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Players Turning to Yoga as a Way to Stay in Shape

Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard practices yoga to “open up my back and heart area.”

The Titans veteran Wesley Woodyard said he believed every linebacker could benefit from yoga.

That does not quite seem to jibe, given that one of the tenets of football is to be aggressive and not back down.

Yet yoga has made impressive inroads in the N.F.L., and Woodyard is one of several players who are using yoga to help them physically and mentally prepare for and deal with the sport’s collisions.

“When you play linebacker and your job is to do nothing but tackle, you tend to have a few misaligned bones in your back and rib area, which can cause back pain,” said Woodyard, an eight-year veteran.

Woodyard said he used a product called the Dharma Yoga Wheel “to open up my back and heart area.”

He called the wheel “my new best friend.”

Hamstring problems have plagued dozens of players during the preseason, and Colts safety Mike Adams, entering his 12th season, said that the stretching from yoga was particularly helpful for his hamstrings and hips. His workout regimen includes night sessions three times a week with the wheel, rolling it on his back and legs.

“Yoga has played a big part in my life and career, because it works my mind and body,” Adams said, adding that he had recommended it to younger teammates.

Adams, 34, said he was introduced to yoga and the wheel by his teacher, Carmella Rackham, who owns Brazil Yoga and has 13 N.F.L. players among the 17 athletes whom she trains privately.

Defensive back Adam Jones of the Bengals was her first N.F.L. client. At the outset, Rackham said she had no intention of working with athletes, but Jones began recommending her to other athletes. Within six months, Rackham said, she had more clients than she could handle.

Other students include Adams’s Indianapolis teammate D’Qwell Jackson, a linebacker. Rackham often travels to her client’s city and spends three to four days there conducting private yoga sessions.

Other players practicing yoga regularly include the All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, now with the Dolphins; Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo; Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart; and Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Rackham begins each workout with the wheel, which was invented by the international teacher Yogi Varuna, along with another teacher, Raquel Vamos.

“Traditional class starts with breathing and warm-up,” Rackham said. “But I let them roll out the wheel; they usually are coming off a hard practice, so it will relax the body, help them feel mellow and calm. Then we go into breathing; I stress breathing with the guys — it helps them on the field and to remain calm in a stressful situation.

“We do some flow sequences, some yoga poses. Depends on how a guy feels that day, depends on how practices have gone.”

Asked how the wheel most particularly aided him, Adams said: “It specifically helped with the arch in my back and when rolling out on the wheel.”

Rackham also emphasized the mental aspect of yoga for her clients — and its ability to heal emotionally and psychologically.

“I tell everybody: These guys’ lives are completely different from our lives; we don’t know what it is like to live their lives day by day,” she said. “They walk in to our sessions with the stress of it. I can see it on their faces at any session, the tiredness.

“But by the time they breathe and do a little bit of yoga, there is something that disappears, and a calm that comes off of them. The mental wellness of yoga is by far the biggest part for an athlete. It gives a Zen calmness their sport doesn’t teach them.”


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