Watching the Olympics this past week has led me to wonder how professional athletes find balance. There, on the television screen, are a plethora of young, determined athletes with a solitary focus, to win. Their bodies show the commitment to their sport with powerfully strong muscles in sometimes disproportionate bulk. Some have worked their whole lives for this experience of competing in the hopes that there hard work will lead to reward. In the Olympics it is a medal, Gold specifically, although there are a couple of others we don’t hear much about, and in other professional sports it’s the championship, the title, the ring that drive these athletes to push beyond their perceived limits mentally and physically and reach for the victory. In order to help these athletes find equanimity, both physically and mentally, many coaches and trainers are looking toward inclusion of yoga in the routine of the professional athlete.
In their preseason practice, the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams begin their day with a 45-minute asana practice session in the morning to warm-up and a 90-minute practice session in the afternoon. Yoga is at least a weekly routine for the Titans during the off- season, and they are encouraging the Rams players to give it a try. The players commented on the way the practice makes them feel, lengthening the muscles and changing the pace of their normal routine. The players and coaches alike feel that the practice of yoga asana does a lot for the physical limitations that powerful strength can create. Tony Brown, Titans defensive tackle said, "You really need to get stretched out and that yoga, guys with hamstrings, back problems, it helped them out a lot.”
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In addition to physical benefit, coaches and athletes are incorporating yoga for mental support as well. In China, the pressure for Chinese Olympians to perform is intense. So in an effort to boost medal potential, the government is providing funds for sports psychology. This includes advocating yoga, relaxation techniques, special music, hypnosis and even inspirational films and stories. Though the pressure and anxiety still exist, and the coaching techniques still lend themselves toward the dictorial rather than the compassionate, it is a step in the right direction.
And, after watching the faces of these very young, very talented athletes as they experience triumph and defeat, I hope that the inclusion of a practice like yoga can soften the impact of either outcome and help these athletes to find the light of victory lies within the experience itself, not in the outcome, or as the old adage says, “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”