Yoga and rugby might seem like unusual bedfellows, but these two dramatically different activities are surprisingly compatible.
Yoga sometimes gets a bad wrap as being all about meditation, chanting, veganism, and wearing hemp clothes, but more and more rugby players are embracing this ancient form of exercise and enjoying its far-reaching benefits.
Go to any yoga studio on a Sunday morning, and you’ll see massive guys, tough-as-nails MMA fighters, and even bulky bodybuilders working alongside people from less active walks of life.
Check out this video to see the England rugby league squad being put through a yoga session.
The best time to start yoga is during the off-season, and it’s the ideal activity for recovery days. Despite being a challenging workout, it does not take much to recover from an hour or so of yoga and, in fact, because it improves circulation and provides a deep stretch, yoga could enhance recovery from on and off-the-pitch training.
Yoga is a very accessible form of training as there are lots of yoga teachers and yoga studios around. Choose a class designed for beginners and avoid jumping into the deep end too soon. If possible, speak to the yoga teacher beforehand and explain that you are a yoga newbie and that you play rugby, so they can recommend adaptations and adjustments to accommodate your specific needs.
If you want to get the most from yoga for rugby, consider hiring a yoga trainer and working on a one-to-one or small group basis. You’ll get a lot more from your practices and make faster progress. Maybe invite a yoga teacher to team training so all the players can try it for themselves.
Alternatively, you might prefer to practice alone and in the comfort of your home. There are lots of yoga DVDs available, and YouTube has several yoga workouts designed specifically for rugby players, such as this one:
If an entire yoga class does not appeal to you, check out this video for some poses specifically selected Sun salutations; the king of yoga sequences.
Still not convinced that yoga is for rugby players? No worries; try this simplified version of the sun salutation sequence as part of your next warm-up.
1. Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides. Lift your chest, extend your neck, pull your shoulders back and think tall thoughts!
2. Raise your arms above your head. (INHALE)
3. Bend your knees as far as necessary, hinge forwards from your hips and place your hands on the floor. (EXHALE)
4. Bend your knees and drop down into a crouch.
5. Jump your feet back lightly and into the classic push-up position and simultaneously lower your chest down towards the floor. (INHALE)
6. Keeping your hips down, extend your arms and lift your chest up as far as your back flexibility allows. (EXHALE)
7. Lower your chest back to the floor. (INHALE)
8. Keeping your body straight and tight, extend your arms and come back up into the push-up position. (EXHALE)
9. Step your left leg up to your hands and into a lunge position. (INHALE)
10. Step in with your right leg into a crouch position. (EXHALE)
11. Stand up and simultaneously raise your arms above your head. (INHALE)
12. Lower your arms to your sides. (EXHALE)
Repeat from step 1 but use the opposite leg in movements 11 and 12. Perform this sequence for a set time, e.g. five minutes, or for a set number of rounds e.g. ten.
It’s important to realize that, like any type of rugby training, there is a right way and a wrong way to do yoga for rugby, and having hands-on instruction will ensure you learn how to do things correctly, right from the start.
Yoga can put back into your body what rugby takes out and is, surprisingly, very compatible with rugby training. The poses and methods of yoga may be foreign to you and initially uncomfortable and difficult, but given time, you could find that yoga enhances not only your rugby but your general health and wellbeing too. If you’re not into yoga, consider doing some Jefferson Curls.