BLOG: Yoga Has Unique Effect on Nittany Lions
Oct. 18, 2013
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
The most underrated piece to their success? Yoga. Yes, yoga the word that is defined as "a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the supreme being or ultimate principle."
How in the world can that work with grown men playing collegiate soccer?
Somehow, it does.
Penn State participates in yoga once a week and has been doing so for more than two full seasons now with Penn State Fitness Coordinator Jill Garrigan.
With how much focus they have to put on their on-field performance and responsibilities in the classroom, the majority of players on the team laughed and were very skeptical when head coach Bob Warming told them they would be participating in yoga.
"The very first time we thought it was going to be a waste of time. We said, `why do we have to do Yoga?" said senior defender Akil Howard.
Now, for some, two years after partaking in yoga with Garrigan there is little skepticism.
It all started Warming, who participates in yoga himself, approaching Garrigan about possibly implementing her yoga routine, one originally started with the Penn State golf team.
Garrigan obliged, but knew right away she would have to convince the Nittany Lion soccer players that yoga would actually be worth their time. Garrigan said that only about 30 percent of the players had any interest at first.
Now, that number is nearly 100 percent.
What does Garrigan do that entices the players to participate? She makes them view soccer and life in a different light through her yoga routine.
"I try to work with them not so much from the science standpoint but more from an awareness standpoint," said Garrigan. "I try to get them to find out how it feels to stop and pay attention to what they are doing. For some of them it's just turning off the external simulation and what's tapping them on the shoulder."
Garrigan focuses on the way athletes are wired and what their expectations are. The speed at which they take things and how they approach certain situations makes Garrigan ask the players to slow down and think about what they are doing.
She asks them a variety of questions regarding spatial awareness and slowing things down:
- Have you ever stopped to think and connect with what is coming at you?
- Does it feel good? Do you want to do it? Should you do it?
- When we stretch do you know where you back hand is? Do you ever think about that?
These questions get the mental process moving for the players. It might seem odd to ask 18 to 24-year-old men these questions, but it actually works. Slowing things down and devising what is going on in front of them helps them in grueling situations that they are presented with on the soccer field.
A glaring example for senior defender Martin Seiler is the loss against Saint Francis, the team's only loss since Sep. 8.
"You might think it's easy to focus on the good and forget about the bad, but it's not that easy," said Seiler. "We had a yoga session after the game we lost against Saint Francis and everyone had their head down and in that session she was talking about focusing on the good stuff and she helps us do that."
There is a physical aspect to it, as well. Just go to a home match at Jeffrey Field and pay attention to what the Nittany Lions are doing after a match. You will see foam rollers and yoga bands and that is how they recover.
That probably won't be seen at many other postgame routines in men's college soccer, but for Penn State, it's working, so why stop?
The Nittany Lions head to East Lansing Sunday to face Michigan State before returning home for Senior Day on Oct. 27 against Northwestern.