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Exploring sports yoga with Sarah Ramsden


Sarah Ramsden has delivered sports yoga in the world of professional football for the past 14 years, including 12 years at Manchester City and Manchester United Football Clubs working with senior, youth and academy players. At Manchester United, she worked long-term with Ryan Giggs and developed his Gigs Fitness DVD with him. She has worked with many other sports at national and individual level – GB Taekwondo, England Women’s Football, and many individual runners, cyclists, triathletes….

Sarah runs The Body Athletic – Teaching Yoga to Athletes & In Sport training course to accredit yoga teachers in this specialist area. This is the only accredited course in the UK for working in sport. You can find out more about this and Sarah’s extensive work at www.sportsyoga.co.uk.

Ahead of the Om Yoga Show at Alexandra Palace, London from 19-21 October 2018, where Sarah Ramsden will be presenting, Yogamatters was delighted to take some time out with Sarah Ramsden to to explore sports yoga and its place in the yoga world.

You describe yoga as ‘definitely the best thing I ever did for myself’. Why is that?
Where should I start?! Yoga helped me sort out my body, keep myself going, learn to breathe, and begin to calm down my mind – the latter very much a work in progress! I’m one of those mentally dominant, super-striving kind of people, and yoga showed me that there is another way – a much, much better way.

What is sports yoga and how did you develop an interest in sports yoga?
Sports yoga is only different from another type of Hatha yoga in that it is centred on what the sport or the athlete needs, rather than on the style I might have as a teacher, or a sequence that I might have learned in my training.

So with the athletes or the sport, I’m looking at what kind of movement you need to do the sport, what goes wrong in your body if you do that sport A LOT (what gets too short, what gets too long, too weak), and how I can sequence to address those issues. But there’s still the mix of asana, breathwork and meditation. I admit that I might use slightly different language so that I communicate better, but I figure your body doesn’t care about the words.

I developed an interest in working with athletes because I come from an (very super amateur) athletic background, and I simply couldn’t understand why the rowing club I was with didn’t use any flexibility work with their elite rowers – and it’s a sport where being able to move well really matters to the performance! So being me, I stepped in and began training them!

How did you come to work with Ryan Giggs and other professional footballers?
Believe it or not, I rang up the Football Association, got through to their medical department, and they were interested. Through working with them, I started meeting physios at football clubs and started working at clubs – at the non-glamorous end of football – Preston North End, Derby County, Heart of Midlothian, Notts County….

Several years on, I wrote to my local football clubs. I’m North West based and to my utter astonishment, both Manchester City and Manchester United came back to me. More amazing, I started working at both clubs exactly the same week. Ryan Giggs was part of my senior group on my first day at United!

How did Ryan Giggs change public perception of yoga?
Ryan had a series of hamstring/neural issues when I met him and had been missing at least 10 games per season for the last few seasons. The yoga sessions, plus all the other medical interventions through the club, made a fantastic difference and Ryan went on playing more games per season through to being 40 ten years later.

Ryan is an awesome ambassador for the benefits of yoga and he talked very publicly about doing yoga both to the press and to the academy and youth players – and that made all the difference: if yoga was good enough for Giggsy, then it was good enough for any bloke. Suddenly a population of men started to look at yoga differently. And his legacy DVD – Giggs Fitness – Strength & Conditioning Inspired by Yoga made yoga accessible to thousands of (largely) men who would not have ventured into a yoga class.

We all owe him a massive debt of gratitude.

What are the challenges that professional athletes face when practising yoga for the first time?
Most professional athletes get really, really stiff and restricted because they train/play/compete SO MUCH. So yoga is incredibly tough for them as they try to move through all that restricted tissue – it hurts, it’s hard, it takes a long time to change, and it doesn’t feel like any kind of fun.

Plus they are used to being good at what they do, so there is the challenge of sticking with a practice where athletes see themselves as ‘not being any good at it’. Obviously that doesn’t matter – it’s doing it that matters – but that’s what can go on in their heads.

Can yoga really reduce the amount of injuries a sportsperson receives?
Reduced flexibility at a joint is a risk factor for pretty much every injury a sportsperson can get – apart from direct contact injuries.

Typically with a regular yoga practise, the niggly, chronic stuff reduces/falls away, Obviously, if someone clatters your knee on the pitch, that is still going to injure! But it is often the chronic stuff – spasming lower backs, repeat low grade muscle tears, connective tissue inflammation, the lack of proper recovery – that can ruin a sporting career, and yoga (done right) really, really, really helps.

What is your vision for the future for sports yoga?
I think the future is now and here! Pretty much every football and rugby club (and I mention those because I tend to know about them) has either a yoga instructor or is doing something similar in-house. Yoga is the go-to practice of choice to support training and playing in most professional and semi—professional sport – from tennis to cycling. Any club that isn’t using a yoga-based practice will be aware of it and looking at getting started.

There are loads of yoga classes aimed at sportspeople throughout the country all doing fabulous work with the regular everyday athletes – cyclists, runners, skiers, mountain bikers, triathletes.

Yoga Alliance Professionals has accredited a Vocational Specialism for teaching athletes and working in sport to ensure a high standard for those accrediting.

Yoga in sport is big, and going to get bigger, more professional, and ever more widely accepted.

Sarah Ramsden at the OM Yoga Show


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