December 29, 2008

Yoga…for Basketball?

Kareem, the original basketball yogi.

Update: and now I hear LeBron is into it.

Yoga is good for a lot of things—like flexibility, preventing injuries, increasing stamina, improving your breathing, core strength and agility—that also happen to be good for basketball.

I’m a lifelong bball fan (though, because I Doogie Howsered my way through school, graduating when I was 16 and still a little twirp, I never did better than the end of the bench). Along with climbing, yoga, lying by a pool, dragging my ass to the gym and biking or hiking with my dog, basketball remains one of the few forms of physical activity that I consistently find worth my time.

I know yoga helps my climbing—core strength, flexibility, stamina, smooth breathing under pressure—but basketball? Here’s a few links about yoga…and basketball…and what happens when you pair ’em up.

Click here for Yoga Journal’s ‘Yoga for Basketball.’ Excerpt:

Kout, director of White Iris Yoga in Evanston, Illinois, enclosed an article about NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s yoga practice with a note to Jackson, who is renowned for alternative coaching methods like devoting entire practices to meditation and requiring players to read books he individually selects for them. Two years later, in 1997, her phone rang. It was Jackson asking her to educate his Bulls in the ways of Downward-Facing Dog. “He wanted to add some yin to his yang,” says Kout.

Jackson, a Zen Buddhist, personally knew the physical benefits of regular practice; he began practicing yoga while with the New York Knicks in the 1970s after he damaged some discs in his back. It was clear he knew yoga’s mental benefits, too; in his 1995 book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior (Hyperion, 1996), the second chapter is entitled “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Starts with One Breath.”

Bull Session

Kout taught 12 sessions during the Bulls’ 1997-98 preseason training camp, which were scheduled every day after practice. “The idea was to lay a foundation and inspire them to practice while they were on the road,” says Kout. She admits that probably few players struck a pose in their hotel rooms, despite the basic, instructional tapes she made for them (though Michael Jordan’s wife apparently loved the tapes). Kout led them through six more sessions during the season, but when March approached, “all they could do was think about the playoffs,” she says.

Fortunately, their lack of regular yoga practice didn’t interfere with capturing their third-straight NBA Championship in 1998, and perhaps the occasional sessions even contributed to their victories. Case in point: After losing the first game of the championship series to the Utah Jazz, Jordan was seemingly unconcerned. When asked about his demeanor by a reporter, he replied, “I just decided to use a little bit of Zen Buddhism and relax; instead of being frustrated, I just smiled, channeled my thoughts, and let [the game] flow.”

Says Kout: “Just to turn them on to peaceful experiences in the middle of their gladiator mind-set was powerful.”

Basketball is a total body and mind sport that requires you to be both…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on yoga and sports longevity. Excerpt:

Abdul-Jabbar isn’t quite so sure. Athletes spend so much time building up layers of rigid muscle, he believes, it can be difficult for them to learn how to use yoga to break that muscle down and recondition it into a more sinewy, flexible form. “You have to be very humble to start from scratch,” he says.

But once the initial resistance is overcome, an athlete often sees the real benefits that he can’t get through other forms of training. Clyde Lee, a 6-foot-10, 240 pound former power forward with the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers, turned to yoga about a year ago to alleviate severe back pain brought on by “years of pounding on the court.”

Now free of pain, he asserts, “The back troubles I was experiencing certainly helped end my basketball career. I’m sure yoga would have given me greater longevity.”


“Yoga is tough…a challenge…and I’m always up for a challenge. Great for preventing injuries, improves my performance on the basketball court significantly.”

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