Bend it like Ryan Giggs: how athletes fell in love with yoga

Ryan GIggs elongated his career by practising yoga. CREDIT: GETTY
Consider the average yogi and a particular image springs to mind: tousled hair and harem pants, most likely, some henna perhaps, a dubious bindi, almost certainly. Not everyone takes to aligning their chakras for likes on the ‘gram, though: a wave of athletes, from Ryan Giggs to LeBron James, Maria Sharapova, Paula Radcliffe and the New Zealand All Blacks, have taken up the practice, putting paid to the notion that it is reserved for yummy mummies with a chai latte addiction.
 
“There is no typical yoga person [anymore]”, says Chris Magee, head of yoga at Another_Space. “The stereotypes have been broken down greatly in recent years and with mindfulness becoming such a key factor in modern life, yoga really is a space for everyone.”
 
For Giggs’s part, mixing navasanas and chaturangas into his fitness routine added “another 10 years” onto his career. After a hamstring injury sustained in training in 2001, he began attending classes twice a week at a nearby school hall; “Yoga was first about injury prevention, but later it became about recovery,” he said. “The day after a match, the adrenalin would still be in my body. But the following day, when I got out of bed, everything would hurt, so I would do yoga then.”
 
Chris Magee, head of yoga at Another_Space
 
Engaging in the same movement sequences, as being a professional athlete necessitates, can lead to the body becoming “adapted and locked,” Magee explains. “Adding some yoga to your weekly workouts can help break down these patterns,” while increasing the body's range of mobility, improving joint and muscle strength and enhancing overall control.
 
Mila Lazar, Another_Space’s head of HIIT, adds that this combined “strength and stretching” approach serves both athletes and casual exercisers alike, as without incorporating lower intensity stretches into your routine, the “ability to move quickly in a HIIT class becomes more challenging.”
 
Aside from its role in sports recovery, the mental benefits yoga affords are making it increasingly popular – not least today, where the fourth International Day of Yoga is being celebrated around the world. Introduced by the United Nations in 2014 on ‘noting the importance of individuals and populations making healthier choices and following lifestyle patterns that foster good health,’ the organisation proclaimed June 21 as the day on which to globally recognise their belief that ‘wider dissemination of information about the benefits of practising yoga would be beneficial for the health of the world population.’
 
Its focus on enhancing the health of both body and mind has found fans in NBA behemoths including Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan, all of whom have espoused the benefits of meditation under the tutelage of George Mumford, author of the Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance.
 
“Meditation is not trying to go anywhere or do anything, meditation and being present is just seeing what’s there and letting it speak to you,” Mumford said on the podcast 10% Happier. Beyond being used to remedy physical discomfort caused by sporting injuries, “it’s being connected to something greater than yourself, it’s being able to know the truth and [to] ‘let the truth set you free’...which is really understanding how this mind-body process works.”
 
As for those who have been discouraged by feeling they are not ‘the yoga type’, or don’t possess the required dexterity, “saying you are not flexible enough for yoga is like being too dirty for a bath” says Magee, who recently taught a headstand workshop to those who had never tried it before at Another_Space x Helios’ Mykonos retreat. “The only bad practice is the one you don't do.”
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