How the New York Giants’ Yoga Coach Gwen Lawrence Mixes Vinyasa with Weight Lifting and Kicks the NFL’s Butt With Frog Pose
Gwen Lawrence, the yoga coach for the New York Giants who has also worked on and off for the New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, and New York Yankee players including Alex Rodriguez, as well as many other athletes and celebrities, explains how she amps up her yoga game with weights, tackles tight spots, and challenges even the mightiest NFL players with Frog Pose.
YJ: What does yoga mean to you personally?
Lawrence: Yoga is what keeps me grounded, present, limber, and focused, so that I can continue to enjoy the other things I love to do, like lifting weights and running. Without yoga I know I would be suffering from injury and pain.
YJ: Do you ever mix yoga and weight lifting?
Lawrence: I love to mix it up and create hybrid yoga workouts that mix weights with yoga. I trademarked VYX™ (Vinyasa Yoga Extreme), which incorporates the use of wrist and ankle weights to a vinyasa flow to increase fat-burning ability. This helps enlist the hardcore workout group to get interested in yoga!
YJ: Which poses are your favorites as far as training professional football players and why?
Lawrence: By far, hip openers. Not only do open hips save the knees and help athletes move on a dime and absorb energy and impact, they are the storage depot for stress, anxiety, and fear. So opening the forever-tightening hips is my first go-to for not only my football players but for all athletes. Some of my favorite hip openers include:
- High Lunge, Crescent Variation, adding twists and holding for long periods of time.
- Pigeon Pose, holding for 3-5 minutes on each side.
- Frog Pose, holding for 5+ minutes (I’m famous for these). Sometimes a long, 6-minute Frog Pose will kick their mental and physical [rear end] more than a 30-minute flow. Long holds can pop the cork off your tight spots.
YJ: Which poses do your NFL players love?
Lawrence: Love is a strong word. Frankly, Savasana, but they do love Pigeon because they recognize the relief they get. They do love some of the shoulder openers and reclining twists are a perennial favorite, too. When I bring my arsenal of blocks they enjoy the restorative poses I do with them, and Legs-Up-the-Wall-Pose.
YJ: How do you alter each athlete's yoga practice depending on the position they play?
Lawrence: I watch hours and hours of games and analyze the players’ movements. For example, I recognize tight areas (like the hamstrings or back) and tackle them with targeted long and deep poses. I also recognize common movements that they do and create strength and flexibility work for the areas and surrounding areas. A strength yoga move may be a 1-minute Warrior I hold or even a 2-minute Plank hold, building strength and stability in the joints and challenging their breathing and mental toughness. Flexibility work would be the 3-5 minute Pigeon holds where they can really sink in and get deep, or a 6-plus minute Frog Pose.
YJ: What are your top 3 tools for training athletes with yoga?
- Body scan training, focusing on the breath. Not enough players can be present, breathe properly, and be aware of their bodies. If you are an athlete with any level of talent and are not training the mind, you are voluntarily putting yourself at a severe disadvantage.
- My stopwatch. It gives my athletes security knowing how long they will hold a pose, and I can talk them through the difficulties without worrying about the time and leaving them in too long.
- Humor and tough love!
Ahnu YogaSport Tip: POP THE CORK OFF YOUR TIGHT SPOTS
To help athletes open tight hips, Lawrence is famous for holding Frog Pose for 5+ minutes. Click here for more deep hip openers.
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