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It has long been known that ballet classes help football players increase their flexibility, agility, speed and endurance on the field, but did you know that yoga can be another important part of cross-training for an athlete? More professional athletes from football, soccer and baseball are turning to yoga to help them recover from injury as well as boost their performance on the field.
Jake Panasevich, a former wrestler turned yoga trainer whose clientele includes the MLS Philadelphia Union, has made it his mission to make yoga more accessible for men and athletes. Any preconceptions you might have about yoga being just for women or just for those who are looking for more spiritual healing will fly out the window when you meet him. Panasevich strongly believes that men, specifically male athletes, can benefit a lot from yoga class.
How did you get involved in yoga? I have been an athlete all my life, playing soccer, but mostly wrestling. I wrestled from the age of 6 into college. Afterwards, I was left with lots of injuries and chronic back pain.
I got dragged to my first yoga class by an ex girl-friend. After two months of yoga, the pain had subsided and I had lost 40 lbs. There was no denying the results. I have been teaching yoga now for about 7 years, but it has only been the past 2 years that I have been focusing on teaching yoga to men and athletes.
Is yoga still dominated by women? It is shifting, getting better. I came to yoga, hesitant knowing it would be 98% women. It was intimidating. Women tend to be more flexible. Not every yoga teacher knows how to work with tighter, bigger guys with lots of injuries. It took me years to get the right teachers, the right training.
How did you get to work with the Philadelphia Union? It all happened through the help of a friend of mine at Lululemon who knows some of the players. They came to a class and loved it and then we talked to Kevin Miller, Union’s fitness coach, and he was very supportive of the idea. I worked with them last season and now we are trying to get started again for this season. We are figuring it out as we go.
In what specific ways does yoga help athletes perform better? Yoga helps with both injury prevention and the relieving of pain due to current injuries. I have also received a lot of feedback about how it helps athletes with body fluidity. They feel more balance and are able to open their bodies more, and perform more optimally.
The basic yoga poses first gets them more mobile and aware of their biomechanics, and then they are able to push their bodies to see how far they can take it. I focus on modifying the poses for each athlete’s specific limitations and injuries. That took me awhile to figure out for myself.
Grounding them and connecting them to their breath is also important. As athletes, they are always going at a fast pace. It is good to be still. To get grounded.
What have been the biggest influences that have shaped your philosophy on yoga? Growing up as an athlete and being a coach/teacher has definitely shaped me. So has the different yoga training I have taken including Vinyasa, Hot Yoga, and more alignment-based yoga. I pull from different modalities to create a unique yoga experience.
Panasevich teaches classes at local yoga studios as well as works with individuals and teams. To get a class schedule, check out his website.