The secret weapon of Premier League stars like Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand to extend their careers has not been a special food or book – but an ancient Indian practice.
Giggs, who brought his glittering 24-year playing career with Manchester United to an end last week, has said doing yoga helped him play until he was 40. The Welshman, who will be an assistant coach at United next season, is among players like England goalkeeper Joe Hart and Manchester City playmaker David Silva who practice the series of stretches and poses.
...the exercise invented in India is transforming football.
Ryan Giggs Yoga DVD
Giggs even has his own yoga DVD with Sarah Ramsden who has worked with players at United, Manchester City and Southampton to improve their flexibility and posture. The United legend said the yoga poses – like the lotus flower and dog stretch – have strengthened his muscles and helped recovery after matches.
And with 963 appearances for United, 13 Premier League winners medals and 150 goals, who can argue with that?
Yoga may have a reputation for mat exercises done by girls and pensioners but the exercise invented in India is transforming football. Clubs like Everton, Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers, who won promotion to the Premier League at the weekend, are among the teams that use yoga during training sessions and to help players recover from injury.
I have done stories on yoga and how teachers have used it to change people’s lives. One London-based teacher Swami Pragyamurti, has taught yoga and meditation to prisoners and said inmates’ behaviour and stress levels improved as a result.
Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is reported to have attended pre-natal yoga classes during her pregnancy. It has become more hip with young people in recent years with Bikram yoga where the stretches are done in scorching temperatures and Budokon, which is combined with martial arts and meditation, and is popular with American actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Meg Ryan.
...performing yoga can help stroke sufferers regain their balance.
But at it’s core lies something interesting about breathing exercises and getting a workout without running or jumping. A study has even claimed that performing yoga can help stroke sufferers regain their balance.
Budokon & Bikram Yoga
As someone who has taken part in a yoga session - for the purpose of journalism of course - it is something that should be tried without passing judgement.
There was a mixture of deep breathing exercises, chanting and stretching. For the majority of the session you lean forward and put your weight on your hands. Extending the legs like was among the moves that de-creak all the tension out of the muscles. The stretches like the cat squat are not as easy as they look and require upper body strength. But afterwards you feel more spring-like.
As for Budokon, you may feel like Street Fighter character Dhalsim with the mix of meditation and fight poses. During a lesson with Ryan Carldon-Miah, Budokon's director in the UK, I spent a lot of time in a V shape with arms and legs outstretched. The session included animal movements like leaping and springing to your feet like a tiger.
What is clear is beyond sport, yoga and its different forms has proven to have the power to improve body and mind. You may not want to admit doing yoga to your friends but it could lead to a boost in performance for budding sportsmen and women as well as helping you manage everyday life.