Yoga as part of elite training

Yoga is currently experiencing a shift that is unlike any mind body regime/lifestyle I have ever seen...and I have seen a lot having worked in the health and wellness industry for 22 years. Even to write "yoga" and "industry" in same sentence seem sacrilegious and yet if we are going to be truthful the physical practice of yoga (the Asana) practice is very much a commodity and people are willing to pay for it, pay money to dress for it, eat it and experience "it" in order to have even just a taste of enlightenment. I could write pages and pages (and perhaps I will next time) about the current philosophical dilemma facing the practice of yoga in Western society and the debate about whether we are bastardising an ancient practice for the sake of "toning up and losing weight" - the catch cry of all fitness enthusiasts. I would wager 90% of people who attend a regular yoga class will bypass any daily practice of seated meditation which ironically is what the whole asana practice is really about. Training the body to become quiet when you sit for long bouts of meditation which is how you reach enlightenment. Like I said, that is a whole other article. 

What I do know is that the practice of yoga provides comfort to people in the most unlikely quarters, elite athletes, and it is the mindfulness aspect that these folk are flocking to. What's great is it is way more than "boosting performance" which ends up happening anyway but that really it's about getting better at just being in the now and not getting caught up in all the BS of life, focused on one's self, the body, the mind when under enormous pressure during competition and when relentlessly training to achieve a long held dream of success and it's friend - failure. The following is an interview I conducted with a family I teach. Peter and Irena Storch are parents of 4 incredible kids, Milla ( 20 retired from tennis and studying Full-time) , Nikolai (18 and a Freshman at University of Hawaii, part of the Div 1 Tennis team) , Sophia ( 16 - Internationally ranked Junior)  and Stefan ( 14 and part of the Melbourne Tennis Academy) . I have know the Storchs for more than 2 years when they moved to our area to facilitate their children's tennis careers. The younger 3 kids all play fulltime, being homeschooled by Irena. This allows them travel the circuit and build their profile. Irena has promoted yoga to the kids as a means of helping stave of injury, promote flexibility but over the past 2 years all the kids have started to embrace the practice on their own and see how valuable it is to their well being as well as their tennis career. 

1 - How did you get into yoga with your kids?

 I watched  it through the windows of our tennis club in Phoenix way back in 2007.   I remember peering in with the kids while the class was doing Shavasana.  We laughed and laughed because it looked like they were all dead.  About 25 people lying down not moving.     I had  tried yoga in Phoenix, before we moved here as a part of my training for my first marathon. Once I tried it I began to enjoy the physical and mental benefits.   I started yoga with the kids as part of their tennis training.  We just did poses at home.  And we also laughed because our neighbours from across the road would watch us through our glass from doors.  

 

2 - what has been the most challenging aspect for your family in practicing yoga as in  - strength, flexibility etc

All my kids are quite strong naturally, but they are not extremely flexible.  They are also quite competitive in nature so it was hard for them to accept that they needed so much improvement in that area.  They are also different to each other and have different challenges.  Stefan loves the strength part - the lunges and core work, because llhe is very physical.  He struggles with the resting and focus.  He also has fear to conquer and resists pushing himself through inversions.  He is worried about getting injured.  Sophia loves the inversions and challenging herself in poses.  She is very focused and loves the meditation aspect as well.  Her favourite is the yoga nidra class.  Nikolai also loves the physical challenges and even practices on his own.  He loves the inversions and we would do yogaglo sessions together in hotel rooms in Central America.  You can do yoga anywhere.  I think the most challenging part for all of us has been to focus on good posture in poses before taking them to the next option.

3 - What have your kids loved most about a regular practice?

The results.  Not sure they always look forward to going, but they are always happy that they practiced. Regular practice is also rewarding when you see how much you can improve.  It’s not so much a comparison with the other clients as seeing your own progress.  It kind of sneaks up on you and suddenly you’re doing a headstand when a few months ago it was challenging to hold the plank pose.  My kids have also managed to stay injury free when many of their peers are experiencing injuries in their shoulders, groin, calfs, achilles.  From time to time they have brought one of their tennis peers to class.  The kids always leave surprised at how challenging the sessions are.  The kids also know how important flexibility is in this new game.  The best pros are also dedicated to yoga practice as part of their training regime.  Djokovic, Nadal and Murray all practice yoga daily.  

 

4 - how important is the mindfulness aspect of the practice to you and your kids?

It is very very important.  There are many many talented and hard working kids out there in this sport, but what will take them to the next level is mental strength and the ability to use their minds in their matches.  Nikolai’s coach at University of Hawaii told his team to go to sleep  that night visualising perfect execution of match strategies.  This is a Division 1 college coach.  One of my kids’ coaches had them prepare to serve by visualising exactly where they wanted the ball to land as well as the trajectory of the ball.  The first time they did this in practice they were stunned at the result.  The power of the mind, which controls everything the rest of our bodies do has not been fully tapped.  For me, the mindfulness helps to manage the stress and anxiety associated with raising elite athletes.  

 

 

5 - what advice would you give up and coming sports people with regard to mind body practice?

Athletes are always looking for ways to improve and ways to give them an edge over their competition.  Our minds control everything that our bodies do.  Yoga helps to strengthen that connection and therefore improve an athletes performance.  It enables athletes to manage their minds by helping to stay focused on the performance and block out external distractions that you can’t control.  In a recent edition of Tennis Australia magazine,  there was an article about the “new tennis body”.  For the modern game, bodies need to be strong and flexible without being bulky.  Long lean and flexible muscles are essential.  Yoga (and Pilates) is a great way to get that body.  And a nice bonus is that you learn to engage your mind from wandering to the past and the future. 

6 - What does Sanctuary Beaumaris offer you as a client that makes you come back?

Individual attention.  Help with postures.  Positive encouragement.  The instructors knowledge and ability to share that knowledge with the clients.  Warm, welcoming environment (people and the “feel” of the studio).  Instructors know their clients and tailor the classes to meet our needs.  There is an obvious and sincere interest in our progress.  The instructors are always working on improving themselves by staying current with advances in teaching yoga.