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Marin Independent Journal- Yoga and TeensYoga instructor Puni Elston leads varsity and junior varsity football players
TO YOUR LEFT you'll see the Chimichanga. To your right, the Dead Pigeon. Just behind you are a couple of Downward-Facing Dogs, and if you're lucky you might even catch a Child's Pose.
Are you at a modern art exhibit? Have you stumbled into the latest Tom Robbins novel? No, it's just another Wednesday afternoon on the Novato High football field. Puni Elston brings the soothing sensibilities of yoga to the Hornets, even if the players can't help but mock it a bit.
Throughout the season, the Hornets have spent an hour a week getting in touch with their inner Chi under the guidance of Elston. She's put them in poses like the Chaturanga (which, in the fertile minds of teenage boys, naturally became known as the Chimichanga) and the Sleeping Pigeon (which became the Dead Pigeon) during their weekly sessions. The players may have laughed at the exercises at first, but as the Hornets head to Southern California to play in the Division II state championship against Oceanside on Saturday, they can't deny how yoga has helped them this year.
"It's gotten me a lot stronger and a lot faster," said junior wideout Jacob Davis, who has been doing yoga in some form since eighth grade. "Everyone made fun of it at first, with all the crazy positions, but the third time out there, people were taking it seriously. We've really improved at the poses and it's helped on the field."
Yoga is a centuries-old practice from India, a series of poses and exercises "designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation," according to the Yoga Journal. The Hornets have gotten the biggest boost from the physical side of the exercises.
"They're doing something that helps with their balance and rotation," Elston said. "The twisting and the body rotations, those are things that translate to the field. Also, the strength it builds up, even if you're hitting the gym, yoga can truly build up strength throughout the body."
Davis' father, Perry, takes classes from Elston at the Hamilton YMCA in Novato. Perry Davis thought the team might be able to benefit from Elston's tutelage and put her in contact with Hornets coach Travis Brackett.
"I'm a big believer in core training. Yoga prepares the structure of the body so it can support the muscle," Perry Davis said. "Many athletes overlook this type of training. ... Puni is just the toughest trainer around. She kicks most men's butts (in her classes). I thought she would be a perfect fit for the football team."
Elston agreed and was excited to bring yoga to a populace without much exposure to the exercises - teenage boys. She knew trying to teach 40 high school boys how to gain awareness of their five kleshas would be a challenge, but the differences between her YMCA classes and her sessions at Novato were staggering.
"It's completely different (with the Hornets) than what I teach in my classes," Elston said. "In class, it's very quiet, and we just go from pose to pose. There's almost no talking. Out here (on the football field), I'm cussing, yelling at the players. If they're goofing off, I'll knock them over and mess up their pose."
Elston also changes the program slightly from her YMCA classes. Whereas a normal class won't break once during the hour session, instead shifting seamlessly from pose to pose, she gives the Hornets a few seconds between each pose to gather their bearings.
"The attention span of a teenage boy is not quite that of a normal yoga participant," Elston said.
While the Hornets may have laughed at the exercises at first, they were never closed to the idea and quickly took to yoga. Elston said that by the second week the team focused on the exercises significantly better. It probably helped that Brackett thought from the get-go that Elston could bring a lot to his team.
"It's a great way to add strength and flexibility for the guys," Brackett said. "Not only that, but the way it can help you in life, to help you become more focused and at ease. It's something these guys can keep with them for the rest of their lives."
Brackett and Elston are doing their part to keep yoga a part of the Hornets' routine. Each loves what they've seen from the players since they began the exercises and plan to continue it next year. Elston also works with the Drake High football team, and Perry Davis has brought her to the Novato wrestling team, where he is an assistant coach.
Despite his happiness with the program, Brackett admits he's even greener than his players. "I do it, but I'm not very good," Brackett said. "It's tough, man. There's nothing easy about it."
Perhaps Brackett simply needs to discover his five chakras. Or, perhaps, a Chimichanga is in order.