Over the years, the perception of yoga has changed drastically, and it is now practiced by both men and women all around the world. Not only is it a great way to stay in shape and improve your flexibility and core strength, but there are also many mental and spiritual benefits which ensure that it is beneficial for anyone to practice. You are now seeing more and more pro athletes turn to yoga to aid their performance, but this is a relatively new development as it previously had a reputation as being a practice not helpful for the physical nature of leagues such as the NFL and NBA. In addition to helping improve strength and helping people to relax, yoga can help to improve performance in a number of different sports.
You will now find that many teams will have their entire squad practice yoga in addition to their regular workouts, and in many cases this seems to be paying dividends as hugely successful teams such as the Giants, Seahawks and Duke basketball team regularly practice yoga. It is not always enforced by the organization however, and some of the best athletes in the world have taken it up and cannot speak highly enough of how it has helped them. For some athletes it helps to improve strength in weaker areas, it can help improve flexibility and consequently improve form, and improving core strength will always help athletes to improve their longevity along with performance. A lot of athletes also practice yoga as a way of relieving stress, as these athletes are under immense amounts of pressure from the public, media, as well as their team. Yoga allows them to relax, unwind and crucially stay focused for the season.
Here are 15 athletes who practice yoga.
15 Torrey Smith
Newly acquired by the 49ers, wide receiver Torrey Smith is an example of a pro athlete that has found both physical and mental benefits from practicing yoga. The former Ravens player, who has a Super Bowl ring from 2012, has stated; “Yoga is hard. It is some kind of workout. It’s helped a lot. I’ve definitely benefited from the mental aspect of it”. It seems that more and more players are now realizing the mental benefits of practicing yoga, and you can fully expect more players and entire teams to soon have it as a mandatory part of their training.
14 Evan Longoria
Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria has also used yoga as a way to improve his game and become a star in the league. Longoria uses yoga as a way to prepare for games, stating “to be strong in general doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be strong from a baseball standpoint. When you’re hitting, you want to be as stable as you can and use the three-dimensional aspect – the rotation of your core – to actually translate to power.”
13 Vernon Davis
There was a time where 49ers tight end Vernon Davis had a poor attitude and was even sent to the locker room during a game by his coach because of this. Things have now changed, and this is largely due to Davis introducing yoga into his routine to keep him calm. Davis is also a big fan of Bikram yoga, which is yoga that is practiced in a hot room and he states that this, along with prayer and meditation, keeps him fresh throughout the NFL season.
12 Kevin Love
Kevin Love may have spent the majority of the post-season as a spectator after suffering a nasty shoulder injury in the 1st round, but it should not be forgotten that he is an elite player and one that puts his body under an immense amount of strain as an undersized Big Man. He is a fantastic rebounder and post player, and yoga enables him to do this night in and night out. Love has said “there are so many aspects of yoga that can help you when you step out onto the hardwood”, but unfortunately for Love it will be a while before he is able to step out onto the court once again.
11 Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson is a 3-time Pro Bowl running back who holds the Rams record for most rushing yards, and he has also managed to stay largely injury free since a knee injury just before he was drafted in 2004. Jackson practices yoga once a week, and believes that “it keeps the limbs limber” and that it is “a form of mediation, too. I feel good when I stretch, especially after travelling so much.” Playing the draining position of running back in the NFL, Jackson's enjoyed a longer career at the position than most, lending credence to the benefits of yoga.
10 Sean Burke
Yoga can also prove to be hugely valuable for NHL players, and no one will testify to this more than former goalkeeper Sean Burke, who enjoyed an impressive 18 seasons in the NHL. Throughout his career, Burke found that yoga helped with his balance, strength and flexibility, but it has also aided with the mental aspect of playing (this is particularly important for goalkeepers). Burke stated during his career that “when things aren’t going well during a game and I need to refocus, I think about yoga and what I’ve learned."
9 Blake Griffin
L.A Clippers Big Man Blake Griffin is one of the most physical players in the NBA and throws his body around each night. He is also freakishly athletic, and he claims that regular yoga has helped him to develop into the quality player he is today. That is not to say that if you start up yoga then you will suddenly be able to soar like Griffin, but it can certainly help you to perform at a higher level. Griffin says that flexibility is key, and yoga can be used to stay loose and relaxed while out on the court. Griffin has demonstrated a series of basketball and yoga moves that will help to build strength and flexibility, but the secret to his remarkable leaping ability remains under wraps.
8 Victor Cruz
The New York Giants are big advocates of yoga and incorporate sessions into their practices. They have their own yoga instructor on the team, and this trainer has worked extensively with wide receiver Victor Cruz. It is clearly working for him, as he has gone from an undrafted free agent to one of the best wide receivers in the game who helped the Giants to Super Bowl victory in 2012. Cruz states that the yoga helps with his focus, mental toughness and to prevent injury.
7 Dirk Nowitzki
At 36 years old, the seven footer Dirk Nowitzki can still get up and down the floor, bang down low and score on the best defenders in the game. His consistency and longevity has been remarkable over the years, and the Mavericks legend has rarely been out injured over his career too. Dirk is able to stay fit and strong thanks to years of practicing yoga, and he trains with renowned instructor Kent Katich, who has worked with the Clippers, Baron Davis, Jordan Farmar, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love and many other NBA players. As this list demonstrates, the NBA has embraced yoga in recent years and this is largely thanks to the work of Katich. Katich is also helping players such as Dirk to continue to perform at a high level, and this is something we can all benefit from.
6 Russell Wilson
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and guided Seattle to two consecutive Super Bowl appearances (winning in 2013). Wilson benefits from practicing yoga, and of all positions, the quarterback is one that can get the most out of it as they must remain calm and focused at all times. The Seahawks have gone from having an optional yoga program to a mandatory one, as they believe it has had such a positive impact on the likes of Wilson, and they see it as a way to focus on the players’ mental health and happiness. They also incorporate an optional meditation program, and this unusual approach certainly seems to be working for Wilson as well as the entire team.
5 Kevin Garnett
There are few players as intense and fired up on the court as KG, so it may come as a surprise to discover that he likes to be as tranquil and peaceful off the court as possible. KG has been practicing yoga since 1995, and in a book titled “Real Men Do Yoga”, he explains how 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.” A KG that didn’t practice yoga is a scary thought.
4 Tom Brady
The position of quarterback is perhaps the most intense and stressful in all of sports, and you must be immensely focused throughout the entire season. When your name is Tom Brady, this pressure is doubled as expectations are so high and the critics are just waiting for him to slip up. Brady is able to perform to such a high level because yoga has helped him both physically and mentally. Brady states “it’s great for flexibility, it’s therapeutic, and great for your attitude.”
3 Shaquille O’Neal
It is difficult to imagine a man of Shaq’s stature and frame performing yoga, but he is an enormous advocate of the discipline. It does not come as too much as a surprise however, as Phil Jackson used to hold meditation sessions while at the Lakers, and Shaq is also famous for trying new things out. In the last few years of Shaq’s career, injuries began to take their toll and he started yoga as a way to counter this and improve his flexibility. At 7-foot-1 and 315 pounds, Shaq of course needed two mats during his lessons in Cleveland.
2 Ray Lewis
Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis enjoyed 17 years in the NFL and is widely considered to be the greatest player to play his position. He was able to play at such a high level for so many years largely thanks to yoga, and he states that he takes hour-and-a-half classes to help keep his muscles flexible. When you are involved in as many collisions and heavy hits as Lewis was each game, you need to take steps to look after your body and prolong your career, and yoga proved to be a great way to achieve this for the Ravens legend. I’m sure all the receivers that he crushed could benefit from it too.
1 LeBron James
When you are the best basketball player on the planet, there is an awful lot of stress on your shoulders. LeBron James is a huge fan of yoga and claims it has a big impact on his success. For LeBron, regular yoga has helped him to strengthen his muscles and avoid injury (he rarely misses a game), but as he correctly states “yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind,” and it helps him to stay focused throughout the season and in the playoffs. Judging by his recent mammoth performances, perhaps we should all follow suit.