On this yoga day, here is the list of sportspersons who are avid practitioners of yoga.
Basketball icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was perhaps the first high-profile American athlete to embrace yoga. The man with numerous NBA records to his name, including owing eight play-off records and seven All-Star records, says he was able to play until the age of 42 because of his zeal for yoga.
The man with a record six-time NBA MVP titles, first discovered yoga when studying in high school in 1961, and says he was drawn to the emphasis on suppleness, concentration and breathing. His interested in yoga grew while a college student at UCLA, where he read more on it and made it a part of his training regime. “Basketball is an endurance sport, and you have to learn to embrace your breath. That’s the essence of yoga,” he was quoted as saying by relaxandrelease.com. “As preventative medicine, yoga is unequalled. Once I started practicing yoga, I had no muscle injuries during my career.”
The three-time NBA championship winner in 2009 first revealed that he practiced yoga, following lower-back problems during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind, and it’s a technique that has really helped me,” he said in an interview then. In 2011, while with the Miami Heat, James again created yoga for his incredible stamina, stating that his off-season time on the mat made him feel rejuvenated. “Does it work for everybody? I don’t know. But it works for me,” said the man known as The King.
The cricketing legend paid rich tributes to BKS Iyengar, who was credited with doing much to take the ancient practice to the West, following his death at the age of 95 in 2014, saying that practicing his asanas had helped him a lot in his illustrious career. “My first detailed interaction with Guruji was way back in the year 1999, when Kiran More introduced me to him for a backache which was giving me much trouble. His serene, light hearted approach struck me and I spent a week under Guruji’s care. I will always be thankful for the wonderful asanas he taught me. Practicing those asanas helped me a lot throughout my career,” said Tendulkar.
The retired Australia opener took to yoga during his team’s tour of India in 2004, making a visit to Pune’s Iyengar Yoga Institute. While there, Langer spent time with Iyengar who identified a weakness in his posture and helped him with lower back and shoulder problems. Of his time with the yoga icon, Langer said: “He was extraordinary, a real inspiration to me. I was blown away by what he was able to do with me.”
The Delhi, Sunrisers Hyderabad and India opener have for several years been a yoga practitioner, and in 2013 admitted to it being helpful in his comeback to the Indian team. Dhawan has been known to practice it for an hour or two a day to increase his concentration levels. The man who trained Dhawan is Delhi-based Manoj Kumar, who has also worked with Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner is another famous sportsperson who has benefited from yoga and who has made it part of his core training.
Canadian Olympian and World Cup football player Kara Lang – who at 15 became the youngest member of the women’s national team – is another regular practitioner. She has spoken of how yoga has helped prevent injuries and improved her breathing techniques.
In 2016, retired Germany and Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann revealed that he had introduced a yoga teacher to the famous English football club while citing the discipline as one of the main reasons he played professional football into his 40s. “When I came here in 2003 my wife went to yoga and took me there. I thought it was really good and I’ve done it once a week since. When I left in 2008 I was in much better condition than when I arrived but that was also down to a different training routine and gym exercises,” he says.
The NFL superstar widely acknowledged as the greatest Baltimore Ravens player of all time has spoken of how yoga helped him remain in the sport for 17 years. “I do it for a lifestyle, and that’s a better motivation. If you’re gonna be training for a lifestyle and to be a man, then you try all these different things. I do like an hour and a half classes,” he said.