By Sarah Ramsden
I teach yoga in sport and to athletes. I’ve worked at Manchester City and Manchester United Football Clubs for 10 years now and with individual footballers from many clubs. I’ve worked with sports from the GB Taekwondo team to the England’s Women’s Football team, plus many individual runners, bikers, triathletes in my classes. Yet I am also a classically trained Hatha yoga teacher. I learned my yoga absolutely traditionally in the high Himalaya’s of Nepal, and in Thailand where I lived for 10 years, and lived that classic tradition. So if you work with athletes and teach in football clubs, is it still yoga? I passionately believe that it is. The Body Athletic Teaching in football made me learn fast. At MCFC and MUFC I’m working to lengthen what shortens, shorten what over-stretches, re-train lost stability and de-compress muscles from the repetitive forces of playing football. And to do that I need to understand how we move. So my world is full of norms of flexibility, functional stability, common dysfunctions and injury profiles, and my language tends to be anatomical and medical. And believe me I know a lot about football. I never forget that I am a privileged guest in their world and that my role is to help players go on playing the Beautiful Game for longer at the highest level. The Body Human At the football clubs and in my classes I work with how we are designed to move, teaching from the absolutes of our biology. This is a graceful interplay of strength, flexibility and stability thatallows us to move with the least compression and lowest tension. This is in the tradition of Vanda Scaraveili and all the wonderful teachers who taught from an understanding of what is healthful for our bodies. And what is healthful to our bodies isn’t something that just looks like yoga. Any asana can be wonderfully healthful to our bodies, or it can over-stretch joint capsules, pull on ligaments and force spinal compression. It ain’t what you do it’s that way that you do it that matters. The Body Breathing You can be Cristiano Ronaldo or a regular in my class but I cannot lengthen / de-tone / re-model your physical tissues unless you lengthen your breath. You – the stuff you are made of – is modelled on what you told it to do. Our tissues ‘listen’ to orchestrated body-wide neural, hormonal, mechanical, electrical responses which themselves are mediated through all our past experience. Experience becomes gesture, becomes habit, becomes structure, becomes You. We literally go on making ourselves in our own image. And we re-model ourselves on our breath. As breath lengthens we signal a body-wide parasympathetic relaxation response: tissues begin to relax and glide, we confront our mental and emotional patternings, and we – the whole soma-psycho-emotional-mental entity that is us – can make healthful change. The Body Energetic E=MC2. Matter is structured energy. Our physicality is ultimately energy. Where we create tension and compression in our tissues we decrease the energetic potential of our beings. Where tissues compress and stick, blood and lymph flow decreases, metabolic waste increases, muscles switches off and pathology – dis-ease – inevitably follows; the smooth distribution of electrical potential through the fluid crystal of our connective tissue is impaired; the storage of energy and conductivity in and through the structured water of our synovial fluid / fascia is decreased. Each physical dysfunction in our movement is also an energetic dysfunction. There is no separation. The Body Blissful As the breath brings us to states of calm, de-compressive healthfulness, frontal cortex activity in the brain increases. Your frontal cortex is loaded with opiate receptors and they signal bliss. This is the bliss of connected love and oneness. And that blissful state is the body’s most healthful state. And we need to experience glimpses of this state to start understanding how our bodies feel – we need to experience at least a moment of profound healthfulness & healing in order to understand how the opposite feels. But Is It Yoga? I’ve just done a video with one of the football academies, shot with a club ‘legend’ to give it credibility. It was designed with club staff and focuses on stretches with good technique. Every breath is called and it ends with a short relaxation. And that was the point: to allow these young footballers to experience and recognise the healthful calm of recovery and rejuvenation. They call it ‘Doing the yoga’ and I wouldn’t disagree. It doesn’t matter who you are, what world you come from, or what your priorities are: I cannot change your body in the healthful ways you seek unless you engage with your breath and ultimately your bliss. And that is the doorway of yoga opening.