The earliest readers of this website will remember that one of the first beats covered here was the LeBron Really Needs to Learn Yoga beat.
Back in spring of ’08, we made the connection between LeBron’s duck-toes, his late-season back injuries that caused him to sit out several games before the 2008 playoffs, and his singularly un-LeBronlike performance in those playoffs.
The solution to the problem was obvious, and LeBron thankfully found it, as explained in detail by Jamie Turner and LeBron himself in the Plain Dealer last March:
As he’s matured, part out of necessity and part out of pride, he’s serious about preparing and maintaining his body for the rigors of an NBA season. That includes a wide range of measures from diet and recovery techniques to the Vajrasana, Virasana and the particularly stunning Salamba Sarvangasana.
They are yoga poses and they are also an essential part of James’ routine every week. . .
[Lebron was] bothered by some lower back spasms, which nearly forced him out of a playoff game against the Wizards in 2006. That and a couple of nasty ankle sprains got James focused on doing things to maximize his physical tools. Stretching with bands after practices and games slowly developed into using yoga.
The positions increase flexibility in areas athletes don’t always pay attention to but basketball players need. Such as ankles, shoulders and hips. Fans can surely remember times when James appeared to have suffered serious ankle injuries only to shake them off. Some of that may be due to the freakish size of James’ joints, but some of it may be from those targeted workouts.
Two weeks ago, for example, he flipped backwards over his neck chasing a loose ball in Phoenix. It looked like he may have hurt himself doing it, but in reality it was sort of like the Salamba Sarvangasana, or shoulder stand, he’d worked on a day before.
“It is something that really can help your balance,” James said. “I had some lower back problems a few years ago and once I started to do the yoga, it has helped them go away for now. Of course we can stretch but stretching only goes so far.”
Of course, the best basketball player on the planet isn’t the only one with back problems, and basketball players aren’t the only ones who need ankles, shoulders, and hips.* Yoga can help everyone relieve current pain, avoid future pain, play better ball, clear the mind, relieve stress, and improve physical and mental health in a number of other ways.
Which of course raises the question: If it’s so helpful, why doesn’t everyone do it? Why has it taken so long for world class athletes and so many others to embrace it?
Try a simple 2-part answer here, to start: 1) the rapid development of western medicine in a relentlessly capitalist culture whose organizing principles are at a fundamental level inconsistent with those of yoga has contributed to relative indifference to yoga despite its usefulness; and relatedly, that, 2) much of what’s been sold as “yoga” in the western world isn’t really yoga at all.
To the latter point, a lot of what’s sold as “yoga” in this country is a former dancer or gymnast, who could already get her body into the poses without having to use any type of yogic discipline to do so, doing gymnastics in the front of the room and telling her students to copy her without giving them much of a clue as to how. Unfortunately, as things are now, one only needs to spend about a weekend and $1,000 to come off as this type of “certified yoga teacher.” A related problem is that yoga has been co-opted by so many who are really selling a certain psychology, culture, or social scene, but sell these things with or as yoga without the right attention to actual yoga itself. It’s too bad because it turns off many folks who come for the yoga and have no use or taste for the other stuff, and come to think of yoga as something that it’s not.
Thankfully, due in large part to the growing influence of B.K.S. Iyengar, the benefits of yoga are enjoyed by more people every day.Iyengar yoga is characterized by its precise attention to detail in the poses (like alignment, pressure, and rotation), specific sequencing for optimal progression in the poses, and use of props to help learn the poses most efficiently.
To explain it another way, in an Iyengar class, you won’t be drowning in your own sweat moving in and out of (or trying to move in and out of) a countless series of poses that you never had a chance to learn (often described as “vinyasa,” which is something that can only really be done if one actually knows the poses). In an Iyengar class, you’ll learn the poses (including the above-referenced “stunning salamba sarvangasana,” which is actually a basic and most essential pose), you’ll hold the poses, and you’ll repeat the poses in a number of different ways and sequences, starting with mastery of the basic poses before moving on to the more complex (including with various props to approach the poses from different angles and/or to cope with your own injuries or imbalances). And by continuing to do that, you’ll continue gain the mobility and the strength to move on to ever more challenging and beneficial poses. If you watch the short video here, you’ll see that the potential to continue to make progress with a yoga practice is infinite.
A yoga practice done right also substantially aids performance of any other kind of physical exercise or activity, including running, weightlifting, hitting a tennis ball with a broom handle, or shooting a basketball into a net.
And of course, again, you don’t have to take it from me. The world class athletes like LeBron** who continue to pursue yoga practice even despite its certain lack of mainstream appeal are powerful evidence of its inherent value.
You can learn more here, including that there’s no such thing as “not flexible enough for yoga,” and that yoga is not a religion.
And you can learn most of all by coming to class, like with any of a number of Iyengar instructors in the area, including at Green Tara Yoga in Cleveland Heights, or at the Yoga Loft in Sheffield Village on the West Side (Karen and Shaw of Green Tara and Vicy of the Yoga Loft have obtained certification from Mr. Iyengar himself in his method, which takes years and years of work to achieve (not a weekend or 100 hours or whatever)).
Alright, that’s all for today here. Back tomorrow morning with some Browns stuff and who knows what else. Of course I’m glad to answer any questions about yoga via email or in the comments here.
*The yoga poses were invented thousands of years ago by folks who wanted to be able sit up straighter to meditate for longer periods of time. The idea was/is that the upright spine is what puts humans at the top of the food chain (i.e., no other mammal has such an upright connection between the spine, the brain, the skies, and earth’s core, thus no other mammal’s brain has developed in such a way, and the upright spine serves essentially as the brain’s antenna, and to the adherents, the primary means of communication with a higher power). Every yoga pose was invented so as to use the arms and legs (the “organs of action”) to create space and mobility in the spine, which is useful no matter what you think of the relationship between the position of the human spine and the food chain. Creating space and mobility in the spine is what you’ll learn to do if you go to a good yoga class.