Opinion: Pro teams stand to gain even more from Joga

An athletic-based program aimed at injury prevention, Joga could help line major league pockets with more stability

2013 Sportsnet Body Issue beauty and Olympian Phylicia George is giving Joga a go, while Major League sports teams are opening their doors to the idea on a team level. 

What if yoga could save you money – enough money, to buy the ace that got away or to offer your top prospects enough to stay within an organization?

Joga, an athletic based yoga practice aimed at injury prevention, seems to be a growing trend among elite level athletes looking to do just that.

A wide range from hockey players like Mike Komisarek and Olympian Phylicia George have most recently come knocking at Jana Webb’s studio door, but Joga has been reaching new heights, being practiced not only on a professional level – but on a team level.

“I work more with individual players from various sports teams, but in terms of team contracts,” says Webb, the creator of the program.

“From their (major league teams) financial view, there’s no reason not to hire me. If we can salvage a mere 10 per cent of injuries on a team – the cost per player is high, and the program is not that expensive.”

The CFL’s Toronto Argonauts have already taken on Joga, but shouldn’t this appeal to the NHL teams looking to maximize since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

The benefits of yoga are experienced on a very personal level, as no two bodies are structured the same. Old school and modern sports minds could debate the (in)tangible benefits of yoga and how they pertain to sport since they can be tricky to quantify.

Let’s face it – as old as the practice of yoga is, it sounds a little new age.

So let’s revamp the way we look at the mat. Whether it’s old school versus young buck, athletes versus front office – a testosterone-ridden, professional environment can surely be divided by school of thought and disposition. So what can unify, make everyone winners, is the decision to ensure healthy athletes.

Why wouldn’t teams exercise any avenue available to ensure an athlete’s health, simultaneously increasing chances of long-term/high paid contracts are played out effectively?

By extending an athlete’s shelf life through healthy conditioning, Webb could quantify the benefits of yoga by preventing minor injuries that sideline players add up to waste dollars – sometimes cost rings.

The mental benefits, physical strength, and any other arguable benefits of yoga are all components Joga is built upon. However the ultimate goal (and marketable selling point) of the program is to help prevent injuries like minor tears and strains that sideline players from one-ten games.

“They always get injured in movement,” she says, explaining the basis of her program.

“Whether it’s four or five paces, pause, shoot the ball, or skate, pause, make a play. I began to look at the bodies in those moments of pause and where most tense injuries happen.

“If the body remembers being in this awkward position when it’s fatigued, there’s less chance of injury and minor tears and strains.”

Also known as yoga for jocks, the rigorous routine is not as simple as understand. Joga movements are cadences derived from the patterns of movement found in sports.

A certified Ishta Yoga instructor, Webb has blended the poses with the assumed movements found in sports. All of these poses are cadences replicated and strengthened.

Think repetition around the traditional yoga poses that already make you sweat profanities – Joga is all about pushing while shedding your limits.

Modifications for every pose enable any practitioner, however the program is designed to essentially act as an oil to the ever-moving and tissue-rebuilding muscles of an athlete.

“Functionality-wise, holding long poses as in traditional yoga doesn’t make sense, injuries never happen when athletes are just standing there,” Webb says.

The specifically catered positions, essentially create memory during the muscle’s most vulnerable point of use. What athlete isn’t looking to extend their shelf life and line their pockets a little longer.

Barry Zito and Adam Lind have been known to dabble in yoga. Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman makes good decisions, says the Sporting News by naming him Baseball Executive of the year in 2008.

The same fellow introduced a team yoga instructor and program to the Ray’s fitness routine in 2007. And they’ve had yoga days at Tropicana Field for the fans.

Some teams are even joined by their skippers on the field for yoga practice, as is the case with Bob Melvin and his Oakland A’s.

Has the trend simultaneously trickled up to management and down to the minor leagues?

“We’ve seen the research, and stride length is directly connected to a pitcher’s velocity. We have about five different dynamic warm ups at my facility, he’s familiar with all of them, and every single one of them has a influence of yoga in it – whether he knows it or not,” says Russ Taveras, a Doctor of Physiotherapy, on his training with Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman.

Maybe teams like the Argos are reaping even bigger benefits from Joga than their athletes.

They’ve been known to win a Grey Cup every now and then, they’ve probably made a few good decisions along the way and maybe this is one of them. If athletes are getting healthier together, could it translate from the mat to the field?

Argos linebacker Jason Pottinger has benefited from his dedication to Joga practice on multiple levels.

“I’ve been working with him (Pottinger) for three straight years now, and he is the most dedicated. To see how his body has changed – we’ve been through two reconstructive surgeries with him,” says Webb, who has also witnessed her athletes cope.

“I’ve seen him go through the anger and the emotional pain of being an injured athlete. We’ve helped him not only improve and get back on the field quicker, but more we gave him a coping mechanism. When these guys get injured, they’re devastated. Their bodies are their livelihoods.”

Webb is in the midst of developing sports specific programs, and in the mean time, Webb has added experience with the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Red Wings to her repertoire.

Yes, there is a soft side to the flip of this coin, but that isn’t Webb’s focus. She says personal benefits develop through the physical addiction athletes often develop through their rigorous routines, which Joga certainly is.

The added physiological, what some refer to as the spiritual, benefits of yoga come along as what Jana calls the “spinach inside the chocolate cake”, and what she says makes her job interesting.

This connection between mind and body seems to be growing in society, not just the world of sport.

“In this day and age, if you’re not connecting with that, you’re missing something pretty critical,”

Taveras recounted the work he has done over 10 years.

“Over the athletes I’ve trained, a number of pro athletes, I can remember some of them the only thing I would question would be there mental capacity or character with that sport.”

Joga has a very heavy emphasis on the breathing, like every form of yoga, it is used to help connect the mind and body. Techniques are used to elicit the parasynthetic nerve pattern, which is the relaxation response.

Learning to be control and calm that synthetic nervous system down is something athletes from any sport stand to benefit from. Breathing, is of course, connected to movement and meditation alike.

Ask a pitcher how he feels during that moment of pause between seeing the go-ahead run sail over centre field and the next pitch. It is tough to come back from those moments and being able to do so only adds an extra element to your game.

“Along the way through my own program, I’ve learned that as great as all functional components are and the biomechanical stuff is, these athletes really crave the breathing technique and exercises the most,” says Webb.

“They appreciate how something so simple that they’ve never really had the time to acknowledge can have such an impact on their performance and more importantly, on their relaxation.”

About this article

By: Nadia Vocaturo
Posted: Sep 30 2013 11:17 am
Filed under: Baseball Features Hockey Science & Health Sports