Kevin Boss Interview with Gwen Lawrence
Title: Keeping Our Heads in the Game
One thing I’ve learned since joining the Giants is that training the body is just half the battle in achieving top performance. Training the mind effectively is the key to consistency and ultimately, building a winning team. …Kevin Boss
How long Gwen has been teaching yoga to professional athletes:
I have been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. I started teaching yoga professionally in 1998 and became involved with local athletic teams shortly thereafter. My husband is a Varsity baseball coach and former professional baseball player, so my interest in training athletes got started there. I spent many hours with my husband at his practices and started observing the lack of flexibility, and serious sport-induced imbalances in their bodies. This prompted me to become part of the team’s training staff.
Before I knew it, I had college teams wanting to do yoga, and then professional teams followed. My classes with professional teams have actually more than tripled in just the past year.
Gwen: What are players and coaches looking for from yoga training?
For professional athletes, it’s all about consistency in performance. Coaches want and need their teams to play well all of the time, not just some of the time. With more and more of the top players being plagued by injuries at some point during each season, they need a workout routine that will not only strengthen them physically, but also prevent and/or heal injuries to get them through the season, and improve their mental focus. Practicing yoga accomplishes all of this. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of mental training – total concentration and the ability to live in the moment make the difference between winners and losers. We know that sports in and of themselves create imbalances; your yoga has taken the responsibility to bring more symmetry and balance to my body. Just as you would rotate a car’s tires to prevent a potential blow out, you need to keep a physical body balanced in order to prevent blow out aka injury.
Gwen: Do you think yoga helps turn pros into champions and get teams into first place?
Yoga offers several key benefits to professional athletes that are often lacking in their normal training regimen. These key benefits help give pros the edge over their competition, making the difference between consistent winning performances and sporadic moments of glory.
Perhaps the most important result of yoga training is improved MENTAL FOCUS. With the average football game lasting two plus hours, the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time is critical and can make all the difference between winning and losing that big game. Ultimate success requires total concentration and 100% channeling of one’s willpower 100% of the time.
The second advantage Yoga offers pros is FLEXIBILITY. Stretching is often one of the most neglected areas of an athlete’s physical development. Many athletes have strong muscles to generate strength and power, yet lack the flexibility to maximum potential speed that come with greater muscle length. Intense weight training leads to disproportionate strengthening, and ultimately structural imbalance, increasing the risk of injury. The positions of yoga greatly improve flexibility, which reduces the risk of injury and expands one’s range of movement. Greater flexibility ultimately leads to more efficient usage, speed and power from one’s musculature.
The final benefit that all pros are looking for from yoga is ultimately, INCREASED PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE, INCLUDING STRENGTH, ENDURANCE, & SPEED
Gwen: no doubt, Yoga teaches the athlete to be in the NOW and the truth, not to focus on the past defeat or missed play. By learning the breath and stretch techniques of yoga, athletes can dissolve energy-sapping nerves and develop their “inner game,” thus strengthening the inestimable mental component of their art.
I have met athletes with “six-pack abs” and Strong bodies who have struggled with some of the basic weight bearing yoga exercises. Yoga STRENGTH work reaches into much deeper muscle layers than ordinary weight training, so much so that advanced yoga practitioners can effortlessly lift their body weight off the floor into gymnastic arm balances. In addition, yoga increases ENDURANCE by teaching athletes to breath more deeply and oxygenate the blood more fully, helping athletes to develop greater lung power and reduce the onset of breathlessness.
By bringing more of the body, musculature and nervous system into peak performance through yoga training, the athlete will also find that it takes less effort to generate a given level of SPEED. Neural pathways are activated and unblocked by yoga and thus the impulses to incorporate extremities of the body into a sprint can be actualized more quickly.
Gwen: Would you recommend to other athletes, adding yoga to their training?
I am absolutely NOT saying athletes should stop lifting, that is something you make clear to us as well. Obviously they NEED to lift, however I advocate adding Yoga as a compliment to their current training schedule. Yoga develops even greater strength overall, while maintaining symmetry in the athlete and preventing imbalances that lead to injury. You always tell us the equation for power is strength plus flexibility!!
Gwen: Does the focus needed to hold these yoga positions really carry over on to the
As athletes regularly practice yoga over time, even just once or twice a week, we really learn how to stay focused in the moment in order to perform the more challenging balancing holds. The brain remembers how to maintain this level of concentration in other situations as well. This translates on to the field.
Gwen: I tell you to try to stay calm and comfortable in a distressing situation, which translates perfectly to play on the field….How does yoga help reduce recovery time for injuries?
From what you have taught me over the years, Yoga accelerates healing by improving blood flow, quickening toxin release, and expanding oxygenation throughout the whole body, thus affecting the immune system and reducing the recovery time for illness and injuries.
Gwen: Yoga is particularly helpful in speeding up the healing process of joint, bone and ligament injuries either by creating more space in the joints or by bringing increased blood flow into the injured area. With back injuries, yoga helps relieve compressions in the vertebrae, freeing trapped nerves and creating healthier, stronger, more symmetrical back muscles.
Gwen: Name some favorite yoga positions and how they help players on the field.
For football in particular, I think POWER POSE is the ultimate position because it works directly to align the player into a low, powerful position directly related to blocking and tackling, enabling him to get into the best possible position to move defenders where he wants them to go or be able to tackle runners and receivers. The player holds a squat on his tip toes with his hands outstretched in front of him, for balance and core strength, as well as strengthening the ankles, hamstrings, and quads. Power Pose also stretches and opens the low back and groin.
The LUNGE AND LUNGE TWIST are good all-around poses, improving balance and core strength: increasing back rotation; as well as strengthening the ankles, hamstrings and quads. Adding the twist increases hip rotation for twisting to catch the ball, avoid tacklers, and position the body correctly. The twist motion also increases overall body control and balance. .Also this pose is very beneficial to defensive backs.
WARRIOR THREE improves balance, posture and focus. Holding this position maintains strong hip and glute strength as well as stability. The strength, flexibility, balance and concentration required to stand on one leg with the opposite leg extended behind the player, prepares defensive backs, running backs and receivers to run and jump with more power and to catch even the toughest balls.
Gwen: You have had some ankle trouble in the past has anything in particular helped you?
Kevin Boss: Yes…a lot of standing balancing poses to strengthen the ankles and also improve their crucial stability. Poses like tree, eagle, and warrior. These poses improve my ankles range of motion immensely. They also address ankle flexibility along with a hero’s pose. Ankle flexibility is directly related to increased speed and helps with the ability to change direction on the dime and trying to go out for a pass at the same time. Lastly these poses help focus. Since they are serious balancing poses if you are not concentrating you WILL plain and simply fall and not be able to perform them. Not only would I recommend this course of action for someone with your ankle situation, I would consider it a necessary part of your training program.
Gwen: Do you think yoga should be a standard part of sports training at the high school and college level?
Kevin Boss: Absolutely…what a difference it would make for players not only in terms of strength and flexibility, but also discipline of the mind. Kids have a lot on their plate just like adults…distractions with homework, tests, social issues and more can get in the way of playing their best. Yoga helps relieve that kind of stress and can make them play better at the same time…it can even help with anger management. The breath control techniques of yoga help improve an athlete’s ability to control the their temper when provoked in a competitive game. This can reduce the number of injuries sustain.
Gwen: What’s your advice to athletes of any age who want to try yoga for the first time?
Kevin Boss: I think it is crucial for athletes to find an extensively trained teacher. Yoga teaching is more than just regurgitating poses to people. A great teacher should be able to “read” a students body on a level that almost cannot be taught, but is a talent.
Gwen: I get very upset when I hear people say, “They got hurt doing yoga.” On the contrary, yoga should help heal injuries past and present and prevent future injuries. A new student should take things slow and check their ego at the door. Yoga is a very humbling experience at times.
Kevin Boss: Having a highly trained yoga teacher like you is crucial to proper practice. Besides you directly teaching to teams, how can players practice yoga on their own without you, stay safe, and get the most from the practice? How often should they practice yoga? In season? Off season?
Gwen: There are several avenues an athlete can take to begin their own practice. First is the most obvious – you could utilize my video in the privacy of your own home. It is a 35- minute workout, with very clear instructions in video form and poster form. This sport specific video will help athletes of different sport specialties to address areas of dominance in their own particular game. Athletes can also contact me as a team to come and conduct conferences ranging from one day to one week, depending on their needs. I also am a registered Yoga School and could help teach coaches what they should look for if their teams should decide to practice as a group.
Finally, you asked how often to practice yoga. In general, an athlete knows more than anyone, the more time you put in the more results you will get out. There is not a hard fast rule here – you can do yoga everyday without hurting yourself. It is a way to really get to know your body and how it reacts to changes ensued. I find twice a week fits easiest into the lives of the professional athletes I work with. I would recommend athletes do more yoga off season just due to the fact that they have considerably more time.
Gwen Lawrence BS, LMT, E-RYT 500, yoga therapist