Football, a rough and tumble sport, and yoga—a breath-stretch-feel practice in mindfulness—may at first seem diametrically opposed to each other. But players are using mind-body practices more and more to improve their game and overall well-being.
They’re using yoga to heal after injury, and to increase their flexibility and focus. Google “football and yoga” and you’ll even find poses specifically tailored to enhancing players’ performance on the field.
To get the inside scoop, Yoga International’s Vice President of Business Operations, Travis Head (yoga practitioner, aspiring athlete, and our resident football fan), interviewed Mike Adams, strong safety for the Indianapolis Colts, to learn how he integrates yoga into his life and career.
Read on to learn how Adams uses yoga to complement his training, as a therapeutic practice to heal injuries and stay focused, and as a means of giving back to his community.
How do you use yoga as a complement to your football training? I practice yoga twice a week to support my weight training. I use a yoga wheel to stretch and release tension and muscular tightness in my hamstrings, lower back, chest, and abdomen.
People don’t tend to think of yoga and football as going hand in hand. How were you introduced to yoga, and what was it that converted you into a yoga believer? I was introduced to yoga by my NFL coach. What converted me to becoming a yoga believer is how it made me feel after each session. My muscle tone and energy levels increased, and yoga enhanced my ability to concentrate and overall well-being.
What, in your opinion, is keeping yoga from being even more popular among NFL teams? I don’t believe that yoga is unpopular. I just think that players are uninformed about the many benefits that yoga can provide. The mental benefits of yoga, for me, are a more relaxed mind—I am able to focus on more positive thoughts, and I can clear my mind and eliminate any stress I may feel in my life. Football players in particular can definitely benefit from yoga because the practice can help you build endurance, as well as become more flexible, balanced, agile, and strong overall. Unfortunately, athletes are prone to injuries, but yoga can also supplement our recovery and get us back in the game.
I don’t believe that yoga is unpopular. I just think that players are uninformed about the many benefits that yoga can provide.
Football is obviously a very rugged, aggressive game. Do the tenets of yoga conflict with those of professional football? Not at all. Football is as much mental as it is physical, and yoga works the same way. Yoga includes breathing exercises, meditation, and postures that can enhance our flexibility. With football, physical flexibility is important because it helps improve your performance and decreases your risk of injury, and being mentally prepared is a key component of being successful on the field. Being prepared both mentally and physically, and being flexible, are all key components of being successful on the football field.
Do you ever get grief/wisecracks from teammates? Yes! I get jokes and wisecracks all the time.
Have you experienced any football-related limitations in your yoga practice (i.e., muscle mass, tightness, soreness), and what have you done to deal with these? As a 13-year veteran of the NFL, I’ve experienced many limitations in my practice because of injuries. I sprained my ankle and injured my shoulder, but yoga helped me heal. I would modify the techniques to be sure not to aggravate the injuries, and focus on the parts of my body that require specific treatment. Modifications may include different poses and/or using props.
What are your aspirations for your yoga practice? Have you ever considered teaching? With the everyday pressures and stresses of life, my aspiration is to have peace of mind and to be healthy physically. I’ve never considered teaching, but I highly recommend yoga to anyone who is interested in exercise that helps unite the body and mind.
Professional football players do so much for their local communities, which often flies under the radar. Has your yoga practice informed your community service? How? I am very active in my community and passionate about helping youth whenever and wherever I can. Assisting the underprivileged has always been in my heart, and the practice of yoga has opened my mind to new ways of making this dream a reality. Yoga is a natural mental healer, and meditation is a large part of the process. This makes my journey through life happier and more fulfilling, and that offers me the energy and momentum I need to help others.