What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think 'rugby'?
Then what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think 'yoga'?
These two sets of cliché images appear in conflict with each other – one is stereotypically considered to be very masculine, physically strong and high intensity, the other has feminine, free-spirited connotations. I believe yoga has much to offer to rugby players – if they have the strength to challenge their preconceived ideas! The purpose of this post is to highlight, through my personal story, how yoga can be beneficial for rugby players – whether to reduce injury risks, aid recovery or to improve flexibility and balance. I offer guidance on what you can do before concluding.
After dislocating my shoulder in a rugby match I was given a few rehabilitation exercises to do and told “rest up, keep up with the rehab and you’ll be fine in a few weeks, then ease back into training”. Well, just like many young men faced with following prescribed orders I quickly decided to chin off all of this. Frustrated with my own body I was back in the gym in a number of days, I got bored of the rehabilitation exercises (they seemed so easy and dull, they couldn’t be providing any benefit!) and decided to just crack on with my normal training! I noticed the shoulder was never as strong as it was before and there was a growing imbalance in my body. Anyone who is passionate about sports and has had the misfortune of an injury will surely recognise the same behaviour – frustration and impatience to just get back to normal. After dislocating my shoulder again and revealing to a physiotherapist that I always chinned off the rehab exercises and just got back to training he urged me to find something that would keep my attention for long enough to help me recover properly and steered me to yoga. That is where my journey began and my focus was hooked.
So how can yoga help rugby players? I think the main benefits yoga brings to a rugby player are reduced injury risk, faster recovery between sessions, increased flexibility and improved balance.
Reduced Injury Risk
Sometimes a sporting focus can lead to muscular imbalances which may result in injury. Consider the prop forward who wants to improve his scrummaging so focuses on squats, leg presses and leg extensions in the gym. It is easy to imagine how such an approach can neglect the development of the hip muscles, so vital for power transmission, or imbalanced quadriceps and hamstrings. One could pick an example from almost any position and identify areas that may end up underdeveloped or overworked and at risk of injury. Sadly, even with all the yoga practice in the world you can still pick up nasty injuries, my point is that dedicated practices to strengthen some muscles that are likely to be underdeveloped, particularly in the shoulders and hips, will surely reduce the risk of injury.
The benefits of stretching post exercise are well researched and documented but how many people do you know, including perhaps yourself, who give everything in the gym or on the pitch but who as soon as the session is over neglect to stretch. Or offer a paltry lip service to a few stretches while talking and necking a protein drink! With a dedicated yoga practice you get to pay particular attention to stretching your muscles and are more likely to actually achieve the recommended 30-60 seconds of stretching (minimum) to see benefits (a world away from the 10 second bent over hamstring stretch and standing quad stretch we are all familiar with!).
Flexibility is defined as the capacity of a joint or muscle to move through its full range of motion. Flexibility is more than simply stretching, it needs to involve strength through the entire range of motion. Yoga offers this in a variety of postures, and particularly in hatha, vinyasa and ashtanga style classes. For rugby players increased flexibility may lead to more positive contact scenarios. Consider post tackle, attempting to jackal for the ball; if your flexibility is impaired perhaps it is easier to reach for the ball by dropping to a knee or elbow, or propping yourself on your opponent and thus giving away a silly penalty? Also consider the front row in a scrum, where even a few millimetres of depth in the crouch may help get under the opposition and force them off the ball or out of the scrum. Consider too the jump or lift in a line out – yes speed, explosive strength, accuracy and timing are key, but what if you could add that little extra by being able to comfortably extend to your full potential?
Balance is defined as the ability to stay upright or stay in control of body movement, (coordination) is the ability to move two or more body parts under control, smoothly and efficiently. Perhaps an underrated skill for many forwards but well respected by backs running great lines. With the modern game demanding the forwards to be realistic running options in attack, it is now time for them to take note of some of the training the backs do and follow suite, perhaps even just adding some balance work would reap benefits.
What can you do?
If I could only offer a handful of postures for rugby players they would be these: wide legged forward fold (think strength in the contact), pigeon (deal with those tight hips!), Warrior 3 (hamstring strength and flexibility), dolphin (should strength and ROM) and finally eagle (a real two for one!). I would also strongly recommend a warm up sequence that mobilises the whole body, strengthens the muscles around the joints and engages core stability. This recommendation isn’t just mine alone, the RFU will soon implement a 20 minute warmup routine focused on these areas, which in very recent research reduced overall injuries by over 70% in a study involving nearly 2500 players! Of course, for such a routine you could come to my #YogaforSport class.
A simple concluding thought; don’t take my word or experience for it, don’t listen to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, keep doing what you are doing to keep getting the same results. If you want to reduce injury and increase performance however, it is time to improve your warm up and cool down routines and to take flexibility and balance seriously. Yoga is a great way to add these aspects to your training and hopefully help your game.
Cross, M.J., Williams, S., Trewartha, G., Kemp, S.P. and Stokes, K.A., 2016. The influence of in-season training loads on injury risk in professional rugby union. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 11(3), pp.350-355.
Lynch, E., Lombard, A.J., Coopoo, Y., Shaw, I. and Shaw, B.S., 2013. Shoulder injury incidence and severity through identification of risk factors in rugby union players.
Whether you're a teacher, practitioner or simply someone vaguely interested in taking a yoga class, as soon as you mention it out loud you'll immediately be met with an opinion. There are certain things that people can let slide in a conversation without comment & others that cannot pass without voicing a thought or opinion. Alas - yoga falls into the latter of these two categories, much like when you mention the weather, Brexit or driving on the M25.
Some opinions will be complimentary, others less so. Some will be intrigued & simply want to know when/why/how but in the vast majority of cases the response will centre around a personal experience or opinion.
A certain theme always stands out though & although it may be dressed up in a number of different adjectives & reasons, the single point rings loud & clear...
'Ooh no...I don't like yoga.'
Can I just be clear here, yoga is not a piece of food. It is not an breed of animal to be feared & you cannot be allergic to it. In fact, I would challenge any of you to coherently compose any description of what yoga IS in less than a short novel. It's not about the ability to touch your toes or sit silently for hours on end. Yoga is a way of being.
Just because that class you tried last month was a bit too fast paced for you to keep up, that doesn't mean you don't like yoga.
Not a fan of the teacher/venue/price/props/person on the mat next to you? Try another class.
Couldn't sit still or switch your mind off enough to enjoy a restorative session? Sorry pal, you're still not allowed to tell me you don't like it.
Too many people are in a hurry to form opinions & stick a label on everything we do nowadays. From food, to exercise, to holidays, to genres of music & even other people. Take countries for example....have you ever visited a part of the world, not had a great time & made the sweeping judgement that you don't like that country? Tried a curry that was a bit hot & decided you don't like Indian food? Or even visited London on a hot & crowded day & decided that you don't like cities?
Again & again I come back to the idea that challenges people when it comes to their practice - the class & the style of yoga that you like least is probably the one that you need the most. If you can't wait to come out of a quiet 5 minute meditation at the start of the class & just want to 'get on with it', perhaps this is a reflection of the need to take time to slow down in other aspects of your life. If you couldn't stand being the only one who couldn't hold downward dog for quite as long as everyone else, perhaps a lesson in humility & patience?
Having moved around a lot in the past few years I've been lucky enough to attend numerous classes with every style of teacher you could imagine & don't get me wrong, I certainly took to some more than others. Some classes I couldn't wait to get back to & others you couldn't pay me to return, but I now know better than to tarnish all styles of yoga with the same brush. I fought Hatha classes for a long long time & was always a Vinyasa girl. In fact it wasn't until my teacher training that I really embraced the art of slowing down & checking in with what was actually going on with my body. The fast pace of Vinyasa allowed me to overlook any shortcomings in my postures as we'd easily flow from one posture to the next; in a slower paced Hatha class there's no faking it when my body has locked up from a few days behind a desk. At other times, I end up living TOO leisurely & the thought of a dynamic hour of postures fills me with dread. It is at these times that I know I need it to boost my energy.
So be open minded - try something new, something different & even something you perhaps might have actively avoided in the past. You don't have to love it, hell you don't even have to like that one class, but until you've given a number of classes, styles & variations a shot, PLEASE don't tell me you don't like yoga.
I have a teeny confession to make. Is it even really a confession? Possibly - it depends what you have come to expect from your yoga teachers.
To go back a step...
I never wanted to be a yoga teacher (that's not the confession but seeing it written down makes it sound like one!). No, I always loved yoga, loved the practice and adored trying out as many different classes and teachers as I could fit in - some I loved, some I hated. Throughout it all though, it never came onto my radar that I might ever be the one stood at the front of the class guiding the practice. In my eyes, I wanted my yoga teachers to be yogi's. To live and breathe the practice, knowing all aspects and history of yoga inside and out.
I think this kind of idea stuck with me possibly right up to the morning I began my yoga teacher training - I walked into the studio already feeling like a fraud, I was gonna be busted any minute and as soon as they realised I was still learning my mantras from my mudras they would throw me out of there (probably whilst walking on their hands and reciting the full Ashtanga series in Sanskrit).
Then came the realisation as I looked around the room that yoga teachers did not have to conform to any particular stereotype. They didn't have to be spiritual, or a hippy, or frankly even flexible. There is no one-size-fits-all yoga teacher and there is no right or wrong way to go about your teaching or your practice.
Which brings me back to my confession....
Life is hard. Life is busy. Stuff tends to happen and as much as I love to use the hashtag on Instagram, unfortunately I do not practice #yogaeverydamnday. Generally it's #yogasomeofthetimearoundalltheotherthingsthatenduptakingpriority.
There is no excuse. In fact, time is my most hated excuse of them all (if you want to do something, you make time for it) and with a beautiful studio at my disposal I should be spending hours revelling in it's 9x5m spacious glory. The only thing I can put it down to is that being a teacher and studio owner almost makes it too accessible. You know, those situations when you can do something whenever you like so you end up not actually doing it at all? I'd liken it to living super close to some big tourist attraction and never actually going because you know you could go at any time (I say this from experience having grown up in Warwick but barely ever going to the castle...maybe it's just me?!).
Whatever the reason, it's time to set some summer resolutions and up my yoga game, not least because I know my body, mind and sanity will thank me in just a few short weeks of a more regular practice. Just 5 minutes a day of stopping to pay attention to your breathing can have incredible effects so imagine what a deeper practice could do.
I know full well that my accountability can be awful, which is why I'm putting this out there and asking you to join me....
Let's do yoga every damn day.
There are no rules - practice as much or as little as you like. Some days it might be 50 minutes, other days it might just be 5. Whether you want to get your flow on or just sit in a short meditation, the choice is yours. Logistics shouldn't be a hurdle either - you can get your daily practice in a class or at home; for those of you not sure where to start will this, I'll share some tips and tricks for a home practice along the way. I'll try and get some thoughts and stories from our teachers about their practice and what works for them too (they don't know this yet...surprise if you're reading!).
It would be great to see how you get on as well - post on our Facebook wall, send us a message or comment below. You'll learn a bit from us, but you'll learn more from each other. This isn't a chore or a challenge, it's about helping yoga fit in as a part of your life.
I thought about putting a time limit on this (they say 21 days makes a habit) but I decided it's not about a short term goal or ticking the box to say you've done it. Hopefully in time (probably not very much!) you'll realise the incredible impact taking this time for yourself can have. You don't have to do yoga every day for the rest of your life, but this is a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of what a regular practice (big or small) can do for you - and stuff like this is always more fun with friends.
If you miss a day or 7, who cares...just come back to your mat when you're ready knowing that each time you do, you're giving your soul a little hug.
So who's with me?
In 2015 I got a new job in Nailsworth and living in Bristol meant that if a tasty new commute was on the cards, it was time to get myself a new set of wheels. Enter the beauty that was to become my baby...a car I'd dreamt of for years (literally...I'd had the brochures and done the showroom visits more than once!). I honestly smiled every time I drove it - it wasn't just a spur of the moment purchase, it was something I'd worked towards for years and it represented a new start, a great change and exciting opportunities.
Last June I was driving home out of Nailsworth and a combination of rain, a rear wheel drive car and a hairpin bend caused me to lose control coming out of a corner, spinning the car a full 180 degrees straight across the road, crashing sideways into a tree on the other side. The car was a write off but after a trip to hospital, I was released my fair share of bumps, bruises and whiplash, but no lasting physical damage.
Since then, I've often come back to the need to practice non-attachment to get over the whole experience, to ensure I don't let myself get hung up on both the physical aspect of the car itself, or what it represented.
Relinquishing attachment doesn't mean indifference or uncaring, it simply means being aware. Aware of what those attachments mean for our emotions and feelings. Aware of what we're actually looking for as we cling onto external items or experiences. Too often, we link these 'things' with a sensation; we believe that buying those shoes, eating that cake, securing that contract or looking a particular way will finally be the answer to making us feel good.
It's not just material objects - how many of you have turned up at your yoga class and been disappointed that a cover teacher had had to step in because your regular teacher is sick, or been a bit miffed when someone else is in 'your spot' in the studio? We create attachments to all sorts of things, experiences and people. You begin class in a negative mindset and it can be hard to shake.
"You only lose what you cling to" - Buddha
You may find that you're hanging on to your identity within your career or family - are your days defined by your status within your workplace or home; what would happen if tomorrow your company went bankrupt and you found yourself no longer in that role? How many mothers feel lost when their kids get older and leave home?
Sometimes we find ourself attached to a situation and if it doesn't go in our favour or the way we expect we can have a significant emotional (and sometimes even physical) response. Before it's even happened we worry, stress and find ourselves anxious over something we can't even control - we get attached to a particular outcome. Other times it can come in the form of activities or habits - working crazy long days, spending hours glued to our phones or even allowing ourselves to constantly wallow in a negative mindset. We cling to what we're scared to lose; what we feel defines us.
Cars will come and go. People will come and go. Our circumstances will change on a daily basis with no sense of order. We live transient lives and can't control all situations...sometimes things won't go our way. All we can do is live in the present, ensuring we don't let our ego rule our decisions and practice gratitude for everything around us. Life will happen whether we want it to or not and we will achieve nothing by expending our energy on worrying or trying to 'fix' things.
Let your actions and decisions be dictated by genuine good and compassion for yourself and others, not a desire for a particular outcome. Don't come to your yoga mat fixated on the need to touch your toes or hold a headstand, because I can guarantee you'll be disappointed. Life has a funny way of changing the goalposts and once you CAN achieve these things, they suddenly won't seem like enough. Can you embrace a success without immediately looking for the next victory? By always seeking more, bigger, better, faster, stronger, we fill our minds with negative feelings of not being 'good enough' without acknowledging all those other subtle benefits that have snuck in from the sidelines. No I can't hold a handstand, but by working towards one in a regular practice I'm learning patience, focus, body awareness and gratitude for a strong and healthy body that lets me do so.
This week the weather has been beautiful and as I drive those gorgeous country roads I do find myself longing for my old car - to be able to drive in those evenings as the sun is setting, with the roof down catching the last of those rays. But as Chris reminds me every time I bring it up....that was the day we got lucky. Lucky that the only thing to really be hurt was my car. Nothing was coming the other way, no-one was sat in the passenger side which was crushed completely and there's no lasting damage that won't heal with time. I still get nervous driving that corner, but I'm still here.
Nobody's perfect (least of all me!) and no doubt every time I drive a lush road on a a summers day, or see a car like mine, I'll have that little pang of longing. But instead of letting myself get into a spiral of sadness about what was, I'll embrace the lessons learned, appreciate the experiences I had and hold gratitude for how lucky that day really was.
Courtenay is the owner & director of Warrior & Wild & can mostly be found hanging around the studio, training in the gym or geeking out in books somewhere. Influenced by the logical & mechanical elements of her engineering background & her love of learning, she aims to treat each class as an education & hopes to leave all of her students with a greater awareness of how they move, both on & off the mat.
For private or group class enquiries (or just to say hello!) connect with Courtenay via Facebook, drop her an email at email@example.com.
Do you ever have those days where you feel like you’re dodging grenade after grenade? Perhaps you’re not even managing to dodge them – you’re getting fired at from all angles until you just want to stop the world and get off.
I had one of those days yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, there were the great bits (hello midday restorative class!) but in between it felt like nothing was going my way.
When this is happening, you might feel like there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, as it seemds to be purely down to external circumstances and other people. While this is true, the one thing you CAN control is how you react. It’s no coincidence that these dire scenarios all come along in one go; when we’re in a shitty mood, no one can do right by us.
During these times, you can work your way into a spiral of negativity and frustration seeing the bad in every situation that crosses your path, or alternatively, you can choose to take a different path. When we realise that how we perceive what is going on around us can hugely influence our thoughts and decision-making processes, we can begin to look for ways to change our perspective.
No it’s not a miracle answer; I don’t have any scientific studies to show you to back this up, all l I can say is that it works. In the simplest of terms, just roll out your mat.
It doesn’t have to be an hour, you don’t need to do countless sun salutations or even worry about breaking a sweat, simply move in a way that feels good for you. It’s not about the movements that you’re doing, but how you’re doing them. When something stressful is going on this can be all that circles through our mind so use the opportunity to give your head some breathing space. Take your focus to your breath instead. You might choose to count the length of inhales and exhales, or simply ensure there's a natural and free flow of air.
Your mind will wander in and out of your practice, circling around the problem (or something else entirely…yesterday it was ‘mushrooms’ that kept popping into my head of all things!) but when this happens, just notice it, accept it and move back to the breath.
No time or space (or mat?!), no problem. It can be a metaphorical one. Just take a few minutes to give your mind a break. Find a quiet space if you can where you can sit comfortably. Place your hand on your tummy and concentrate on breathing in and out fully and slowly. Five minutes of conscious breathing can work wonders to transform your mindset.
When you're ready and don’t feel like you’re fighting the world anymore, come back to your day and I guarantee you won’t be in the same headspace. As I said, I can’t show you the proof of ‘how’ this works, just know that it does.
I get that this probably sounds nuts to some of you and if it’s too hippy trippy for you at the moment, that’s absolutely fine. But maybe next time you’re freaking out and about to snap like an elastic band, just give it a go and see for yourself.
Stress and anxiety are wide-spread in our culture. We are tuned into a fast-pace way of life and have a drive to get results fast. Without any respite from this “go, go, go” culture, we can often feel stressed and burnt out as a result.
The words “stress” and “anxiety” are often used interchangeably, but bear different meanings in medical terms. Stress is caused by particular situations or events in one’s life that makes one feel frustrated, angry, worried or even anxious. The stress response is different for each individual such that the same event can often illicit disparate responses. For example, public speaking excites some people but terrifies others. The pressure of work deadlines increases productivity in some but overwhelms and burdens others. Stress inhibits the body’s natural healing abilities, over time stress creates tension in the body, creating physical imbalances.
Anxiety, on the other hand can be defined as persistent, excessive, and worries and concerns about the future. These worries present as a frequent pattern of constant worry over events and activities, which creating difficulties in everyday life.
If we find it challenging to ‘switch-off’ from a stress and anxiety pattern, our (sympathetic) nervous system moves into overdrive and we generate feelings of overwhelm and perhaps physical problems.
THE IMPACT OF YOGA
Many studies have shown the benefits of yoga for patients with anxiety (including PTSD), stress, depression, chronic illness and dementia. Yoga classes can be found not only in yoga studios but also in nursing homes, nurseries and schools. This most certainly shows that yoga’s benefits are widely recognised and accepted.
HOW CAN A YOGA PRACTICE HELP?
Yoga asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breath techniques) and meditation form a holistic approach to well-being. Yoga asanas help to gently release tension from the large muscle groups, circulate the body and brain with fresh blood, oxygen, and other nutrients, which help to generate feelings of well-being. Breathing practices and meditation help to relax the body and calm the mind. By committing to a practice we help to create space between our sometimes overwhelming thoughts and sometimes intense sensations in the body. These positive results can be transferred off the mat into our everyday life. Yoga can provide us with the strength to face situations and events, psychologists call this resilience.
HOW TO GET STARTED
These yoga for stress and anxiety workshops are open to everyone, whether you’re a seasoned practitioner, or whether you are completely new to yoga. The workshops can be taken individually or as a series.
If you feel that you would like to participate in a workshop but feel it might be a challenge getting into the studio please get in touch with Nic, as she also provides tailored 1-2-1 sessions.
Nic Hutchinson is a Yoga Teacher, Homeopath and Yoga Medicine Facilitator. She is passionate about the application of yoga and Yoga Medicine to health and well-being, having experienced periods of intense anxiety herself. She feels blessed to work doing what she loves, teaching yoga classes, facilitating workshops and working in her private clinic in Nailsworth, Stroud and Stonehouse. When she’s not teaching, she loves reading about all things yoga, hanging out with her partner and little boy, baking, strolling the local hills and painting.
Connect with Nic on Facebook and via her website www.yogatula.co.uk
Earlier this year we introduced our 30 days for £30 unlimited yoga offer. This deal is the perfect introduction to those of you new to the studio, or who simply want to sample all the styles we have available. It’s also an offer that’s here to stay, so please spread the word and help us continue to grow as a studio so we can carry on adding more classes for you all!
Those of you who haven’t tried as many yoga classes as you can in your 30 days, what are you waiting for? For others of you who are coming to the end of your 30 days however, you might be unsure which of our class pack and membership options is best suited to your practice and schedule (not to mention your budget!) going forwards. We have a wide variety of price plans available to try and ensure there is something to suit everyone, but it can make it a bit of a minefield.
So we thought we’d try and help…
Still building up your practice, or have a hectic schedule that means you can only squeeze in a single class each week? Give our £36 a month membership a go. This adds 4 credits to your account at the start of each billing cycle so you can go ahead and book yourself in each week for the rest of the month.
Going on holiday or can’t make it one week? Don’t worry, you’re not tied to a single class and your credit can be used on any other session that month.
Some of you 30 day yogis are already beginning to see the benefits of a regular practice, so might be a little more suited to our £66 a month membership. With 8 credits added to your account at once, you can average two classes a week – perhaps a more dynamic class for the body balanced out with something a little more chilled out for the mind? Our restorative based classes are the perfect anecdote to a hectic lifestyle!
For those of you who have fallen in love with yoga in all its shapes and form, grab an unlimited membership for just £79 and come every day, or even twice a day! Mix and match your weeks as you go, or for those of you who love routine, pre-book as many of your favourite classes as you can fit in over the month ahead.
Each of our memberships have a 3 month minimum term, but after this move onto a rolling contract which just needs 21 days notice by email to cancel, not that you’ll want to of course.
If your days are a bit more unpredictable or you find yourself away quite a lot, you may prefer not to be on a monthly payment plan but still want better value classes. Luckily for you, we still have our 10-class pack available for just £100. Averaging just under a class a week, this pack is valid for 3 months and can be used on any 10 classes within this period, no commitment to a regular class or style.
Still not quite sure which price plan is best for you? Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd be happy to help figure out the best option!