my athletic career eventually yielded to an increasing interest in yoga, meditation and recreational outdoor activities, I've long found working with athletes to be interesting and rewarding. Given a chance to see themselves more clearly, many athletes are very enthusiastic and willing to shed outmoded ways of being. In the face of hard work, many athletes roll up their sleeves and set about doing what needs doing. In short, the path of the athlete can be similar to the path of the yogi.

For nearly twenty years I've taught Yoga for Athletes. In these classes we examine how yoga can reduce injuries, how yogic concentration can enhance mental focus and the ways in which our unconscious habits/patterns thwart our efforts.

Virtually everyone has structural imbalances in their bodies, and an imbalanced body is susceptible to injury. Some muscles are too weak, while other muscles are overworking. Sometimes the muscles are healthy enough, yet the movement patterns use these healthy muscles in the wrong way, which can also lead to injury. An intelligent practice of yoga can help balance the body, which can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.

The best trained, most balanced body doesn't necessarily predict great results. A great athlete not only has a powerful body, s/he also has keen powers of concentration. Athletic competition requires that the athlete rev-up their nervous system to the highest level of arousal. In that ready-to-pounce state, the athlete enjoys the full powers of his/her body, and the attendant laser-focus of the mind. The trick is to not over-rev either body or mind in this peak state, which requires tremendous powers of concentration. Yoga has withstood the test of time in developing these peak levels of mental focus, which will immediately benefit the athlete. Whether serious competitor or weekend-warrior, greater clarity in gauging your inner-state will keep you performing better for many years to come.

My old track coach used the videotape to show me my blind spots, and Yoga does the same. The patterns we're blind to are the ones most likely to cause unhappiness or injury. I often encounter runners with injured knees who have a hitch in their shoulder movement. While the shoulder movement isn't something they're consciously aware of, the slight imbalance in their gait can lead to the frustrating "overuse" injuries. Yoga is an effective technique to reveal the hidden patterns straining our body.

I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon the practice of yoga so many years ago, and enjoy sharing this practice with athletes. Just this past year l taught yoga to four University of Wisconsin athletic teams and many top-notch Masters athletes. These classes were so well-received, I'd like to make them available to the Mound Street Yoga Center community this summer.

This summer, I will offer a six-week Yoga for Athletes class at Mound Street Yoga Center - keep an eye out for the announcement in an upcoming newsletter. To kick off this series, I will teach a two-hour workshop for athletes at the Blue Mounds Dharma Center on June 12, 2010 from Noon-2pm. This workshop is a condensed version of what we will cover in greater depth in the class series.

For those of you in the Madison, WI area, I hope you can join us. For those of you at a distance, please post a comment, letting us know where you're reading this, and what your favorite activities are. If we get enough responses, we'll post a video blog entry with a suggested routine for the activity getting the most mentions.

Thanks for reading, and get out to enjoy the spring sunshine!




Tracy said...

Can't wait for the class in June!

For the video blog, I'd put in my request for cycling, walking, gardening & running.

els3 said...

Great article! :-)

humble request: swimming, cycling, and upright biPedal movement

skigirl40 said...

Nicely said. Wish I could be there, but will participate on my own from afar.

Daniel Shugrue said...

Thanks for a good post Scott. I'm an amateur athlete who also came into Yoga through sports. Spent several years playing Ultimate Frisbee and Bicycling. Found myself pulling hamstrings, nursing shinsplints and generally not being able to work out as much as I wanted to. The only discipline that really seemed to emphasize stretching and not treat it as an afterthought was Yoga. I got into in a big way for about 3 years, and sort of fell off the wagon about 2 years ago. Will be interested to follow your blog and see if I can pick up pointers. Meantime I'm helping a friend market a stretching device called the "StretchTowel" you can check it out at

jindi said...

you should try online Retreat yoga class. its very helpful for you

Energy Healing Course said...

Surely a teacher is the one who can guide us to our best.Finding the loopholes in us and correcting them leads us to a perfect end.

Neeru said...

Yoga for Athletes is very essential as we know every athletes need the concentration for better performance and making success it only you required the yoga that make success it.

Monalisha Biswal said...

Inspiring writings and I greatly admired what you have to say , I hope you continue to provide new ideas for us all and greetings success always for you..Keep update more information..
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