Recovery Yoga for Rugby Players: Tips to Stay in the Game

The Olympic hopeful for U.S. Women’s Rugby shares how yoga helps her recover from the "elegant violence" of rugby and keeps her in the game at 40-plus.
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The Olympic hopeful for U.S. Women’s Rugby shares how yoga helps her recover from the "elegant violence" of rugby and keeps her in the game at 40-plus.
Phaidra Knight

U.S. Women's Rugby Player Phaidra Knight Goes for the Gold at 41: How Yoga Keeps Her in the Game

The Olympic hopeful for U.S. Women’s Rugby shares how yoga helps her recover from the "elegant violence" of rugby and keeps her in the game at 40-plus.

At 41, U.S. Women's Rugby player Phaidra Knight is a bit older than your average Olympic hopeful, but she’s still in the game, thanks in part to her regular yoga practice.

"Anything over the age of 35 is considered ancient in the international game of Sevens (the rugby game that will be featured in the Olympics), so imagine the perception at age 41. Yoga and meditation have been an integral part of my longevity," says Knight, a two-time World Cup MVP.

Knight hasn’t played with the U.S. team since 2010, but she was brought back into a residency this year for the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, meaning she’s in the pool of players to choose from (it also happens to be the first time rugby will be in the Olympics for women).

To achieve her goal of making it onto the Olympic team, Knight came out of semi-retirement a little more than a year ago -- and yoga and meditation have both played key roles in getting her back into shape, she says.

"I do some form of yoga every day. Stretching is one of the most important components of my recovery (athlete-speak for healing from high-intensity training), and it’s a big part of my training at this stage in my career. As athletes get older, our bodies require more recovery and less intensity, as we’re already programmed to withstand the intensity. A game like rugby, which is so elegantly violent, definitely needs to balance with the likes of yoga."

Knight takes a yoga class 2-3 times a week, and tries to do poses for 20-30 minutes a couple of times a day. A few of her favorite poses include PigeonHead-to-Knee Forward Bend, and Downward-Facing Dog, all held for 3 minutes. She also likes Plow Pose, which is "applicable to being on the field and getting rolled around on your head and being comfortable with it," and twists.

In addition, Knight meditates at least twice a day, sometimes much more. "I integrate meditation into my pregame ritual on days that I’m actually playing rugby. I’ll meditate in the morning and once prior to each match," she says. "I also do breathing prior to stepping on the pitch (aka the playing field for rugby) to bring the body and the mind to a restful state. It’s a tremendous part of what I do."

But while yoga is a huge part of Knight’s training, it’s even more important for her holistic health beyond athletics. "Life alone, outside of sport, is full of stressors that create tension in the body," she says. "I need yoga for balancing all facets of me."

​Ahnu YogaSport Tip: HOLD THAT POSE

For a deep stretch and to help her body recover from rugby, Knight loves poses like Head-to-Knee Forward Bend and Downward-Facing Dog, all held for 3 minutes.

Click here for more flexibility-enhancing forward bends.

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