Yoga being used in the Scottish Premier League?

I was fascinated to note that both the Glasgow Evening Times and the Belfast Telegraph have carried a story in the past 24 hours about yoga being the secret to the success of one of Celtic Football Club’s players in recent matches.

Celtic is a Scottish football club based in the Parkhead area of Glasgow, and currently plays in the Scottish Premier League. The club was established in 1887 and their home stadium, Celtic Park,  is the biggest football stadium in Scotland, with a capacity of 60,832.

How does a yoga teacher/infant massage instructor know all this stuff about footie, and Scottish football in particular? Because I have the dubious honour of being married to a Northern Irishman (The Band) who spent 10 years in Glasgow, and who has inherited his family’s passion for Celtic’s rival team, Rangers.

I have never been particularly interested in football, far preferring rugby (or watching paint dry) to the excrutiatingly bad acting that the players indulge in when they have an ankle tapped or a nudge in the ribs by an errant elbow. Okay, so it’s all about birthright, and I respect the fact that The Band is as passionate about his Rangers as I am about our Bokke. And over the years (and through The Band’s eyes), I have come to appreciate ‘The Beautiful Game’, especially after he took me to a few live matches while we lived in London. I have learnt to appreciate the skill, the history, the heritage, the rivalry, the incredibly sacred place that it holds in many people’s hearts. I still am dumbstruck by the mind-boggling amounts of money that change hands between clubs as players are bought and sold, and I simply loathe the thuggery, hooliganism, racism and (particularly in the Scottish Premier League) the sectarianism that is, sadly, so often associated with the game and its fans, but each to his own. I have learnt to bite my tongue.

‘The Old Firm’, as Celtic and Rangers are collectively known, is one of the most fierce and famous rivalries in sport, and the players are ‘lads’ lads’, to put it mildly. So imagine my surprise when I read that they are using yoga to help their game! I am loving the fact that I have a whole bunch of guys coming to my yoga classes at my studio in Stellenbosch – some real ‘manne’ – and that perhaps, slowly, it is coming to be more accepted and accessible to our hairy brothers, but to hear that it is being a) used and b) publicised at this high level of professional sport is really quite exciting to me.

According to one article, Celtic’s goalkeeper Fraser Forster has attributed his fine form in Celtic’s 11-match unbeaten run to yoga. Forster made a vital penalty save in December during a match against Hearts (another Scottish team), and he reckons it’s all thanks to yoga.  His goalkeeper coach, Steve Woods, has been punting the benefits of the practice, and Forster comments: “I think the lads who have done it have really felt the benefits from it. Yoga has really caught on in recent years, especially goalkeeping-wise. Brad Friedel does a lot of it and he’s still playing in his 40s. Shay Given does it quite a lot too and he’s in great shape at 35″.

Besides the fact that I feel disgruntled by his apparent surprise that someone aged 35 can be in great shape, I find it very interesting that even in this testosterone-fuelled, competitive environment, the benefits of this age-old practice are being felt. Forster goes on to say: “It’s just a case of improving your flexibility and it’s brilliant for a goalkeeper. Stretching that extra inch might make a big difference. It’s something I find beneficial and I enjoy it.”

I would be intrigued as to whether the ‘yoga’ that he refers to is classical yoga, incorporating not just the asanas (physical practice) but also pranayama (breathing) and meditation/relaxation – focusing on the whole mind-body connection rather than just the stretching/lengthening and strengthening (which is really just that – a stretching/strengthening practice, not yoga at all). Somehow I doubt it, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Whatever ‘yoga’ they are tapping into, I can safely say that I know The Band wishes that they had never heard of it, or anything else that improves their performance. For the sake of his happiness (and, as such, my own), I hope that Glasgow Rangers also cotton onto it sooner rather than later, and can start winning some matches again quick-smart!

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