Ashtanga Yoga World Wide Community Blog.

Ashtanga Yoga and Football by Danny Donachie

14 Sep 2013, 16:44 in Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga Manchester

Many years ago I was studying with Tim Miller in Encinitas and asked him how best to teach the players I work with Yoga. He said, ‘don’t teach them, because that’s not the intention of the practice’. Fifteen years later I am still teaching them and yet remain conscious of the answer I was given by Tim.

I accept that the intention of the players may not be to achieve the ultimate goal of Yoga when doing asana. My own intention is to allow them to go beyond the physical, even for a moment. ‘Yogas citta vritti nirodahah’ – Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, or something like that. Footballers have many fluctuations of the mind, believe me, and using asana, pranayama and body awareness practices often leads them to a state of quieting those fluctuations.

Who knows what affect this seed may have on this and any future lives, but I sincerely hope that my intentions, despite the advice of my respected teacher, are received in a positive way by the players.

The image above of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev was taken when he attended one of the first team matches. He has been to speak to the players a couple of times and is a living example of a self-realised man. His presence had a profound effect on the team and I consider it a blessing for us all that he has a connection with us. Some of the players have practised simple kriyas and reaped the benefits, and for others it is enough to have seen a man of his uniqueness in the flesh.

Have we now got a team full of players without any fluctuations of the mind? Definitely not, but I hope that we have enriched their lives in some way and maybe planted the seed of future inquiry into the nature of their existence and the road to bliss. At least they may approach their activity with total abandon, as suggested by Sadhguru.

Danny Donachie is Head of Medical Services at Everton Football Club. He has studied with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore several times and now regularly travels to Coimbatore to spend time with Sadhguru.

What do you make of Tim Miller’s stance on teaching Yoga, as described by Danny? As a teacher or practitioner of Yoga, what do you think about simply practising asana? How deep does your own practice extend ‘beyond the physical’? We’d love to hear your thoughts or responses to Danny’s article. Please feel free to add your voice to the discussion below.

  • Rob

    I understand that practicing asana is good for maintaining flexibility, and strengthening of the slow-twitch muscle fibres that provide stability due to the slow controlled movements (e.g. sun salutation) and isometric-type positions (holding a squat position, for example, or arm balances), but how well do you think it provides opportunities to exercise the fast-twitch muscles, which provide power and are needed for football players to sprint etc.? As I wouldn’t expect footballers to be able to keep up their physical form by only using asana, therefore would you advise general yoga practicioners, who may not play sports, to complement their asana practice with some sort of “power” exercise (maybe circuit training, running etc)?
    On another point, do you teach footballers to practice certain types of pranayama but not others? Just thinking about the kind of things Gregor Maehle says about opening the central channel etc.

  • Danny

    Hey rob,
    Thanks for your comments. I think it depends what your intentions for the yoga practice are. From my own personal point of view, the purpose of the asana practice is to prepare the physical and energetic body for the other limbs of ashtanga. The ultimate aim is to remove the veil of maya and reveal the true nature.
    Asana practice has very little effect on fast twitch muscle fibres, but the players spend much of their days developing this aspect, so it’s not important during the yoga practice. If your aim is to develop fast twitch muscle fibres, I would suggest other practices such as power lifting and plyometrics etc.
    Regarding pranayama, I only teach the players very simple breath awareness exercises. Awakening of the central channel involves a great amount of focus and the intention is of primary importance in this matter. It is vital that this kind of process is closely monitored by a suitably experienced teacher. There is no doubt that this awakening is the beginning of liberation for the human and I would encourage anyone with this type of aspiration to pursue it with every ounce of determination.
    I hope this makes some sense to you and please ask if you need any further clarification.