All Blacks take their yoga seriously

Monday, September 3, 2012
Image: Getty
Yoga may not be a word that is synonymous with rugby, but the All Blacks are firm believers in the spiritual discipline.

While difficult to picture teak-tough forwards like Brad Thorn, Tony Woodcock and Jerome Kaino—who specialise in dishing out pain on the rugby field — engaging in such an apparently 'girly' practice, many professional sports teams across all codes and levels are seeing the benefits of this ancient art.

The Wellington Hurricanes have specialist yoga instructors while teams such as Munster in Europe have been reported to take ballet lessons in a bid to improve players' balance and flexibility.

Yoga instructor Lyndsey Benn worked with Graham Henry's men for a two-year period while she lived in Wellington, and gave MSN NZ an insight into working with one of the most famous sporting teams in the world.

Benn explained that while the players all bought into the concept of yoga, there were split opinions in the squad at the beginning of their new routine.

"What I found was that sometimes there was a cultural divide between the forwards and the backs," she said.

"Instantly, the stretching and the range of movement that the backline could see improved their game, particularly their kicking game."

It seems that while the backs bought into the ideas of yoga from the outset, some of the heavier forwards found the going tough early on.

Gallery: Health benefits of yoga

"For some of the forwards, the movements were a tad challenging…to put it mildly," Benn explained.

"The forwardstend not to need a lot of range of movement and obviously they tend to be a lot heavier.

"Miss, miss … this exercise is too heavy for my joints miss!" Benn joked.

New Zealand finally ended their 24-year quest to reclaim the World Cup last October. After several traumatic defeats in previous tournaments, many put the losses down to a mental flaw in the All Blacks psyche. A fear of failure and mental capitulation due to overwhelming public expectation seemed to cause the Kiwis to freeze on the big day.

Benn explained how the mental aspects of yoga appealed to the Kiwis players hugely.

"They all really loved the relaxing aspect of the yoga. Anything that grounded them and could get them laid down, relaxed anddoing visualisations of the game ahead. They were respectful but I got the impression that the coaches had told them to be on their best behaviour!"

Graham Henry's men undoubtedly took to the alternative therapy, but was Keven Mealamu able to perfect the sitting lotus?

"Not in the first week, that's for sure!" Benn said, "I mean we didn't have the All Black chanting! Let's be clear."

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