Yoga for Baseball
Despite the fact that the word yogi conjures up an image of a free-swinging, malaprop-spewing catcher for the Yankees, the stereotypical images of baseball playerswads of tobacco lodged in their cheeks, answering to managers with generous beer gutsdon't appear to jibe with the serenity and philosophy of yoga.
But image is one thing, reality quite another. The sometimes languid pace of baseball and softball games belies their physical demands (good players need everything from fast reflexes to excellent eye-hand coordination). Yoga is the perfect complement to strengthen and stretch muscles in both the mind and body. "Yoga enhances any athletic performance," says Jimmy Barkan, owner of the Yoga College of India in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "and baseball is no exception." He should know: He worked with members of the Florida Marlins during their 1997 World Series winning season. Coincidence or not? "I can't really take responsibility for that," says Barkan with a laugh.
What he can take responsibility for, though, is loosening up some seriously tense muscles, and consequently improving, albeit intangibly, on-field performance. Barkan practices Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 asanas performed in a room heated to approximately 95 degrees. Typically inflexible men (read: most baseball players) flock to these classes for two reasons: First, the fiery temperature instantly heats the body, allowing a more intense stretch; and secondly, the postures don't require a lot of flexibility to begin with. "No matter what, there's a level at which you can participate in and benefit from this class," says Barkan.
Secret of My Success
Initially, pitcher Al Leiter, a former Marlin, current New York Met, and long-time yoga devotee, sought out the services of Barkan. "This is a great workout," he told the Palm Beach Post. "It's definitely an asset in my success." Once his teammates and various staff members heard him waxing om-ecstatic, a number of them wanted in, so Barkan went to Pro Player Stadium to lead their sessions. "We gathered a number of heaters," Barkan remembers, "But the room wasn't as hot as we like it."
Still, the postures he led the players through stretched and strengthened key areas of the body used in baseball and softball. Although each field position requires a different athletic specialtyshortstops need to be agile and acrobatic, first basemen need flexibility to do the splits, pitchers need shoulders of steel, catchers need balance and strong legsthe muscles used in the staple motions of batting and throwing encompass almost the entire body.
When you step up to home plate, although it's the bat that's swinging, it's actually the rotation of your hips that generates the power necessary to clear the fence. The greater range of motion your hips have, the better your chances for a decent hit.
Twist Like Joe
Jeff Conine (formerly a Marlin, now a Baltimore Oriole) would watch films of Joe DiMaggio, whose hips were so flexible they'd be facing third base by the end of his swing. Says Barkan, "Conine could barely get his to first until he started practicing yoga." The Bikram posture Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pulling Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) will help to get your hips swinging as fully as your bat does.
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