A while ago, ex-professional dancer and yoga teacher Anne-Marie Newland was approached by a keen boxer for yoga lessons. The benefits of a regular yoga practice to boxers can be far-reaching, Newland says here.
As an ex-professional ballet dancer you may wonder why I love sport, especially football. Maybe you had never considered that sports and ballet have the same aspirations: to defy gravity and travel long distances as if they were light and graceful.
The landing of a ballet dancer is no different to the landing of a boxer or high jumper; they aim to land with out injury and with power in the belly and legs.
For most of us boxing will always be synonymous with the great Mohamed Ali. As a child I knew him as Cassius Clay, until he made his conversion to Islam and changed his name.
As a child I remember learning about the art of boxing during history lessons as part of our work on The Victorians. This sport was seen as the Sport of The Gentleman. The rules were very strict, and the high moral code of conduct even stricter.
Interestingly enough I had a request a couple of months ago from a yoga fan for poses for the boxer. I wasn't sure there was any one in the class boxing; certainly no-one had said anything.
Then about the same time I got a call from a boxer by the name of Patrick. He is now a regular to our yoga classes, and has made incredible progress.
Patrick is a down to earth man involved very much in the grounding arts of everyday work and the uplifting, heaven-sent work of yoga.
If I look back at the first time he came to class, it was his posture that was very memorable.
Although I had no idea that he had been boxing for the last ten years, there certainly were some telling signs, such as a hand always pulled in front of his face and the head pulled tightly back to protect it.
Working on the cobra has transformed Patrick's posture problems. Boxing shortens the muscles and can bulk them - which may be fine for boxing but not for long term health. We need our muscles to be long and open.
Here are some two asanas for that will benefit boxers, as well as all of us:
- Cobra works to opening the shoulders. Make sure that you are aware of the natural curve at the front of the shoulder where the collar bone and the deltoid meet. The deltoid is the muscle at the front of the shoulder.
- Make sure the student presses down into the floor making the distance between the era and shoulder longer.
- Press the shoulder blades together. Most important is to make sure the buttocks are active and the tops of the legs pulled together to support the lower back. The main muscles involved in the support of the lower back are the Gluteus Maximus (the bottom) and Latissimus Dorsi (the muscle running down from the shoulder blade to the lower back).
- Care must be taken when arching back in the cobra - keep the heels open to stop any strain on the sciatic joint.
- Press the tails bone toward the floor to alleviate compression in the lumber area. Draw the belly up into the rib cage and do not allow the neck muscles to collapse; keep them active. If you have a neck problem then keep the face to the front.
This is a wonderfully uplifting posture and feels like a joyful experience once mastered.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svasana)
This is one of Patrick's favourites and for any yogi the most demanding and challenging. The benefits numerous.
When I have a new student this opens my yoga practice and it can seem overwhelming to someone who has a tight back and back of legs like the hamstrings and the calves.
But with constant commitment to work this posture can be the one that allows all else to follow on from.
- Once in Dog pose make sure you are always warmed up enough to spend at least five deep breaths in this posture. If you are a beginner, bend your knees till you are on the balls of your feet then pull the hips back to the back of the room and make sure you still pull the shoulder blades together to keep the chest open.
- Pull the inside of the arms up to the sky by rotating the deltoid at the front of the shoulder. This is the biggest stretch for the whole shoulder system.
- With either the variation or the full pose make sure you breathe deeply keeping the mouth closed and use Ujjayi breathing on the exhale. This technique insists you slightly close the throat/epiglottis to make a sound as you breathe. This stops the air leaving too quickly and allows the sound to help you focus on the breath.
- Lift the sitting bones to the ceiling tip the pubic bone down the floor. Think about the weight being pushed into your hips and the chest reaching for the feet.
- Your feet need to be 6-8 inches apart; hands a shoulder width apart and hands pressed into your mat. Think about the palm sucking into the mat and the fingers spread. Keep the middle finger pointing straight ahead and the thumbs pushed down. The neck must be relaxed; the face soft.
Patrick is a dedicated practitioner and knows that progress can only be achieved by constant practice.
Daily practice should never mean giving up your life - it is better that yoga become part of your life like work, children and friends.
Most of us have busy lives and Patrick is no exception; he often brings one of his daughters to a class rather miss one. I also have to sometimes bring my youngest daughter to help me teach if I have childcare problems.
As I often tell my students, this is my life - it is all the components, not just some bits, that make me who I am.
Anne-Marie Newland is an experienced yoga teacher based in the Midlands, and founder of Sun Power Yoga teacher training.