For many years I’ve told my yoga students that whatever you do, yoga will make you better at it. Last night the Seattle Seahawks confirmed my statement.
Since Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, took the head coaching job he began making big changes in the way a football team is run. The typical hard-ass approach so prevalent in pro sports has been replaced by a caring attitude that promotes kindness, self-inquiry and total fitness, attributes that are encouraged in yogic precepts from the Yoga Sutras written thousands of years ago.
After Carroll was fired from his coaching position with the New England Patriots in 1999, he coached USC to a string of successful seasons with a new style of coaching. As he dreamed of another shot in the NFL ranks, Carroll wondered what he would do differently. “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?” That’s the kind of atmosphere Carroll and his staff have created in Seattle. As a part of his new strategy, Carroll offered the Seahawks some unusual tactics to help them win.
In an article by Alyssa Roenigk in ESPN The Magazine of August 2013 she writes, “The entire roster also participates in yoga class, which players enjoyed so much last year as an optional activity that the staff decided to make it a mandated part of player workouts this year.” (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9581925/seattle-seahawks-use-unusual-techniques-practice-espn-magazine)
Coach Carroll has also hired sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, who teaches meditation to the Seahawks. Gervais works under the assumption that a happy player is a better player. Gervais has weekly meditation sessions with quarterback Russell Wilson. “We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special,” Wilson says. “We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”
Russell and his teammates demonstrated that calm-in-the-midst-of-the-storm attitude last night as they executed each play with precision. When Russell was flushed out of the pocket by Bronco defenders, he scrambled and often turned a broken play into a significant gain of yardage.
Though it’s too early to tell if Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawk revolution will spread to other NFL franchises, it is tantalizing evidence that yoga practice, meditation and kindness can achieve results that exceed the unforgiving harshness that so often masquerades as competent leadership.
Several NFL players including Kevin Boss, formerly with the New York Giants, credit yoga with being an integral part of their success. 2010 Most Valuable Player Troy Palamalu bypasses the weight room. As a yoga practitioner for years, Palamalu knows that his yoga practice gives him greater flexibility and increased range of motion while decreasing his chance of injury. The Giant’s Amani Toomer realized that weights weren’t doing him much good so he took up yoga. In 2009 he summarized his feelings about yoga, “If I hadn’t done yoga, I’d be out of the league by now.”
Seattle’s Russell Okung knows that recreating your mind helps to recreate your personal reality. “Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Okung says. “It’s about quieting your mind and getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment. There are so many things telling you that you can’t do something, but you take those thoughts captive, take power over them and change them.”
If yoga can help NFL players excel in their demanding world, imagine what it can do for you and how it could help transform our troubled world.