Why football is getting serious about yoga.
There’s no shortage of variations on the yoga theme these days, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Football Yoga’ might involve some crazy hybrid that involves eschewing the traditional attire for studs, socks, and shinpads while practicing with a match ball. Thankfully, the concept is grounded in one yoga specialist’s personal experience and professional expertise and if you play football at any level, the teachings of Sharon Heidaripour, could make a real difference to your game.
Arsenal Captain Laurent Koscielny is one of Sharon’s high profile clients, who credited his return after months out with injury, in part, to Sharon’s concept of Football Yoga. Koscielny thanked Sharon personally on his Instagram page “for being part of my rehab”, together with a picture of him being put through his paces by her.
Sharon is now rapidly growing her idea after working behind-the-scenes at Arsenal for five years. “I started to integrate yoga into the rehab and performance based training I used to do with one of the players,” Sharon tells Warrior Addict. “It just made sense, yoga poses enable you to physically work on mobility, flexibility, stability, strength, balance and coordination, which are key for elite performance.”
Of course, linking yoga with football isn’t anything new. It’s well documented how it has helped plenty of professional footballers extend their careers and Sharon’s time at Arsenal is testament to the fact that top level clubs are open to incorporating yoga into a player’s back room physio strategy.
However Sharon’s philosophy is specifically tailored to the rigours of the modern game and she knew she was onto something when she began to get positive responses from her clients. “I started getting really good feedback,” Sharon reveals, “both from the players and also others like their surgeons or agents, saying ‘he’s come back sooner then expected’ or ‘he’s moving totally differently now compared to when he started working with you’.”
Sharon knows about how important yoga can be in the rehab process as she began her career as a professional footballer, playing for Swedish club Jitex, before she suffered a knee injury. “I had a severe lumbago back in 2000, shortly after my second knee surgery and was kept in hospital for 4 days,” Sharon remembers. “The physio at the hospital gave me an exercise program which included some yoga poses. I did them religiously every day for years.” The more Sharon practiced, the more it became evident to her that yoga could provide players with a framework for continued fitness: “Imagine you’re building a house, if your ground floor isn’t stable, at some point the house will fall. With a solid foundation, there is freedom in your movement and suppleness in your body hence you become faster and stronger. A good foundation also prevents injuries.”
Sharon has yoga sessions specifically tailored for pre-training (to activate muscles and mobilise hips and shoulders) as well as post match recovery sessions, but it’s not just the physicalities of preparing for and playing 90 minutes that yoga can help with. “You can work on the mental aspect through breath work, by using different breathing techniques,” says Sharon. “In general, when people breathe it’s shallow, and they don’t get enough oxygen. In yoga, you breathe deeply and consciously, we get more oxygen to the brain and the cells of the body, the mind therefore becomes calm and peaceful. That’s how players improve their concentration and even sleep better. The other way yoga helps players mentally is through the poses. Since some of them are challenging poses, holding them for a certain amount of time requires focus, this also helps building the ‘mind muscle’.”
It’s this focus and mental strength that Laurent Koscielny has shown throughout his rehab back into first team football for Arsenal and as much as the Gunners chief has clearly learned from Sharon’s Football Yoga philosophy she also reveals that she has learned from him too. “He’s taught me what real hard work, dedication and leadership looks like. He’s a top class athlete, always giving 110%. That’s the type of athlete any coach would wish to work with.”
This article was written for Warrior Addict by the awesome Jon Axworthy.
We would like to give credit to the Daily Mail and @sharon_footballyoga for the images used in this article