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I love soccer and loved seeing the sport catch fire—among yogis in particular—this World Cup. Though it’s not surprising: Soccer is like yoga in many ways. (Stay with me here if you don’t see it.) Like yoga, soccer yokes and unites across cultures and sociopolitical divides. It is replete with ritual from the pre-game handshakes to the final heartfelt hugs. Its elegance is derived in great part from the fact that a player’s mastery depends on mindfulness, focus, intelligence, creativity, and physical skill over brute force. Plus, soccer follows yoga’s philosophy of Ahimsa—no pushing, pulling, kicking, or tripping is allowed; you bite, you get kicked out of the World Cup. Also not unlike asana, it’s simply a beautiful sport.
Sure, soccer also has a shadow side—gender inequality, the theatrics of faking injuries, nationalism, and racism among the most obvious. But its brand of sportsmanship and competition is something I think we as yogis can identify with and even learn from. I’m frequently touched by the behavior between teams at the end of a game. Case in point, last week’s World Cup match between Brazil and Columbia when two Brazilian players embraced and held tight a Columbian player who was inconsolable with defeat. It was a stunning moment of beauty and a glimpse into the wider metaphor: Yes, winning and losing are a part life, but our ability to know the pain and the joy of the other as our own is what unifies us at the end of the day.
No matter who wins or loses, our human connection remains. For a moment in these complex times, the World Cup brings us all together—in spontaneous communitas in cafes, pubs and living rooms yelling like maniacs at the television, dancing and celebrating a well-kicked GOOOAALLL—united in the love for this sport. This is something to be celebrated. Namaste!
Yoga Sequence for Soccer Lovers
Whether you’re an athlete or spectator, the following sequence is ideal for warming up to get your World Cup freak on!
1. Supine Core Strengthener
Benefit: Core strengthening
Lie on your back and lift both legs up to 90 degrees, arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing up. Place a block or ball on top of feet. Press down through lower belly, while presssing up through heels and keeping back ribs and lower back on floor. Bend elbows to 90 degrees and slide shoulder blades down away from ears. Keep back ribs and lower back on floor. Take 15 breaths with both legs up. Then extend one leg to 2 inches above floor and take 15 breaths with one leg up balancing the block or ball on foot. Repeat on opposite side.
2. Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Benefits: Opens shoulders, hamstrings, calves, Achilles heels; decompresses lower back
Come on to hands and knees. Place palms slightly in front of shoulders, shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart. Root down through palms and heels, while lengthening spine toward the sky and reaching through sitting bones. Allow your awareness to settle, relaxing your attention on the sensation of opening in the shoulders, torso and backs of the legs. Stay for 20 breaths.
3. High (Crescent) Lunge
Benefits: Great for strengthening and warming up the core, back extensors, legs
Step one foot forward and bend front leg to a right angle, aligning knee over ankle. Lift up through the lower belly to lengthen the torso, lifting weight out of the front hip. Extend a line of energy from pelvic floor to front knee and back heel simultaneously, as you drop the front sitting bone and lift the back thigh. Stay for 15 breaths per side.
4. Twisting Low Lunge
Benefits: Creates space in thoracic spine; stretches back extensors, ilia-psoas, thighs
Starting on hands and knees, step one foot between hands. Lower back knee to floor (use padding if you need), aligning front knee with hip joint and front ankle. Use lower abdominals to lift weight off of front hip joint, lengthening up through entire torso. On exhale, twist, bringing opposite elbow to outside of front knee, drawing bottom ribs towards inner thigh. Make fist with bottom hand and drape with top to lift out of front hip. Breathe into back ribs. Lengthen spine on inhalations, deepen twists on exhalations. Take 5 breaths each side.
5. Chair Pose with Hip Opener
Benefits: Develops balance; strengthens and releases gluteus medius; hip opener; applied core strengthening
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Cross right ankle on top of left knee. Hinge at hips and lower sitting bones. Keep hips and pelvis square to front. Firm and lift from lower belly and lengthen through both sides of torso. Place a block or ball in between your palms and extend your arms up overhead, while keeping shoulder blades on back and shoulders away from ears. Stay for 10 breaths per side.
6. Pigeon Pose
Benefits: Hip opener; releases and lengthens gluteus medius and ilia-psoas
Starting on hands and knees, place one foot between hands and lower back knee to floor. Walk front foot toward opposite groin, externally rotating front leg. Direct the center of the back thigh onto or pointing toward floor. Keep pelvis neutral. Extend crown of head and back foot away from each other and breathe deeply. Bring awareness into the sensation of opening in the hip of the bent leg. Stay for 20 breaths per side.
7. Seated Forward Bend
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and back muscles; relaxes and focuses attention inward
Sit with legs extended forward. Move sitting bones back so weight of torso falls to front of sitting bones, not back. Extend and lengthen spine and fold forward hinging at hips. Use a block or ball to support forehead. Stay for 20 breaths.
Micheline Berry is an urban yogini, multi-media artist and avid soccer fan. Her work catalyzes life art through a cohesive fusion of Liquid Asana™ vinyasa flow yoga, world music, somatic + fine arts, and meditation. She has a passion for connecting mindfulness practices with art and culture. Based at Exhale in Venice, Calif., Berry leads Liquid Asana™ Teacher Trainings and Yoga + Art Retreats internationally.
Photography by Robert Sturman