how to become a fitness yoga instructorBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

What is your perception of teaching Yoga training sessions for sports teams and athletes? Below is a question and answer session concerning teaching Hatha Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga, to a football team, as a form of cross training and for rehab.

Q: I have a big “Yoga for athletes” event coming up soon. I am going to train a bunch of footballers next Saturday, who have never done Yoga before. They are stiff as boards, and this decision to study Yoga is not theirs; it’s coming from one of their coaches.

I am a bit cautious about what to teach them. I am very well aware that they have the world perception that doing Yoga can help them improve their game. So, from a footballer’s point of view, I would think they are concerned with tight hamstrings, calves and hips, weak back muscles, and core strength development. Would that be a right assumption? I know we address students on an individual basis, and it varies from person to person, depending on their fitness level and history of injuries.

Based on that, I would think of doing some warm-ups for the spine and legs, followed with a few standing poses, then work a little bit on the core; afterwards follow up with forward bends and a few hip openers. We will put a very big emphasis on correct breathing, and finish up in deep relaxation.

I think this looks like a good structure. There will be no inversions or arm balances, as it is their first class, and most of them might not have much body awareness.

Would you say creating a Flow-style would be advisable (it’s more fun, right?), or will sticking more to traditional Hatha Yoga would be a better idea, as a way to make them understand the postures better?

Also I am bit concerned about hip openers. My reason being – I know how hard they can be for athletes. I do not want to make them feel vulnerable, because they cannot get as far as they would have imagined. Are they still worth attempting?

A: About Teaching Yoga to Football Players: With all the pushing, grabbing, tackling, blocking, hard hitting, and leg speed involved, Yoga is a great complement to all football programs.

We have a professional football team (the New England Patriots), 20 minutes north of our studio, and most of them learn to practice Hatha Yoga for strength, flexibility, rehab, injury prevention, and complete health. Many of them are extremely muscular.

You might be surprised at the raw strength of some football players. There are exceptions, but most of the time, their flexibility is somewhat limited. However, their overall strength, in many muscle groups, is far above average.

Holding Yoga poses is better for recovering from injuries. Injuries must be worked around, and a doctor’s advice is important for optimum recovery. If there are no injuries preventing Vinyasa movements, any form of a flow series is much better for them, than holding postures. The repetitions allow them to develop flexibility, as they continue with each round.

Before showing them any complex inversions – downward dog, crow, plank variations, and dolphin give them good foundational skills to build on. Don’t be surprised, when your event takes place, if a few of them can do hand stands; but I would resist the temptation of showing them for now.

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