Bending it like Murray, Ivanovic, Sharapova...
Tennishead pulls on its leggings and crusty leotard to explore why the pros have gone mad for yoga.
While the rest of us were digging around in the Quality Street tin looking for the last purple one over the Christmas holidays, Andy Murray was contorting his body into the Child pose and Chair in temperatures topping 100F.
The young Scot revealed his new passion for the practice of Bikram, a type of yoga, in the run-up to the Australian Open. Judging by his results so far this year (he is the first player to win two titles this year after capturing trophies in Qatar and Marseille) and the response to his improved physique (British newspaper the Daily Mail ran a full-page feature ‘Muscles Murray is in Mint Condition’ in January) the ‘hot yoga’ workouts are having the desired effect.
Bikram yoga takes place in rooms pumped up to a temperature of 42C or 107F with a humidity of 50% and, according to the Scot, that’s exactly what you want when you’re preparing for tournament tennis in the Middle East and the sweltering Australian summer in early January.
Being tennis players, we get very stiff, especially changing surfaces a lot, Murray told the press in the new year. In the off-season, when youre doing a lot of training, its a great way of getting used to the heat and also improving your flexibility. When you’re just stretching after matches, you are just maintaining your flexibility, but this improves it a lot.
Of course, Murray isn’t the first tennis professional or sports star for that matter – to start singing the praises of yoga. Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas and Justin Gimelstob have all endorsed the discipline over the years, world No.3 Ana Ivanovic has been seen rolling out her yoga mat of late, while Ryan Giggs, David James, Roy Keane and Ruud Van Nistelrooy are among the more high-profile footballers to have declared their love for yoga. Not to mention countless American footballers and baseball stars the list goes on.
Leading British player Anne Keothavong, currently on the brink of cracking the world’s top 100, is another Bikram convert and says her weekly sessions have improved her overall conditioning. It’s a great way to get a total body workout as it combines strength, balance and flexibility and anyone can do it, the Londoner told Tennishead. The intense heat means your body heats up more easily which makes stretching easier.
After reaching her first WTA Tour singles semi-final in India in September, Keothavong was forced to end her 2007 season prematurely when persistent rib and back problems refused to settle down during a trip to Australia in November. The 24-year-old knows through experience that looking after her body is a top priority and says that yoga also helps her keep frustrating injuries at bay.
Bikram yoga has helped me with my flexibility and posture which in turn can help prevent injuries, she said. I feel revitalised after each session and my body and muscles always feel so much looser which can only be a good thing for a tennis player.
She’s not the only pro to have found that more yoga equals fewer injuries. Maybe the biggest fan of the practice among the pro tennis fraternity is recently-retired American Justin Gimelstob. In John Capouya’s book ‘Real Men Do Yoga’ he describes how it helped him recover from career-threatening back problems when he was in his early 20s.
Yoga saved my career, says Gimelstob, a former top-50 player. I had back problems, two herniated discs. Everything was locked up and the pain was so bad I could barely move around on court.
Gimelstob was faced with surgery before his doubles partner at the time, Alex O’Brien, suggested yoga. It took just a couple of weeks for me to see a difference. he says. It helps me after a long day of practice. It opens up my hips, shoulders and groin. In tennis my movement and balance are better and my muscles are more relaxed now. Plus getting in touch with my breathing has also helped me as far as staying calm and in control.
Sharapova and Haas both employed the services of Florida-based guru Sybel Boss, who claims she has created a form of yoga specifically aimed at tennis players by adapting ‘the vinyasa flow oriented style of the Ashtanga tradition’. And punters willing to part with $14.99 can put themselves in the shoes of the American and German by following Boss’ workout with the help of a DVD without even having to leave the comfort of their front rooms.
In fact, it’s so darn good, Sharapova tells visitors to Boss’ website, www.sybelsyoga.com, that she never leaves home without it. When I travel to tournaments I put the disk in my computer three or four times a week and do yoga for about an hour, the Russian superstar says. It helps my flexibility and gets me more relaxed, especially after a good workout. I enjoy it, and it helps my game tremendously.
Masha isn’t the only one sold on Boss’ techniques. Well-respected coach to the pros David ‘Red’ Ayme – former guru to Boris Becker, Marcelo Rios and Haas says the programme is THE one for tennis players.
Some forms of yoga that I have tried in the past, in my opinion hold the poses for too long, Ayme tells the same website. One of the biggest challenges in coaching is to find a teaching tool that we can use to develop athletes in all sports, all ages and most importantly all different levels of ability. Sybels system is based on the most important elements necessary to get a better athlete, which is balance, flexibility, core strength and focus.
The Tennishead guide to yoga