When you think soccer, you think about the intensity of the players on the field with one thing in mind – getting to the goal no matter who is in the way. When you think soccer you think about the cheering fans whooping and hollering…and if it’s this year’s World Cup – oh, those horns! One rarely thinks about peace, calm, and relaxation when they think about soccer – so what would yoga have to do with this sport that so many are focusing on this summer??
Plenty! Since this 1,000 year old practice that we call Yoga actually means to yolk or unite joining mind, body, spirit, there is nothing more an athletic team should be doing then coming together as one unit. And each player comes to the field with their own physical skill, focus, intensity, and love of the game. Step into any yoga classroom and this is exactly what you’ll find. Yogis (or those who practice yoga), develop the physical by practicing asanas (poses), develop mental concentration by practicing meditation and pranayama (breathing), and all come to their mats for the love of the practice and being in the moment. In my opinion, yoga is one of the best compliments to soccer, or any sport for that matter! Having a plethora of soccer players amongst the Alluem Kid’s classes, I knew bringing in a soccer twist to our yoga studio would be a blast for all involved!
Start with the breath. Steadying the breath before a game can be very beneficial for your endurance throughout your time on the field. Nerves can produce shallow breathing. Shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen that can travel to your brain causing anxiety, dizziness, and low energy. That will tire you out fast! Practice taking full, deep inhalations and exhalations before a game or practice, filling the belly first with air and then the lungs. Want to go further with you breathing? Practice alternate notstril breathing. Bring your hands together and extend the middle fingers on each side of your nostrils. Use the finger to close the left nostril and inhale to the count of 4 through the right. Close both nostrils and hold for 4 breaths. Release the left nostril and exhale to the count of 4. Repeat. Inhale right. Hold. Exhale left. This alternate nostril balances the hemispheres of the brain which will help with concentration and balance. Hey, you never know- maybe your left shot will be as good as your right!
Focus on flexibility! Flexibility increase endurance, because the more flexible you are the less likely you are to cramp up during play. Remember to breathe into each stretch. Oxygen will help the muscles to relax, allowing you to stretch deeper. Below are only a couple of poses that will benefit soccer players – lengthening the quads and groins for taking shots on goal, opening the shoulders for throw-ins, strengthening the ankles for stop and go action. Need a prop – skip the blocks and straps and use the soccer ball for a new dynamic!
-Bound Angle Pose: Place the ball between the soles of your feet and let your legs fall to the side. Lean your elbows and gently press your legs towards the floor. Fold foward. After a couple of breaths, remove the ball placing soles of the feet together and see if your legs can move even further to the ground. With both hands on the ball, stretch forward elongating the sides of the body. Roll the ball left and right to stretch the sides while in Bound Angle.
-Extreme Staff Pose: With legs extended straight out in front of you, raise your heels and place the ball under your feet. Being careful not to hyper extend, take a forward bend, reaching for your toes, leading with your heart.
-Supported Bridge Pose: Laying back with knees bent, feet flat, and arms along the sides, raise your hips to the sky bringing your chest towards your chin. Slide the ball underneath the base of your spine. Allow yourself to be supported on the ball while getting a gentle backbend.
-Plow Pose/Candlestick: Laying back place the ball between your feet. Raise your feet over your head towards the floor while holding on to the ball between your feet. Allow your hands to support your back as your feet and ball touches the ground over your head coming into Plow Pose. Bring your feet back up and straighten your legs towards the sky moving into Candlestick. Squeeze the ball between your feet or ankles or try to balance the ball on top of your feet!
-Bow Pose: Laying on your stomach, bend your knees and take hold of your ankles. Open up your shoulders and simultaneously lift your chest and your thighs off the ground coming to balance on your stomach stretching the entire front body including the quads. Just for fun place the ball in the crook of your back and see if you can balance it there!
-Wide-Legged Foward Bend: With feet much wider then hip width apart to give the legs and ankles a challenge, place two hands on the ball in front of you on the ground. Lengthen your back and then gently bring your head towards the ball. Move your hands to the floor and rest your forehead on the ball, or go deeper and roll the ball through your legs behind you bringing your head to the floor.
-Tree Pose: Variation 1 – Standing on one leg, place the ball against your inner thigh and bring your foot up as you would in a traditional Tree. Press your foot against the ball into your leg opening up the knee to the side. Raise your arms to the sky. Varitation 2 – Standing on one leg in a traditional Tree Pose or in Standing Half Lotus, raise the ball over head stretching side to side to challenge your balance.
“Bounce-a-Pose” is a game of communication and memory. Write a variety of poses on each of the octagons on a soccer ball. Simply two hand bounce the ball from one player to the next, saying their name first (communication is important on the field!). Be sure each player is ready to receive in a goalie stance - feet a little more then hip width apart, knees slightly bent, hands up, fingers spread. Goalies are always ready! As a player receives the pass with both hands, take note of which octagon the right thumb lands in. The player now must demo whatever pose is in that space. Be creative, because the ball must not be put down- incorporate the ball into the pose!
“Over Under - Side to Side” is a game to increase flexibility down the back body. Standing in a line for the 1st round the first person passes the soccer ball over head, arching back to the next person. The next person bends forward passing the ball between their legs to the person behind them and so on. The last person sprints to front to start over. For the 2nd round simply twist side to side - working and stretching side body passing the ball from one person to the next.
“Boat Pose Ball Pass” is a game of balance, strength, and focus. Come into a seated circle with plenty of room between each kid. Have everyone turn 90 degrees to their right. Practice Boat Pose to refresh – balancing on the seat, extending arms forward, heart open, and legs extending at a 45 degree angle. Start with everyone reclined back and the ball between the feet of the first person. Come up into to Boat Pose and pass the ball from feet to hands. Recline back down with the ball in hand passing to the next persons feet. Try to keep arms and legs straight and use your core to lift! Move slow and with control! See how many times the ball can be passed around the room without dropping it!
"Give and Go" To keep a balanced field of play during a soccer game, it is ideal for 2 players to support the player with the ball at all times. This is best done in a triangular fashion - 3 players, 3 points - giving the player with the ball passing options to aid in obtaining a goal. When the player sees a passing opportunity with one of those 2 players, it is called a "Give and Go". The player passes or gives, and then moves to become a support for the new player with the ball. Support is what teamwork is all about.
Think about 2 teammates or people in your life who have supported you in the past. Write down their names and think of a way you could possibly support them. Even the littlest acts of kindness make a great impact.
Relaxation: Recling back in preparation for savasana, close your eyes and start to relax. Check in with your body. It is key for athletes to be aware of what is going on in their bodies - do you feel energized or tired? Do a body scan starting with your head, moving down arms, torso, legs, feet. Is there any pain or soreness anywhere? Pay attention to those spots. Breathe into them and relax. Notice your heart rate. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Take a couple long deep breaths and notice how slowing down the breath automatically slows down the heart rate. As you drift off into savasana, imagine yourself in the greatest game of your life. Clear blue sky above you, soft green grass below you. Teammates on the field by your side. Family and friends on the side line cheering you on. You, standing strong, heart open, head held high, full of joy. All for the love of the game.
Yoga and Soccer Workshop coming soon to Alluem Yoga! September 24th - 7:30-9pm (ages 7-12)