Yoga for Basketball
From the Ground Up
Yet, open-minded players are well served by asanas like Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) and Virasana (Hero Pose), both of which open the ankles and help prevent injuries caused by sudden stops and quick cuts. "Ankles are an integral part of your base," says Kout. "If they're inflexible, you're vulnerable to injury."
Pounding the court for 60 minutesnot to mention squatting serious poundagehad turned many of the Bulls' quads into rock. The downside, though, was constant leg tension, a common problem for both the professional and weekend warrior. For this, Jackson wanted Kout to teach them Headstand. "I told him I didn't have enough insurance to do that," says Kout with a laugh.
She does, however, believe strongly in the healing powers of inverted asanas, and recommends beginners rest their legs against a wall and work up to Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). The shoulder is another joint that rarely rests on the court. When it's not being used to launch a jump shot, it's throwing or catching the ball, or engaged in defense. (Name a basketball player who doesn't remember his or her high school coach constantly screaming, "Arms up! Arms up!") Most of this shoulder work is of the forward-motion variety, so in addition to leading the Bulls through simple arm circles (one at a time, slowly), she walked them through poses like Prasarita Padottanasana (Widespread Standing Forward Bend) and Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose), which open and stretch the upper body.
Although Kout's stint with the Bulls is over (as are their glory days), Jackson has taken his New Age philosophy to the Los Angeles Lakers and in June led the team to their first championship in 12 years. Again, the Lakers' occasional yoga practice is just one piece of a comprehensive program, but it had an immediate effect on at least one player.
"We've been doing yoga so I'll be straight," Shaquille O'Neal told the Los Angeles Times in reference to a bad ankle that was quickly healing. "I'm kind of tightnot really used to stretching. But our yoga instructor is nice looking, so I'm very enthusiastic about it."
Dimity McDowell is a Brooklyn, New York-based freelance writer.
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